I hope Jonas Valanciunas had a minutes restriction (21 min) because the Raptors really needed his offense on a night where nothing was dropping. He’s had a few really nice games against the Celtics this season, and he did put up 10-7 with 2 blocks. Maybe they’re being careful with his hand.
“They beat us every which way,” coach Dwane Casey said. “You don’t play with force and play through the physicality, you’re not going to be very successful against a team like that — they’ll grind, hit, hold — and you have to play through that.”
Lowry’s sore elbow is not thought to be serious — he went through the team’s shoot-around Tuesday morning — and keeps with Casey’s philosophy that good health is paramount heading into the playoffs.
“Right now, health for me is probably as important as continuing to try and climb up and catch Cleveland (for first in the East),” Casey said Tuesday morning.
Dwane Casey probably didn’t think his lineup early in the fourth quarter on Wednesday would feature rookie Delon Wright, James Johnson, who was playing his first minutes of the game, emergency big Jason Thompson, Bismack Biyombo and an extra-aggressive Ross.
It was that kind of night for the Raptors, who rested the two players who have been on the court for more good minutes than any others — Lowry and Patterson.
If the game was of much importance, the duo would have played, instead, they sat and Toronto’s offence was a lurching, rudderless mess all evening.
A brutal third quarter left Toronto with a seven-point deficit to make up in the fourth and it proved to be too much for the undermanned roster. The Raptors made just 5-of-17 field goals (29 percent), and were outscored 23-16 in the third as they also turned the ball over seven times in the quarter. Although a bench unit featuring rookie Delon Wright got within one with 9:25 remaining, Toronto couldn’t get the stops it needed down the stretch, and didn’t capitalize on trips to the line to make things easier.
The Celtics had to be relieved after finally beating the Raptors, regardless of who was missing for Toronto. The matchup remains unfavorable to Boston. The Raptors are big in the paint with Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo. They have the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference with Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And they have athletes coming off the bench, including Terrence Ross, who usually gives the Celtics problems.
“It was very important,” said Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas. “I think every team in the league knows it’s hard to beat a team four straight times. We wanted to get one. This was an important game for us and we did it.”
Now, maybe there were some psychological games played by Toronto coach Dwane Casey by sitting Lowry only an hour before game time. Lowry participated in the morning shootaround and looked prepared to play. But the Celtics will take any victory over a superior team at this point, especially embarking on a difficult five-game trip.
Lowry’s presence may have made the win a bit more rewarding, but the Celtics took pride in how the win was executed.
Boston entered the fourth with a 7 point lead. Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner were on the bench, and the offense just cratered. They struggled to create good looks, and couldn’t finish the few solid chances they had. Boston went the first 4 minutes of the quarter without making a basket. They weren’t helped out any by the officiating, but you can’t pin it all on that.
After the Raptors pulled within one point, Marcus Smart broke the fourth quarter shutout with a nice driving layup. Then Isaiah Thomas took over. He knocked down two threes and added an assist to put the Celtics back in control of the game. Toronto couldn’t respond, and Boston came away with the win.
The Raptors were held under 80 points for just the second time this season, and the loss snapped its franchise-record 33-game winning streak when holding an opponent under 100 points.
One major hindrance for the Raptors was that All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry was unexpectedly ruled out with a sore elbow less than a half-hour before tip-off. However, that somewhat leveled the playing field since the C’s were without Jae Crowder, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury for nearly two weeks.
Lowry, or no Lowry, the Celtics still had to shut down Toronto’s top scorer, DeMar DeRozan, and they certainly did an admirable job.
The two-time All-Star scored 21 points and shot just 6-for-16 from the field.
“He’s a hard guy to guard,” said Stevens. “He’s a hard guy to keep from getting to the foul line. You just do it as best you can, show your hands and try not to initiate contact.”
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“We know we can beat them in general. Not to knock them. They’re a great team and everything,” said Celtics wing Evan Turner, who scored 13 of his 17 points during the third quarter. Despite three straight losses against Toronto entering Wednesday, he added, “We weren’t really staying up at night saying we can’t beat the Raptors or anything. We think we’re capable of beating anybody. But obviously they play great games and they’re a talented team and they’re always tough.”
Some players discussed wanting to send a message to the Raptors by finally taking them down, but that idea crumbled when Lowry (sore elbow) and Patrick Patterson sat out. Even dominating the last 42 or so minutes defensively and nailing big shots throughout the fourth quarter — all without Crowder, who missed his sixth straight game — couldn’t give Boston the feeling of beating Toronto at full strength.
Turner’s impressive play didn’t get the Celtics completely out of the woods.
