After winning 10 of 12, while the Raptors dropped 5 of 7, the Celtics played in Toronto for a share of first place in the Atlantic Division. The game delivered as much a mid-season game between two teams battling for second place in the Eastern Conference possibly could. It was punch/counter-punch all night long. Unfortunately for Celtics fans, the Raptors took the final rounds and scored a TKO.
After building a lead as large as 16 points in the third quarter, the Celtics’ execution on offense went missing, and Toronto closed to within four to end the quarter. DeMar DeRozan carried the Raptors back himself with 15 points in the third quarter.
The big third frame was part of a big second half for DeRozan, who scored 31 of his 41 points after the break. Once he was out of the box, the Celtics couldn’t get him back in it. DeRozan got it going to the basket and in the mid-range, where he excels. No matter who the Celtics threw at him, he got it done over and over.
Jonas Valanciunas was also big, literally and figuratively, for the Raptors. He finished with 18 points, 23 rebounds and 2 blocks in less than 28 minutes. He was all over the glass on both ends, finishing with 11 offensive rebounds. Rebounding has been a weakness all year for Boston, and Toronto took advantage to the nth degree.
Kyle Lowry was also big for Toronto with 24 points, including a key 4-point play when the Raptors were trailing by two points late in the 4th quarter. Lowry spent a lot of the night off the ball, with Cory Joseph running the offense, and the Celtics struggled to adjust to handling him off screens.
After scoring 14 points in the first half on 5-of-8 shooting, Marcus Smart went missing in the second half. He went just 1-3 from the floor and wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he had been to start the game. Without Avery Bradley, Smart stepped up early, but he faded late in the loss.
Isaiah Thomas, as is generally the case, led the Celtics with 27 points, but he didn’t have his customary fourth-quarter magic. He also struggled mightily on defense, finishing a game-low -14 in +/-. Al Horford also had a tough night, as he was beat up inside by Valanciunas and missed several bit shots.
Jae Crowder was also mostly missing in action, shooting just 4-10 and 1-5 from three, in a performance that was eerily similar to Crowder’s earlier game vs Toronto. Gerald Green did provide a big lift for the Celtics with 14 points off the bench, including a highlight alley-oop.
The Celtics now drop two games behind Toronto in the standings and trail the Raptors 0-2 on the season series. The standings project to be tight the rest of the way, and tiebreakers could become important for Boston. Right now, the Celtics sit squarely a notch below Toronto in the Eastern Conference pecking order, but there is a lot of the season left. And, hey, it isn’t all bad. Brooklyn lost! #NetsPick