Once again, this young Raptor team hung tough for much of the game until the end where Boston’s experienced, more talented players pulled through with solid, if not spectacular plays to ice the game. The Raps were playing with fire all night as they let Boston shoot well over 50% while toiling in the high 30’s themselves. There excellent rebounding kept them in it while Jose Calderon, Linas Kleiza, and Leandro Barbosa kept bricking shot after shot.
Let’s face it, even without Kevin Garnett, this team is too much for a Raptors squad that has already won one more game that the Celtics expected to lose against them this year. When you have as few losses as the they do, you tend to remember each and every single one one of them. I’m sure the Raptor loss is near the top of their list.
As seems to be the norm, the Raptors started the game off competitively, although it didn’t translate into a lead at the end of the first quarter. It was 4-0 Toronto early on, when Paul Pierce and Ray Allen scored 5 quick points and were off to the races. Linas Kleiza had trouble keeping up with Paul Pierce all game, and Ray Allen took advantage of a weary DeMar DeRozan on defence. DeRozan, not exactly an all-world defender to begin with, picked up where he left off with another outburst of drives and midrange jumpers.
What`s up with DeMar? Maybe any guy can drop 37 on any given night. All the stars aligned, the bucket looked like a hula loop, and all that. But then you follow up that performance with 27 against the Boston Celtics of all, the same Celtics that have bottled up Lebron and Wade twice already this year, that`s when you raise an eyebrow. He wasn’t terribly efficient, and he probably made some poor decisions at the end of the game, but this kid is a scorer in the NBA. He doesn`t have a 3-ball yet or a mid-range game yet, watch out when/if that ever comes around.
Although it’s way too early to to think this, let’s be positive for a moment: What if DeMar has indeed broken out of his shell and shows he can be a 20 point guy? Would you rather have him as your first option so that Bargnani can take on more of a defensive role? The main reason we live with his defensive liabilities is because there’s no-one else who can drop 20 a game right? DeMar may have something to say about that, except that – wait for it – he is also a defensive liability right now. I really, really hope that when Bargnani comes back, that he doesn’t get lost in the mix like he seemingly has been for most of this year. The worry is that DeRozan seems to be better off as a high-usage player. His shot becomes more consistent and he remains aggressive. Will the inevitable reduction in usage take him two steps back? Again, enter Bargnani, and that question too will be answered.
Toronto went on a mini-run to start the second quarter as they limited Boston to 4 points in the first 5 minutes. The only problem was that they managed only 8 themselves in that span, a stretch where Bargnani and his scoring was sorely missing. The rest of the quarter was pretty much all Paul Pierce for the Celtics but the Raptors kept pace, trailing 43 – 42 at halftime.
The third quarter was pretty much even until midway through the frame. DeMar was heating up again when the Kleiza, Calderon, Barbosa trio went 0-8 to spot Boston a 9 point lead to start the 4th. A lot of them were good looks, it was just one of those nights for them, and it all happened in the same game. Kleiza`s line drives and Barbosa’s shotput attempts really look bad when they`re not going in.
Despite being outshot badly, the Raps were still only down 5 with 5 minutes to go, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen rhymed off 7 consecutive points and Toronto had no answer for it. Pierce was a matchup nightmare all night and Ray Allen was in one of those zones. When Allen is on like that, there’s not much you can do except defend him really well which the Raptors aren’t capable off just yet. It also doesn’t help when the Celtics defense is zoned in on DeRozan and the Raptors offense has but one option.
What a tough stretch of games. Start off with the Bulls, Lakers at home, then fly out to Memphis, Dallas and Houston and then the infamous first home game after a road trip, against the dreaded Celtics to boot. There’s not one game in there that we`re expected to win. The games without Bargnani have definitely been lower scoring, not just for the Raptors, but for their opponents as well. I’d just like to see how they’d do offensively against some of the more run-of-the-mill teams in the league. There are definitely moments where the consistent offensive threat of a Bargnani are needed when the well runs dry, like the end of the 3rd and 4th quarters. If we can develop a two-pronged scoring threat with him and DeRozan, then perhaps we become an even better offensive team than we were before Bargnani got injured.