Toronto came surging back in the fourth quarter, scoring the first 10 points to pull within one. But that’s when Thomas decided enough was enough, drilling two massive 3-pointers and assisting on a Johnson slam in a span of under two minutes to put Boston back up by seven.
The Raptors wouldn’t get any closer, as the Celtics held Toronto to just seven points after that 10-0 run to hold on for the win.
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STUD OF THE NIGHT: Evan Turner.
Only because I’m tired of giving this honor to Isaiah Thomas. Turner dominated the third quarter, adding two fancy assists to his 13 points in the frame. The self-proclaimed “Logo” even knocked down a corner 3 and is now shooting better than 50 percent from deep since the All-Star break.
The Raptors actually survived pretty well in the first half. They went into the break tied with the Celtics at 46. They were defending hard and doing an excellent job of containing their young, quick opponents. In the second half, the wheels fell off the wagon, as the Raptors tightened up on offense and lost much of their defensive spark. A late rally cut an 11-point lead to one in the fourth, but that was as close as Toronto got.
While it was encouraging to see the play of rookie Delon Wright (who finished the game with six points and eight rebounds — with zero assists on 3-of-10 shooting, mind you), the story of the night was the absence of Lowry. As he goes, so go the Raptors, generally. As Toronto heads for the playoffs, they’ll need their All-Star point guard as well-rested and ready to go as possible.
No holding back here. The offence was horrible. We can go ahead and make excuses that Kyle Lowry didn’t play, but the numbers don’t lie. 35% from the field, 27% from beyond the arc and an abysmal 55% from the charity stripe. This was arguably the worst offensive showing the Dinos have given all season. The single bright spot in this game was the offensive boards, where the team tallied 15. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 23 points, while Terrence Ross accumulated 13 and Jonas Valanciunas scored 10.
In many ways, the Raptors are like the anti-Warriors. They average 18.4 assists, 2.3 fewer than last season and almost 11 less than Golden State, but there they are among the top five teams in offensive efficiency, the top three since Jan. 1. Not unlike the reigning champs, they play to the strength of their stars and, if their record is any indication, they’re doing a pretty good job of it.
“We will never be a high-assist team just because of the DNA of our star players,” Dwane Casey said following a Tuesday afternoon practice session. “They are rhythm players with the dribble off the bounce. They’re not the kind of guys that are going to catch and shoot, so it takes down the assists. We’ll never be a high-assist team because of that and that doesn’t bother me.”
That’s not to say they’re devaluing ball movement. Despite the drop off in assists, Toronto has gone from the 24th ranked team in passes per game last season to 14th this year, averaging roughly 23 more a night. Most of those passes come early in the shot clock, as the team gets into their sets and before the ball reaches its final destination, usually DeRozan, Kyle Lowry or Jonas Valanciunas – their highest usage players.
Biyombo is ninth in the NBA in defensive real plus-minus, and last week he was even named a nominee for Eastern Conference player of the week, which was awarded to his teammate, Kyle Lowry. Last Thursday, Biyombo had 16 points and a franchise-record 25 rebounds against the Indiana Pacers. Three days later against the Orlando Magic, he had 12 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks.
Biyombo told the Toronto Sun that he loves Toronto but hasn’t thought about free agency yet. Regardless of whether or not you believe that, he is proving a point with his play: Biyombo changes games defensively, and he’s improved on the other end of the court. Perhaps after seeing what he’s done with increased minutes, teams will think about him as a starter.
As long as Valanciunas is in the fold, Biyombo’s future with the Raptors is murky. Ujiri’s first priority this season will be re-signing star guard DeMar DeRozan, and he’s also expected to try to find an upgrade at the power forward position. It sounds like he’ll also make a significant offer for Biyombo, but it might not be enough.
It is hard not to like Nogueira. He comes off as much emoji as human, the living embodiment of comic sans font (which is hated by font enthusiasts, but that’s besides the point). He walks around with his Sideshow Bob hair, jokes about how starters are special and to be protected at all costs, and uses “high-level” as an adjective like ‘90s surfer dudes used “gnarly.”
Basically, he looks to be having fun all of the time, all too rare in professional sports. That has been a mark against him in the past. But Casey isn’t fooled.
“Behind that smile,” the coach said, “there is a competitor, a competitiveness about him that you don’t see. It’s there. When you first meet him, you probably don’t know because he’s such a smiley kid.”
