Gary Forbes led the Raptors with 18 points – one off of his career high, while DeMar DeRozan, with 11, was the only other Raptor to crack double figures.
If one was searching for positives, Toronto was the better team in the second quarter, turning a 29-14 deficit into a six-point game at the half.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Boston brought the pain in eerily similar first and third quarters to open up a 20-plus point bulge.
After shooting 60% in the first to Toronto’s 30%, Boston shot 60% again in the decisive third while the Raptors sputtered along at 30.8%.
“I thought the Celtics came out the more desperate team,” summed up head coach Dwane Casey.
“I told the guys, nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We have to be the aggressor, we got to be the desperate team and compete for 48 minutes.”
The letdowns were plentiful for the Raptors. The team let Boston shoot scores of open jump shots while missing a host of makeable shots themselves.
Reserves Forbes and Rasual Butler kept things interesting in the second, but it didn’t last and the 4-11 Raptors now limp home for a game on Friday before heading back on the road for a brutal Western swing.
Jose Calderon said the team is upset, but has to stay together.
“We have to start making shots,” Calderon said. “Nobody likes to lose … (you) have to look at yourself and try to do better.”
Dwane Casey likes to talk about “disposition” when it comes to the Raptors, a catch-all word for how they go about handling themselves and the intensity and toughness they bring to the game each night.
For most nights the coach is okay with those aspects, even if his offensively-challenged group can’t make a basket to save their collective souls because it is “disposition” that he most wants to install with this group.
But part of “disposition” has to be desperation, a leave-it-all-on-the-floor-do-whatever-it-takes attitude that was sorely lacking here Wednesday night and the one point the coach wanted to hammer home after a 96-73 shellacking by the Boston Celtics was over.
“I knew there were going to be a few nights like this but like I told the guys, no one’s going to feel sorry for us, we’ve got to be the ones to be the aggressors,” Casey said after the Raptors lost their sixth straight. “Every night we walk on the floor, we have to be the desperate team and compete for 48 minutes; that’s what we’re looking for, competition for 48 minutes and the Celtics did tonight and we didn’t.”
Casey was right in his assessment because the Raptors rarely played for long stretches with intensity and attitude, their defence was shoddy for far too long and, once again, they got below-average offensive production from a roster that can’t seem to make up for the absence of Andrea Bargnani.
The script was predictable, and it was painful. Even as there were some positives — an increased aggressiveness from DeMar DeRozan, a team-leading 18 points from Gary Forbes — the Raptors were unable to get anything going for chunks of time.
Rajon Rondo, before he left the game in the third quarter with a wrist injury, annihilated Jose Calderon in their one-on-one matchup, and it became clear how important a high-functioning point guard is to the Raptors’ already punchless offence. With Calderon negated, the Raptors were too often stuck trying to score late in the possession. With Bargnani missing his fourth straight game because of a strained calf, there was little space to be found for any Raptor. Toronto shot just 38% from the field, with a season-low 12 assists.
The Raptors, 27th in the league in offensive efficiency coming into the game, were bound to take a hit this year with Raptors coach Dwane Casey’s defensive emphasis overshadowing the offence.
“I worry about our offence,” Casey said before the game. “But I do believe our offence will come around because we do have great offensive players in Andrea, DeMar and some of the guys that are missing shots right now and making offensive mistakes.”
This is not to say that Casey’s decision to focus on defence has been unwise. In the interim, however, it is creating a lot of unwatchable basketball.
Casey had been defending the play of small forward Rasual Butler, despite his 26% accuracy from the field, with regularity. Butler started the first 14 games of the year because Casey was fond of Butler’s defence.
But, eventually you have to hit shots, and Casey decided to make a change for the game against the Celtics. James Johnson replaced Butler in the starting lineup, the first alteration Casey has made to the starting five that was not caused by an injury.
“Change the rhythm, change the spark, change disposition, a little bit of everything: offence, defence,” Casey said before the game, explaining the move. “When you lose five in a row, you’re searching for something.
“I want to reward some of the young guys to say, ‘Look, if you do the right thing, if you play the right way, if you make the right decisions, you’ll be rewarded with more playing time, starting positions, et cetera.’”
Rondo had been stellar offensively, pushing the pace against the overwhelmed Toronto defense, although his line was unusual. He did not record his first assist until the 6:01 mark of the third quarter and finished with a season-low two.
But he helped the offensively inconsistent Celtics post two 29-point quarters and shoot 47.9 percent.
Paul Pierce led Boston with seven assists, but he didn’t stick around to discuss his performance. After a report speculated that several teams are waiting for Ainge to put Pierce on the trading block, he missed 7 of 10 shots, including three layups. But he was able to play facilitator as the Celtics took an early 6-2 lead and never trailed again.
“He was terrific,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “My favorite play of the game by Paul, he could tell that Ray [Allen] was struggling a little bit getting his shot. And Paul clearly had the shot off the pick and roll. And he held it just long enough for Ray to [get] open and gave Ray a three. I thought that was just such a . . . those little plays, they just help your team later in such big ways. Ray clearly appreciated that. And Paul knew what he was doing. Those little things, man, they really help team-building.’’
These Raptors games are becoming completely unwatchable. They shot 37.7 percent from the floor, 26.7 percent from the three-point line and had 16 turnovers.
They generated a point per possession on post-up plays, but only ran that play about 8.8 percent of the time. In spot up plays, which happened 24.2 percent of the time, they generated 0.68 points per possession and shot 26.3% from the floor.
In cut plays, which happened 16.5 percent of the time, they generated 0.67 points per possession and shot 30.8 percent from the floor.
Casey has to change this half-court garbage that they run out there night in and night out.
Usually the Raptors struggle scoring the ball but their opponents have a hard time scoring points. So why were the Celtics able to shoot 47.9 percent from the floor, 37.5 percent from the three-point line and score 96 points?
That is because the Raptors aren’t really that great of a defensive team as some numbers suggest, like opposition points per game, and it was exposed when they played a team that plays at a similar pace.
As a result the Celtics scored 1.14 points possession in spot-up plays, 1.27 points per possession in isolation plays, 1.27 points per possession in cut plays and 1.08 points per possession in transition plays.
Everyone wanted Rasual Butler yanked from the starting lineup, and with Linas Kleiza still rusty and Gary Forbes filling in as a back-up point guard, the next option at the three was James Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t exactly take the starting job and run with it in his first start of the season. James started the game with seven minutes of goose-egg basketball, as in he put up zero points (on zero-for-three shooting) to go along with the zeros in every other category (expect personal fouls). He quickly found his place on the bench, and finished with four points, two rebounds, a steal and three turnovers in 25 minutes.
I realize that the sample size is tiny, but I’m liking what I’m seeing from Gary Forbes in the last little while. Obviously it is hard to assess a guy that played well in a blow out, but he has looked good over the last little while shooting and handling the ball. He is taking to the point position well so far and seems to be solid on both ends of the floor.
Tim Chisholm recently tweeted that he wasn’t sure whether Forbes was actually good or just looked good next to the rest of the Raptor team. That is a fair comment, as the team certainly isn’t setting the world on fire, but I think Forbes has some talent.
He is creative, can shoot the ball and is able to get to the rim with his speed.
Definitely a player to keep an eye on.