Against the Celtics, the Raptors jumped out to an early lead, something that has not happened lately, survived two extended Boston runs and made shots down the stretch, including back-to-back threes by Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross. “Better intensity,’’ said Lowry of the difference Tuesday’s tip and Wednesday’s win. “He (Casey) challenged us big time and I think we just found it (Wednesday).” Regardless of what happened in Sacramento, Lowry prefers the Raptors handle their own affairs. “We can take care of our own business,’’ he said. “We cannot count on anybody else. But I’m not going to lie: I think everyone is rooting for that Western Conference team over there.”
An anonymous Raptors player stepped into the elevator descending from the third floor following a Saturday afternoon practice at Air Canada Centre and with the mental and physical grind of a long season beginning to weigh on him he let out a long sigh. “I just want the playoffs to start,” he said in a moment of refreshing truthfulness. He’s not alone. He can’t be.
When the bench checked into the game, we witnessed the all-too-familiar lull in team performance as the Celtics started eating into the Raptor lead. After a series of sloppy Toronto turnovers, the Celtics briefly took the lead. Dwane Casey relied on his starters to restore order once again, and the Raptors went into the break leading 55-46. The second half was a test of mental fortitude that, quite frankly, didn’t need to be so difficult. The Raptors did a great job of putting the clamps down on Boston’s offence in the third quarter. However, the fourth quarter was the Jared Sullinger show. Toronto failed to make adjustments on the sophomore big, and he obliged by continually draining 3 pointers and drawing foul after foul. The lead got down to 3 with 2 minutes left, but with the help of Chuck Hayes and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors saw this one out 99-90
We can’t do grades after every game, since most nights they range from C+ to F, but in a game like tonight when a few players were a great and a few players were…less great, we’ll bust them back out. My apologies for their tardiness — like many of you, I got caught up in the Miami/Indiana bloodbath.
From the tip, it looked like we were in for a vintage Rondo game. After opening the game with a crafty little scoop shot, he stole the ball and Bradley sank one for a Rondo assist.The theme remained similar the same and halfway through the first quarter Rondo tallied 5 assists, which included a beautifully fancy bounce pass to Chris Johnson for a transition three. After counting his 10th assist with about nine minutes left in the second quarter, it was clear Rondo was looking for a BIG night. Nevertheless, Stevens opted to sit him for decent stretches and when he finally came back in he was popped in the face by Greivis Vasquez. Rondo posted 9 PTS, 15 AST, 4 RBS, 2 STL. Jared Sullinger found his stroke in a hot second half and finished with 26 PTS on 8-17 FG, 4-6 3PT, 8 RBS, 2 BLK, but it wasn’t enough to top the efforts of Toronto’s usual suspects as Valanciunas swallowed anything off the glass and Terrence Ross appeared to be automatic at times:
With Rondo quarterbacking the offense and Sullinger hitting big shots, the Celtics had a chance late. They were down only three, 93-90, with 1:49 left in the game. Their hopes were quickly dashed when Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross drilled back-to-back 3-pointers and put the game out of reach, but not before the Celtics did a lot of encouraging things down the stretch. Obviously one of those things was getting an offensive spark from Sullinger, who topped 20 points for the first time in a month and a half, fueled in large part by those four 3s, which matched a career high. “I saw that we needed some production, and I just took it upon myself to get the best shots possible,” Sullinger said. “We needed somebody to bring a different type of energy to the game. It was time for somebody else to step up, and that was me.”
Toronto’s Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry combined for 47 points, including nine three-pointers to help the Raptors hold onto their lead in the fourth. Time and again when the Celtics looked on the verge of re-taking the lead, Ross and Lowry came up with big shots. With the Celtics down just three with 1:31 remaining, Lowry and Ross knocked down two straight threes to effectively clinch the game. They don’t always have good shooting nights like they did on Wednesday, but Ross and Lowry showed an ability to make tough shots in a game Toronto really needed to have on the road.
The Raptors are also chasing a division title. They face Boston in the back end of a home and home on Friday. “We can’t be satisfied just making the playoffs,” DeRozan said. “We could go out there and play four games and be home. We’ve worked too hard to get to this point just to slow down and pace ourselves. We’ve got a long, long way to go.” Jared Sullinger led Boston with 26 points, going 4-of-6 from three-point range, and Avery Bradley scored 16. Boston lost for the seventh time in eight games.
If there was a heartening sign on the night, it wasn’t the way they played (which was better). It was the way they carried themselves afterward. This team isn’t trying to crawl over any finish lines on all fours. It wants a victory lap. The final few miles have gotten a little ugly recently. On Wednesday night, it was a largely unwatchable game of Whack-a-Mole. They won 99-90, but it seemed like it was tilting the other way with only a couple of minutes remaining. Once again, Kyle Lowry applied the ballast that swung it back in Toronto’s favour. After quitting at the start in Cleveland, the Raptors were determined to get out in front here. Each time they did, Boston reeled them in. That had its own sense of inevitability. This Celtics franchise now looks a lot like the Toronto we’re used to.
“I’ve got a little sheet that I make for myself that is kind of my cheat sheet and study sheet as we go throughout the year,” Stevens said. “In January, his numbers were really good. And now they’re better. That’s pretty unusual for a guy having his best year. Usually you start to become more targeted, you fall off, blah blah blah. And he’s just continued to go up. He’s shot more threes recently than he has before, he continues to be a good midrange player, and he’s dominant on the post. He’s a matchup problem for 2s on the post. “You know, the first time I saw him play this year, I thought, man, he’s a lot better than what I hear or (than what his reputation would suggest). I think he’s a deserved All-Star, and I don’t think that’s stopped him from continuing to get better. Which is a good thing too.”
“Promoting literacy and supporting youth in the Toronto community is very important to me because I personally benefited from a strong support team when I was growing up and saw firsthand the difference it can make,” said DeMar DeRozan. The DeMar DeRozan All Star Book Program challenges students from one grade five class in ten schools to read a book and write a report each week for ten weeks, representing DeRozan’s jersey number: 10. The class with the most comprehensive book reports will win tickets to a Toronto Raptors home game, a visit by DeRozan and more books for every student in the winning class.