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Spirited Raptors Grind Out Win in Boston: A Visual Journey

The Toronto Raptors were out-rebounded 55-24 but Kyle Lowry’s 35 point helped overcome that and much more in a 110-107 road win against the Boston Celtics.

Raptors 110, C**tics 107 – Box
There are some games where if you lose the sky is falling, and if you win, there’s little celebration because that’s what you were supposed to do. This was that kind of a game, albeit with high end-to-end drama.

The creaky defense that has been giving way was at the forefront in Boston, with the Celtics starting a whopping 9-9 from the field. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk were man-handling Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough in the paint, and the early rebounding discrepancies were only slightly less embarrassing than the 79% the Celtics shot in the first quarter (check out a Celtic grab a rebound with four Raptors standing around). The defense was a shambles with no coverage underneath, bizarre matchups presented to the Celtics right from the start of the set, and wildly unorganized rotations that yielded three-point shots which the home team was draining.

Here’s an early harbinger where there is no plan for providing help underneath. Not having Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson hurts, yet that’s not an excuse for this level of breakdown this early in a game:

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Another problem was captured in this frame, where Jeff Green is left wide open due to a baseline trap, with Hansbrough being tasked with a rotation that he’s extremely slow to make, and something he’s not used to doing:

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Finally, to give you a taste of how poor the defense was, I’d like to point out two examples. First, in transition, the Raptors did not check their man, or communicate about Celtics leaking right after the shot. The example below has Kelly Olynyk beating everyone down the floor for an easy two after a missed shot.

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And here’s the absolute worst defensive possession I’ve seen this year. It’s got Lou Williams guarding Jared Sullinger for some reason, and then the Raptors conceding an offensive rebound for a Boston three.

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This was the kind of start that the Raptors had, and not surprisingly they were getting punished. The Celitcs backcourt likes to press and attack, they’re built for that kind of basketball and the Raptors obliged by taking quick one-on-one shots which gave the Celtics even more incentive to push the tempo.

[Also read: The Quick Reaction – Celtics vs Raptors]
[Check out: Toronto Raptors – Worst Rebounding Games Ever]

They were up by as many as 16 in the first half, and it would have been more if it weren’t for DeRozan scoring some early buckets preventing 6-2 runs from becoming 8-0 runs. He was being covered by Jeff Green, making it now official that opposing teams prefer putting taller guys with good reach on him. Credit to DeRozan, he didn’t turn the ball over and took shots which you have to consider are high percentage for him. Yes, they’re jumpers, but they’re jumpers that will be his bread-and-butter when it’s all said and done.  Learn to live with him as long as he’s mixing it up with his drives (5-6 FT).

Two Raptors helped make a dent in the second quarter: Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams. Lowry had 17 in the first half, including this massive three which quelled the tide. Williams, who saw himself playing the point instead of the ineffective Vasquez, added an element of stolidity which slowed the game down and allowed the Raptors to operate methodically instead of in a sense of panic, where the only thing to look forward to was the next wave of Boston attack.

As the steady offense lent confidence to a defense whose unlikely saviours became foot-soldiers like James Johnson (great dunk) and Chuck Hayes, the big comeback was almost made complete by halftime with Patterson draining this three in transition. A note on Patterson – he had some issues guarding Sullinger in the block, and even Olynyk at times, but unlike Ross, he provided enough offensive punch to warrant court time and played good defense on the final possession of the game.

I couldn’t understand why Dwane Casey even attempted to matchup Grevis Vasquez with Rajon Rondo, the latter was torching the former and it was entirely predictable. This was a very negative matchup for the Raptors, not just because Rondo was blowing by Vasquez, but because it fractured the already fragile Raptors defense, resulting in chaos. With little offensive output from the fledgling Terrence Ross who Jeff Green was eating alive, the last thing the Raptors could afford was giving up easy baskets and that’s what the matchup enabled the Celtics to do.

A three-point halftime deficit was a blessing, and the Raptors had to have felt that they’d been let off the hook.

