YES! It’s always a good feeling to beat the Celtics because they always seem to have an inflated opinion of themselves, and it’s nice to bring them down a peg or two. The Raptors had to scrap for three quarters before the talent rose to the top and they put this game way courtesy of their big three, that being Ross, DeRozan and Valanciunas. No, that’s not a typo, Ross was actually good and one might even say instrumental, or any one of those fancy words which basically means good.
The Raptors offense looked bad in the first half because it was slow to develop and lacked pace. I’m pretty quickly and probably prematurely losing faith in the Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas combination because things just appear more congested and slow to get started with both in there, and they definitely invite a pacy team like Boston to push it in transition. But hey, if this means Patrick Patterson’s coming off the bench playing with less pressure, so be it.
The Raptors only shot 27% in the first quarter to the Celtics’ 37%, and the two-point deficit was only that because of the Raptors getting to the line 12 times. DeRozan handled the ball a lot and tried to probe his way through, got some good looks at the basket but couldn’t finish. Working against a set Boston defense is a tough ask because they’re well-coached and have sound defenders at all wing positions, so you really have to go at their bigs (David Lee and Tyler Zeller) to get high percentage looks. Chalk the first quarter up to a slow pace, 5 careless turnovers and the Celtics getting out in transition to the tune of 9-0 (again, caused by turnovers).
Get to the second quarter and things start improving. You have Patrick Patterson in there and even though the Kentucky product’s been inconsistent hitting his shots, he creates room for DeMarre Carroll to slash which he did, with Lowry proving a willing passer. The spacing is better and even Terrence Ross gets into the action by hitting a couple step-ins and driving the ball against a Boston defense whose plan was to crowd him into turnovers. Backfired.
The difference between the first and second quarters was that the Celtics couldn’t capitalize on the Raptors 6 turnovers. DeMar DeRozan, being checked by Evan Turner and Jae Crowder at times, was keen to face-up and get into the lane, he didn’t even try to fake his mid-range jumper and just went right into the paint to shoot. He went to the line 8 times in the second and have to say, they were deserved FTs. He only shot 5-15 but somehow has the ability to coax defenders into fouling him, even when he’s missing his shots. I can’t explain it, but it’s happening.
Back to Patterson for a moment, he was matched up with Jared Sullinger in the second quarter who scored on him a few times a little too easily. The Raptors just have problems matching up with forwards who have good mid-range games and are a little bulky (e.g., Brandon Bass). Jonas is too lumbering to check him, and Patterson is too lightweight, and the only one who could potentially do a job is Biyombo but if we put him in that situation, the guy will pick up six fouls in five minutes.
The second unit provided the energy bump again, and was led as usual by Cory Joseph who was being hounded by Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. Joseph only had 1 turnover in 18 minutes which is an excellent return. Starting in the second quarter after he got accustomed to the Boston pressure, he managed to protect the ball and setup plays early in the clock. He’s only credited with 2 assists but he did well as the second ball-handler in three-guard lineups. His defense against Thomas was also commendable and though Thomas had 25, he had to work for it and it came at the expense of Boston’s offensive flow. They looked very me-ballish at times and it played into the Raptors defense hands because we simply didn’t have to cover much ground to contest their shots.
Tie-game at the break and there are no complaints. The Raptors are scavenging for their offense against an organized defense, and what’s needed is the talent to rise up.
And it did. Kyle Lowry saved the day against the Pacers, and in this one it was a collective effort led by DeMar DeRozan. In the third, the man was brilliant with his ball distribution setting up people left and right. The shot wasn’t falling but his four assists and defense were big. DeMarre Carroll hit two big threes and Scola chimed in with one during the third and the best part of it was that it came naturally. The lineup of Scola, Biyombo, DeRozan, Lowry, and Carroll worked well in the third because, 1) Biyombo was a menace on the boards, and 2) Celtics were leaving Scola to roam and he made them pay by going 4-6.
The Raptors restricted them to 32% shooting and the Celtics were making some really risky passes which led to turnovers and points for the Raptors. A nine point lead heading into the fourth in Boston is rarely safe, what with our propensity to commit turnovers (21 in the game, which is way too many).
Now, a fourth quarter on the road becomes a lot easier when you get an unexpected source of offense, and that’s what I classify Terrence Ross’s 6-7 FG fourth quarter performance as: he was driving, he was pulling up, he was throwing things off the backboard, and he was hitting threes. It’s like he suddenly remembered that the rookie extension deadline is two days away and he’s got to do something about it. He had his best offensive game since his 50-point outing and the majority of it came in a ridiculous fourth quarter burst where he made every Boston wing looked inferior (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). After, his coach had this to say:
21 from him was huge off the bench. Not only that, I thought his defensive activity and focus [was big]. Staying locked in on [Avery] Bradley, chasing him off screens, rebounding, all those things helped him get in the rhythm offensively and knock down shots. That’s what we need from T-Ross.
Obviously, with Ross it’s about consistency and he’s shown flashes of brilliance before, and I won’t be surprised if he goes 0-6 with 3 turnovers in the next game, or if he goes 8-14 for 22 points. No idea, I refuse to speculate and I’ve commented on him enough times on the podcast. The guy is an enigma who you can’t quite define, project, evaluate, or forecast.
Dwane Casey used a variety of lineups in this game, and chose to finish with Jonas Valanciunas as the main big to secure some rebounds, and basically four ball-handlers if you count DeMarre Carroll as one. Great, but I think too much is sometimes made of lineup combinations because you’re either opting to go big and protect the boards, or opting to go small and increase ball-handling. Against a team like the Celtics, I think the latter is more prudent because they want to beat you down the court and are not exactly crashing the glass. Even when playing single-big lineups for a big chunk of the game, the Raptors still managed to out-rebound them 53-38. Despite having a load of PFs, the Celtics bigs don’t necessarily play big so the Raptors can afford to get away with pretty much any lineup they want.
You should check out Blake’s reaction post for more detailed player analysis and more thoughts on the game. Finally, congratulations to Dwane Casey for tying Sam Mitchell for all-time wins.