There is a chance Raptors fans are going to get to know Nogueira a whole lot better next season. With Jonas Valanciunas’s salary set to skyrocket from US$4.7-million to more than US$14-million next year, and Bismack Biyombo due for a huge raise the Raptors may not be able to afford to pay him, Toronto is going to have to make some tough decisions up front. While it is possible both Valanciunas and Biyombo are back next year, it is a lot more likely that the Raptors will have to sacrifice one or the other in order to maintain some financial flexibility.
Casey is of two minds on the issue. “In Dallas Dirk and Jason Kidd would take two weeks off,” he said. “I’m not a proponent of that. If you’re not healthy going into the playoffs you can have all the seeds you want to [but] you’re not going to be successful if your guys are worn down and fatigued. It’s a double-edged sword. The good teams accomplish both.”
Which is why Jonas Valanciunas, Luis Scola, Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan have all missed some time to preserve their bodies but still logged big minutes when in the lineup. Casey isn’t stressing over the delicate balance “it’s a good situation to be in. It’s a tough situation because you’re trying to win and stay healthy at the same time. For me, I’m a competitor. I want to win. I know all of our guys are competitors but big picture health is very important.”
Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas (when healthy) are the usual starters for Toronto, but Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo ensure that there’s no drop-off when the two enter the game, and at times, provide what the starting frontcourt cannot.
Patterson has developed into a more reliable three-point shooter over the past few seasons, and is now taking more than ever (3.8 per game) while converting at an above-average clip (36.0 percent, league average is 35.3 percent). His true shooting percentage is suboptimal (52.7 percent), which probably has something to do with his 24 total free throw attempts this season and his 52.2 percent shooting within three feet. In fact, among players who’ve attempted at least 40 attempts within three feet, Patterson ranks far closer to the bottom of the list than the top.
The good news is Patterson takes more threes than all other shots combined. Patterson takes 61.3 percent of his shots behind the three-point line, an incredibly high number considering his position. For comparison, Kyle Korver — a player who’s known strictly for taking threes — takes 64.1 percent of his shots from behind the three-point line. Just the threat of Patterson shooting the three is enough to draw his defender out of the lane, leaving more room for the guards and Biyombo to do their work inside.
It can lead to trouble, said the head coach of the Raptors before Wednesday’s game with the Boston Celtics.
“I’m one of those guys that you have to take whoever comes to you,” Casey said at shootaround.
“The basketball gods will always get you if you start saying, ‘hey, we want to play this team,’ because you will get what you ask for. I’m a firm believer let the games, possessions, quarters take care of themselves.”
Last year, most thought it was a good thing that the Raptors drew Washington and avoided a potential second-round meeting with Cleveland instead of taking on a weak Milwaukee squad first, but then having to meet the Cavaliers. Well, you have to win one round before you move on and Washington ended up being a far worse matchup.
Our algorithms grade the Cavs as the better team. Cleveland’s nERD score is 66.9 — fourth-best in the NBA.
Toronto’s 64.4 ranks sixth.
Our numbers project the Cavs (57.5-24.5) to finish two games ahead of the Raptors (55.5-26.6).
The actual gap in efficiency between the two squads is pretty small, but the schedule won’t be doing Toronto any favors as they press for the Eastern Conference’s top seed over the closing weeks of the season.
Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors, expected finish +11 wins better than projected
Last season 49-33, ESPN summer projection 44-38, current record of 48-31 projects to 55-27
If you are looking for proof that ESPN doesn’t really pay much attention to the only team north of the border, look no further than their summer projection. Objectively the Raptors improved in the off season, but somehow the ESPN panel consensus was for five fewer wins?
Under Casey the Raptors number of wins has increased each season from 23 in 2011-12 to 34 to 48 to 49 and now projected at 55 wins this year.
Toronto has been closely tracking the first place Cleveland Cavaliers all season as the second best team in the Eastern Conference and are now just one loss back of the leader with 13 games left. Second place at a minimum is secure, eight losses in front of the third place Heat.
The Raptors franchise has never won 50 games in a season. They have never finished better than third place in their conference. Already in contention, if Casey can lead his team to a first place finish, it’s going to be hard to argue against him for COY.
Welcome to Mississauga, Mr. Berry! Davion Berry has become a full-time starter and has tore it up with his big minutes. Berry’s ability to shoot has kept defenders honest and he’s been able to use his pump fake and a variety of dribble moves to slice into the paint. Berry’s 22-point performance at home against Erie would serve as the appetizer to the main course as he went to take on his former team in Maine the next day. The guard had a message to send, putting up a career highs in both points and steals with 28 and six, respectively. It must have been a sweet moment for Berry as he sealed the OT victory with a driving lay-up with 30 seconds left in the game to put Raptors 905 up by four.
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