James Johnson permanently replaced Ross in the third quarter because Jeff Green was having a picnic with him. There’s a moment of frustration for Ross that the camera was able to catch right before he was benched. The current problems with Ross’s play are as follows:

  • He stop short on his drives and tends to either go for the floater, a leaner, or a pull-up – none of which he is particularly good at. Smarter thing to do is to just pull a DeRozan and try to get fouled. Go from there.
  • Defensively, he struggles against players his size or bigger. Not because he’s a terrible defender, but because he’s not a strong one. He gets pushed, stuck on peoples hips, and is unable to recover.
  • His three-point shot isn’t falling at a high enough clip for Casey to live with his defense.

The comeback was on in full force in the third, with Kyle Lowry leading the charge and DeRozan doing his thing. The decision-making on offense improved and the Raptors were giving what the aggressive Celtics defense was conceding, rather than shooting their way against a set defense. This play where Lowry realizes that he doesn’t have numbers, pulls back, waits for DeRozan bursting down the channel and laying it off is a perfect example of the smarter basketball the Raptors played in the second half:

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The spark the aforementioned James Johnson provided was also critical. His perimeter pressure paid of and directly resulted in points on multiple occasions, the best example of which was this score for Lowry:

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The icing on the third quarter was provided by our second-quarter hero, Lou Williams, who the Raptors cleared out for against Evan Turner to fantastic effect. The Raptors comeback was complete and they had reclaimed the lead after three quarters, which felt like an eternity ago from when they were up 2-0.

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This was always going to come down to defense and clutch playmaking, both of which the Raptors weren’t short of in the fourth. The Celtics continued to dominate the glass and ended the game with a ridiculous 55-24 advantage, which I understand to some degree since two of the Raptors’ best rebounders were out, but still, 31 boards? It’s mind-boggling.

The defense picked up and Lou Williams reading the play and playing the passing lane early in the fourth set the tone. After that, it was more of James Johnson pressure leading to points, and finally Kyle Lowry stepping up on both ends – his charge here galvanized the team and gave them that extra burst of energy needed to finish off a game on a back-to-back:

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Some credit needs to be given to Dwane Casey for managing his star players’ minutes over the back-to-back/3-in-4.  Lowry and DeRozan were limited to 31 minutes apiece against the Thunder, which helped them play 36 and 40, respectively, last night.

I have to pause and give some credit to Chuck Hayes, he was the most effective in stopping Jared Sullinger. He battled him for position instead of settling for playing face-up defense, and bodied him in a way that Patterson and Hansbrough didn’t.  He wore Sullinger down just enough that his shots started front-rimming and he didn’t have the energy to attack the offensive glass on some key possessions where the Raptors secured a rare defensive rebound.

The Celtics remained within a shout because of their three-point shooting and ended up tying the game after the Raptors had gone up by 8, and with the game tied, a statement was made:

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This was a perfect play and symbolized just what the second half was all about. Defense first and aggressive on offense. The whole “Lowry vs Smart” thing was put to bed on this decisive play, and DeRozan’s raw emotion after the thunderous dunk echoed both, relief and joy. The Raptors tandem had delivered. However, this was Kyle Lowry’s night, and it was only fitting that he alone came out for the encore to ice the game and a 35-point (12-17 FG) night:

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Let’s also not overlook the defense played on the last possession. I was nervous about this given how the Raptors were dropping back against driving guards, allowing kick backs to the top of the key for open threes. This time the pressure on the ball was good, the catch-point was further away, and Patterson did well to defend without fouling.

Did the Raptors play a great game? Absolutely not. They’re still finding their way on defense, integrating their reformed bench, and compensating for two missing starters. They were obliterated on the boards and once again gave up 50%+ shooting. Their saving grace turned out to be committing only 7 turnovers, and forcing 27 which led to 28 points. The Celtics backcourt are equally aggressive on offense as they are on defense, which cost them because you can’t go at a 100% clip all the time.

In my years of watching basketball, there are some things I never do and one of them is complaining about a road win on a back-to-back. You take those any chance you get. This Raptors unit may not yet have the consistency and chemistry it showed last year, but one quality has already shined through: when they’re down, they’re not out. There’s a spirit in them that believes no deficit is too large, and as a supporter watching, you just feel that there’s enough in there that you don’t ever want to change the channel.

Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Video Credit: TSN Canada, NBA

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