There was a lot to dislike about the manner in which the Raptors clinched. Kyle Lowry turned his right ankle near the end of the first half, and had it re-taped during halftime. It could have been a lot worse, but Lowry did not look like his explosive self in the second half. To have any shot at winning a round in the playoffs, the Raptors need Lowry near his peak. Following the game, Lowry said his ankle was a bit sore, but that he was “good to go.” As well, the Raptors gave away a lead, failing to close out a team that had little to play for as far as the standings are concerned. The Celtics shot 53% from the floor. The Raptors have played inconsistently since Patrick Patterson exited the lineup three weeks ago because of an elbow injury. He could return Sunday in Orlando, and the Raptors need him badly to prop up a labouring reserve unit. Those are all real concerns, and they will be dwelled upon, to be sure.
“It’s a satisfying, kind of overwhelming feeling,” he described, following his team’s 105-103 victory over Boston, officially snapping the Raptor” five-year playoff drought. “It’s been six years since this team, this organization made it to the playoffs. This team has worked so hard. We deserved it. We’ve been playing our butts off, playing through injuries. We’ve had our ups and downs.” “We’ve made it.” Not lost on the team was the fact that they stole a game, their 41st victory of the season, that probably shouldn’t have come down to the final possession. Down by four with under three minutes to play, it looked like the Raptors would have to hope for a New York Knicks loss later in the evening or wait until Sunday to punch their ticket to the playoffs. They’ve been resilient all year, so why wouldn’t they be now? First DeMar DeRozan drained a fadeaway jumper, then Johnson hit the game-winning put-back layup. “It was fitting,” Dwane Casey said.
Someone who’s likely not going to bed with a smile on his face, if he’s going to bed at all, is Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey. Yet again his team let a lesser opponent hang around and nearly steal a win, continuing a frustrating trend that his club seems to be caught in these past couple weeks. Despite an 86 to 73 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, the Raptors allowed the Celtics to storm back and eventually take the lead with about four minutes left. Boston scored 30 fourth quarter points and hit nearly everything they threw up as the Dinos defence offered little to no resistance.
Bayless seems to be hell-bent on shooting Boston out of the bottom four. Get that paycheck, Jerryd. You know, just not at the expense of Dante Exum.
Another day, another moral victory, another loss on the way to the lottery.
Terrence Ross proved to be a problem for the Celtics yet again. Despite his inability to hit from downtown tonight, Ross was very active on both ends of the floor, disrupting passing lanes throughout the night and finishing with a nice (17 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL). The Celtics caught fire in the fourth, cutting a 14 point deficit to just 1 with six minutes to go. Bayless (20 PTS on 8-13 shooting) was in the zone in the fourth quarter and sank back to back clutch shots to give the Celts a 2 point lead with 3:30 to go. After bricking a mid range jumper, Jeff Green (16 PTS, 4 RBS, 2 AST) hustled back to make an awesome block on DeRozan to keep the game tied 101-101 with just under a minute to go. DeRozan remained unfazed, and swished a jumper immediately thereafter. In true Rondo fashion, Rajon answered with an angled drive and finish at the rim. Finally, with just seven seconds left on the clock, Amir Johnson cleaned up Kyle Lowry’s miss and the rest was history.
TURNING POINT The Celtics were down as many as 12 points early in the fourth quarter, but Bayless caught fire and his mid-range jumper with 4:52 to go pushed Boston out front 96-95. DeRozan and Rondo both hit tough shots in the final minute, leaving the score tied at 103-103 and Johnson followed a Lowry missed layup with a put back that provided the winning points with 7.1 seconds to go. A Jared Sullinger runner from the top of the key slammed hard off the glass on Boston’s last gasp. LOOSE BALLS The Raptors put up 52 points in the paint and 12 offensive rebounds led to 15 second-chance points (none bigger than Johnson’s final bucket). … Phil Pressey played 13 ½ solid minutes, handing out five assists while helping to facilitate that fourth-quarter surge. … The Celtics shot 52.6 percent overall, but were hurt by 16 turnovers (leading to 21 points). The Raptors shot 46.5 percent, but limited their giveaways (11 turnovers for 14 points).
