It seems like in every Toronto Raptors loss, you can look at one quarter and say, “yep, that’s the one that cost them the game.” You know the quarters I’m talking about — when the Raptors go on extended offensive drought, give up too many blow-bys, don’t get back in transition, or don’t crash the glass — sometimes all of the above. Oh, and there’s usually a lot of bench players involved.
And look! All of the above applies to last night’s second quarter, where the Raptors were outscored 25-16 on their way to a 97—93 loss to the Boston Celtics, who were missing Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Raptor Killer Payton Pritchard.
During the second, the Raptors couldn’t buy a shot (8-for-26, 0-for-10 from three, 0-for-2 from the line), got outscored by 9, and let the Celtics get to the rim at will. The Raptors went on to win the third and fourth quarters, but couldn’t climb out of the hole they dug in the second.
With the loss, and with the Atlanta Hawks beating the hapless Washington Wizards, the Raptors now sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference; it would take a small miracle (two Hawks losses, two Raptors wins, in the final two games of the season) for the Raptors to finish eighth.
Pascal Siakam — who didn’t score in four second quarter minutes — finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Scottie Barnes added 18, 8 and 5, and Precious Achiuwa had a solid game off the bench, with 16 points (on 7-for-11 shooting) and 9 boards.
Fred VanVleet only scored 7 points, and didn’t hit his first field goal until there were only 8 minutes left in the game. He appeared to be bothered by a thumb injury he sustained in the first quarter. He got it taped and came right back in, but wasn’t his usual aggressive self the rest of the night.
Malcolm Brogdon led all scorers with 29, and hit 4 of his 6 three-point attempts. Jaylen Brown scored 25, though it took him 29 shots to get there. Derrick White added 17 and dished 5 dimes.
You really have to give the Celtics credit for their first-half performance. I know, I know, I hate it too! But they came in to the game down three starters and scored 56 points, on 49% shooting, before halftime; they moved the ball extremely well, they put pressure on the rim, and they hustled like hell in transition.
The Raptors were better after halftime, but still seemed to play with little urgency. While they were on the second night of a back-to-back, none of the Raps starters played more than 30 minutes last night, and again, the Celtics were missing four key players! With the Raps battling for that precious 8th seed — and two chances to advance to the playoffs — I expected more energy. I guess I should know better by now to keep my expectations low with this team.
Both teams were cold to start, shooting 1-for 8 combined with four turnovers. O.G. Anunoby broke the spell with a three, making it… 5-1 Raptors after three minutes; Siakam scored on the break 30 seconds later to make it 7-1.
Sam Hauser finally broke through for Boston with a corner three at the 8:25 mark; Brown then scored on a drive and a Derrick White layup tied it at 9.
Barnes had a good start to the game, with two early dunks, and a three at the 5:30 mark that put the Raps up 20-14. But Hauser hit another three, and Jaylen Brown got behind the defense after a scramble to hit a layup that brought Boston within one.
A couple of Brown layups put the Celtics up three, and that’s where the quarter ended, with Celtics leading 31-28.
Gary Trent Jr returned in the first quarter after missing 7 games, and the rust certainly showed; he missed his first four shot, and booted a dribble off his foot for a turnover. He finished the game with a big ol’ goose egg.
The Raptors didn’t do themselves any favours early in the second. They picked up two early loose ball fouls, gave up two early offensive rebounds, and let White pick up a defensive rebound and go coast-to-coast for a layup, making it 38-34 Celtics. And it only got worse from there, as the Raptors went into one of their prolonged shooting slumps. Two Brogdon threes, sandwiched around a White layup and a Robert Williams dunk, made it 50-38 Celtics with 4:16 to go in the half. They ended the frame with a 56-44 lead.
The Raptors cut the 12-point halftime deficit in half early in the third, thanks to a couple paint buckets from Jakob Poeltl and a three from Anunoby. But a 7-0 Celts run — four straight from White, and a three from Brown — gave Boston their largest lead, 13. The Raptors couldn’t get out of their own way — either with turnovers (three in the first five minutes) or poor defensive rebounding (the Celtics had four offensive boards in the first five minutes).
Once again credit the Celtics. They hustled! They defended! The Raptors played in quicksand.
Pascal Siakam, thankfully, shook off the malaise and went on a personal 8-0 run to to cut the lead down to five with 4 minutes to go in the third. A Barnes three-pointer with two minutes to go got the deficit down to 74-72, and had a chance to tie or take the lead a moment later — but this time, Barnes’ three bounced out, and Brogdon hit a triple the other way, a six-point swing that gave the Celtics a 77-72 lead. Then the Raptors simply decided to not play defense on Boston’s final possession of the frame, letting the Celtics roll the ball to halfcourt and letting Brogdon walk into a floater as the buzzer sounded.
The Raptors hung around through the first six minutes of the fourth, and finally caught some luck from downtown, as back-to-back threes from VanVleet and Achiuwa tied the game at 82. But the Raptors missed their next three shots, Brogdon hit a three right back, and a Mike Muscala layup restored the five point lead. A Muscle three a minute later sealed the deal.
These two teams will face off again Friday night, in the Raptors’ final road game of the regular season.