In the second game of their weekend back-to-back, the Boston Celtics fell to the Toronto Raptor 97-113. Unlike their previous meeting on Christmas Day, Boston struggled to assert their will against a determined Raptors squad.
Opposed to the Celtics, the Raptors had not played since their Christmas Day loss and it showed. Clearly, they had spent time in the film room figuring out how to slow down Boston’s inside-out game. The answer, it seems, was hustle, and hustle they did.
Third game in four nights, back-to-back, whatever. Boston just wasn't good enough tonight and Toronto kicked their tails with far more effort. It happens. Especially after 5 straight wins.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 29, 2019
Still missing Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol, the Raptors entered the contest slight underdogs. With that loss just three days earlier still fresh in their minds, they came to fight, clawing for every possession and outworking the Celtics on both ends of the floor.
Boston gave up a total of 15 offensive rebounds, with Serge Ibaka grabbing four. Here he is left alone down low after Grant Williams decides to help close out on Patrick McCaw. McCaw sees both Jaylen Brown and Williams closing out on the line and drives right down the lane, missing the layup. Ibaka is all alone down low to grab the rebound and get the easy put back.
Here’s two offensive rebounds on the same offensive sequence, allowing the Raptors to add another two points. The defense looked a step slow for most of the night and plays like the one above show how hustling on plays can pay dividends.
It was the same story on the defensive boards too, with Toronto winning that battle 38-24 per NBA Stats.
Throughout the game, Toronto did a great job of closing the paint, making drives difficult and forcing floaters or contested shots at the rim. The additional benefits are multiple bodies around the rim to grab the missed shot.
As Jayson Tatum drives towards the hoop, there are three Raptors there to meet him in Ibaka, McCaw and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Tatum is forced into releasing a floater which doesn’t fall and Ibaka grabs the board to end Boston’s possession.
When defending the Celtics like this, their shooting struggles stretch out beyond the arc. By limiting their effectiveness when driving to the hoop, they become predictable in their attack. More threes usually follow multiple missed shots on the interior, and generally speaking, they are not well worked shots.
Usually, Gordon Hayward would drive here, or hit the rolling Daniel Theis and proceed to cut towards the basket. Instead he opts for a three, which to be fair ins’t a bad look in this instance, but Hayward has recently done more damage when driving the lane.
A quiet shooting night for Jayson Tatum (3 of 7) also contributed to the team’s inability to cause problems when penetrating. Without his ability to hit from the mid-range and deep, there is less of a threat from ball handlers driving. When the ball did end up in Tatum’s hands, there were some rough shots like the one above.
Overall this was a tough game where fresher legs prevailed down the stretch. Boston’s problems did not stem from a lack of effort. They were just unable to match the effort level of the fresher and more hungry team. Multiple times the Celtics brought the game close, only for the Raptors to answer back with another run of their own.
During those runs there were moments of Celtics basketball at its best, but those moments were few and far between.
Both of these plays show the Celtics penetrating and kicking out to the open man. Toronto adjusted well to close the lanes and avoid these type of shots throughout the early exchanges. Once they made those adjustments, the Celtics looked stuck for answers barring a few runs towards the end of quarters.
Win streaks usually end with a bad loss or a blowout loss. This one checks the second box for the Celtics. Raptors were ready to go right from the opening tip and had an answer whenever Boston made a little run. Just more effort from Toronto all game long.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 29, 2019
The Celtics are now 2-1 in their four-game series against Toronto, with that final match set to play in March. The Celtics would have had a 48-hour rest period coming into that game, hopefully both teams will be healthy and Tatum can break this weird hoodoo Toronto seems to have over him from the last two games.
There is no need to panic from this loss though. Health, heart, and hustle won this game. Unfortunately, they were Toronto’s. With Marcus Smart back in the lineup and the roster beginning to return to health, heart and hustle wont be a problem the Celtics encounter too many times this year.