A furious run. A 4-point lead with 2:20 left. A brilliant stretch from Jerryd Bayless. It had all the makings for a difficult road win. But as the Celtics end this miserable transition season, it became painfully obvious in the waning minutes they would fall short once again. Amir Johnson’s putback of a Kyle Lowry missed layup with 7.1 seconds left completed a late Toronto rally and the Raptors sealed their first playoff appearance in six seasons by handing the Celtics a disheartening 105-103 defeat Friday night at Air Canada Centre. The Celtics had a chance to tie but John Salmons fouled Rajon Rondo with three seconds left, limiting Boston’s chance to get a good look at the basket. Jared Sullinger’s forced 25-foot runner clanged off the backboard, ending the Celtics’ eighth loss in nine games. It was predictable.
The Raptors ran a simple high pick-and-roll with Kyle Lowry coming off an Amir Johnson screen that snagged Avery Bradley about eight feet beyond the 3-point arc. Trouble came when Jared Sullinger got caught leaning a bit and Lowry cut back a bit and raced at the basket. Sullinger managed to contest and force a miss, but Bradley failed to put a body on Johnson, who followed the play and completed the putback with 7.1 seconds to play Bradley and Sullinger are two of Boston’s better individual defenders, but their lapses hammer home the slippage that has plagued the Celtics. Instead of generating the one or two extra stops that Stevens desired in late February, Boston is giving up an extra bucket or two and hasn’t been able to win close games lately.
This playoff berth has been assumed for some time, but it’s worth remembering just how remarkable the Raptors’ season has been. In early December, the Raptors sent grossly inefficient scorer Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a collection of veterans that included John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and Greivis Vasquez. At the time, it looked like a cap-clearing move that would begin a slow rebuilding process. Instead, the Raptors have gone 35-19 since the deal, one of the best records in the NBA over that stretch. A team that appeared to be setting itself up for the future has become a real player in the East.
Hayes said the challenge from Casey got their attention. “You just have to take on the responsibility,” Hayes said about following a talk like that with his head coach. “Obviously, he needed more from the second unit. More energy. More effort and, mentally, we had to be more into the game and that’s what we tried to do.” Hayes said the Raptors’ second unit feeds off getting stops and as that 51-7 deficit on Wednesday night suggested, there wasn’t a lot of that going on. That changed on Friday as well. “We know Pat is down and, obviously, he can’t perform right now. When he comes down we want him to be fully healthy. We don’t want this to be a lingering thing, so until then we have guys that can step up. We have different combinations of players we can put in a rotation and that’s been one of our greatest strengths since the trade, that depth.” The Raptors have 10 games remaining to get that second unit operating like it was.
Ross is making things happen all over the floor, something the Celtics know all too well after Ross lit them up for 24 points in Toronto’s 99-90 win over Boston at the TD Garden on Wednesday. Although Jeff Green had a neck injury which to some extent played a role in his sub-par performance (six points, 3-for-9 shooting), Ross is starting to show the potential be a lock-down guy. In January, he had to defend Indiana All-Star Paul George and in the two meetings, George scored 12 and 11 points, respectively. But what’s really starting to make him shine is his shooting. On 3s, he’s up to 42.3 percent shooting compared to 39.9 prior to the all-star break. There’s a similar spike in his mid-range numbers (38.2 post all-star break, 33.3 percent prior) and his scoring in the paint (60.9 post all-star break, 50.4 prior) as well.
“If we hadn’t got so down we could have won that series, I believe that completely,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview Friday. “The mistakes you make in the first and second quarters? Those always come back to bite you.” The Orlando series, which Toronto lost 4-1 after dropping the first two games in Florida and winning the third at the Air Canada Centre, can be used as a learning opportunity for this year’s team, which clinched a playoff spot with a 105-103 win over the Celtics on Friday night. There are similarities in the lack of playoff experience between 2008 and 2014, and Mitchell knows it is a vital component of playoff success. “Until you actually start and feel the crowd, feel the intensity and the pressure, that’s when you realize what the playoffs are all about,” he said.
The Raptors are a top 10 team in many of the measures that matter, while their prospective opponents simply are not. Unless something dramatic changes in Toronto’s play (Lowry wear-and-tear is the big story of the week), Toronto is odds-on favorite to get out of the first round. The question becomes whether the Raptors are capable of making any more noise than that. They’ll almost certainly run into the Pacers or the Heat, presumed since last May to be this spring’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup. And on paper either series would appear to be an emphatic loss for the Raptors, a largely inexperienced squad counting on a journeyman to run the offense (Lowry), a long-forgotten prospect to provide the team with its scoring punch (DeMar DeRozan), and an anonymous big man to patrol the paint (Amir Johnson). Of course the Raptors can’t get out of the second round.