“We’ve got to find ways to create it when it’s not there and then usually we can do that on the defensive end, but every stop we got it felt like they got an offensive rebound, when we got a breakout in transition, sometimes the ball just ended up out of bounds, or missed a layup … it was one of those nights.”
On the night the Celtics stole liberally from the Raptors preferred formula: They gathered 12 offensive rebounds — eight by Robert Williams III — to six for Toronto while the Raptors turned it over 18 times to 15 for Boston, the latter a low number for the Raptors, who lead the NBA in opponent turnovers.
Scottie Barnes finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists, one of the few bright spots as Toronto shot 42.9 per cent from the floor and just 6-of-24 from deep, off-setting a decent defensive effort as they held Boston to 44.7 per cent.
Overall, the Raptors are still trying to find their bearings with Pascal Siakam working himself back into the lineup after off-season shoulder surgery. Siakam remains on a minutes restriction — he played 30 minutes and may be held out of Thursday’s back-to-back in Philadelphia. He contributed defensively, giving the Raptors one more switchable defender while his two steals hinted at his activity on defence, offensively he was clearly out of sync with four turnovers through three quarters, having a hard time simply finding shots and spots on the floor. He finished with eight points on seven shots.
Patience will be required.
“I was just was trying to reassure him and keep telling him: just keep going ’till you figure it out. He’s finding himself, finding his legs,” said VanVleet. “It’s a different lineup, you know, without a big out there most of the time and the spacing is a little different. … I think it’s gonna take some time, obviously, and we would all like for it to be tonight or yesterday or whatever. But, you know, that’s not how those things work. So we just got to stay together and keep working.”
Before the game Nurse was expecting the Celtics would be looking to respond after the Raptors tore them to pieces on the Celtics home opener, which simultaneously suggested Toronto might have a little more upside than pre-season projections would indicate and revealed some cracks in the Celtics foundation.
Boston ended up starting the season 2-5 and had to resort to a players-only meeting to gain their bearings. They responded with blowout wins over Orlando and Miami.
“I would expect this to be a little bit of a street brawl tonight, I really would. They’re gonna come with some physicality,” Nurse said.
The Raptors stayed within a possession until Precious Achiuwa blocked a Tatum drive, bumping him after as Josh Richardson chased down Svi Mykhailiuk the other way for a block. Langford ran the ball back, missed inside, and Williams III followed his shot with two hands above the rim. Tatum found Langford for three next time down and the C’s led 33-25 entering the second.
Schröder almost derailed Boston there with three turnovers in a row and a wild reverse layup attempt on the Celtics’ first four possessions. The Raptors scored on all three, leaning into their transition game, until Langford got in the way of Achiuwa’s full-court charge to draw an offensive foul.
Smart reestablished the Boston lead with a cutting layup, catching a pass from Tatum underneath, then grew it by feeding Grant Williams on his own cutting make. Smart caught a steal in the passing lane and got pulled down by Malachi Flynn on a breakout layup, drawing a flagrant foul on Toronto.
The Celtics converted only one point out of the replay, but kept running, which paid dividends immediately. Rob put back another Langford miss and jumped out on Siakam’s shot attempt, propelling himself toward the basket and catching a long Tatum pass for a transition dunk and a 46-35 Celtics lead. Another Udoka emphasis.
Then, Smart tossed a lob toward the rim that Williams III caught and buried over Scottie Barnes’ foul, the highlight of a 14-point first half following his 7-for-8 performance in Dallas. Back-to-back Tatum makes secured a double-double and a 16-point halftime lead.
Toronto dug into that with a 22-18 third quarter, occasionally reaching within 10 points only to be stalled by timely Boston baskets. Smart stole a Siakam pass aimed for the corner and lobbed his own over Siakam’s outstretched hand in transition to set Schröder up for a breakout layup.
Breakouts following lost balls by Horford and Williams on post-up attempts led to an early Udoka timeout, before an uncontested transition dunk for Siakam sent him onto the court clapping his hands. Smart hit a layup and found Tatum for a mid-range shot in response, before Horford hit his own jumper on a driving feed from Schröder.
Boston’s lead held at 12 following a last second Richardson burst for a layup. He began the fourth hitting a three and running down Achiuwa after the Raptors big stripped him. Langford rose and blocked Achiuwa’s shot in tandem plays later, with Richardson before the latter got called for a foul. Boston’s rim protection held firm for most of the game, with Rob leading a disruptive effort.
To be annoying, though, you have to put in the effort. That’s why this season is so tenuous for the Raptors — when the team has a flat effort, it’s going to be obvious… and it’s going to hurt.
Such was the case on Wednesday evening, as the Raptors came into TD Garden and got more or less flattened by the Celtics. There were bright spots, namely a rookie whose name rhymes with Dottie Carnes, but Boston overwhelmingly had more energy on the glass, made stops when they needed to, and flustered Raptors players into foul trouble on the other end. The result was a 104-88 win, as Toronto falls to a record of 6-6.
There was a bit of revenge at play for the Celtics, who lost to Toronto by 32 points in their second game of the season — one of the worst losses in franchise history (a long history, you might know).
Yet even without Jaylen Brown tonight, who’s out with a hamstring strain, and with Jayson Tatum shooting 8-for-24, Boston got away with looking excellent.
This is mostly thanks to their rebounding, as the Celtics grabbed 12 offensive rebounds to Toronto’s six and won the boards battle 44-41 overall. Robert Williams was a terror for Raptors centres all evening, especially feasting on Toronto’s small starting lineup and any minutes with Chris Boucher at the five. He tallied eight offensive boards, 13 overall, scored 16 points and was a game-high +20.
Despite the mediocre shooting, Tatum got involved in other ways, tallying 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Dennis Schröder picked up some of the Celtics scoring load as well, dropping 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
The Raptors were led by 21 points from Scottie Barnes, both thrilling and a bit disappointing. Thrilling because Barnes is always a treat, whirling into the paint, making off-balance hook shots, and continuing to connect on daring passes — he had four assists tonight. Disappointing because it means none of the Raptors big three were able to usurp his production. OG Anunoby was 6-for-14 for 14 points and had three turnovers. Fred VanVleet needed 14 shots to score 16, and Pascal Siakam had a modest eight points in 30 minutes.
As a team, the Raptors went 6-for-25 on three-pointers and turned the ball over 18 times. There was a sprinkling of other problem areas for the Raptors too — dysfunction on the fast break again, and some make-able shots inside and outside the paint that went awry.
Nurse knows what he wants to discover as the games go along, though.
“I think when it comes down to it, what you really want is three guys who can square people up, look ’em in the eye and be able to guard ’em one-on-one,” the coach said. “And then you’re not having to help as much.”
The three weren’t very effectively defensively, but none of their teammates were, either. The Celtics had 12 offensive rebounds for 21 second-chance points, hit 10 of 27 three-pointers and more than made up for a 32-point clubbing Toronto administered in the second game of the season.
“Really expecting a tremendous effort from them tonight,” Nurse said before the game. “They’ve had a lot of days off. I would imagine they’ll remember that last game a little bit as well. We should get a fired-up Celtics team tonight.”
Toronto’s end game — and it’s still a ways away with 70 games to go in the regular season — is to have the three frontcourt starters give top opponents many different styles to try to attack.
“The really good players, they’re all a little different,” Nurse said. “OG’s maybe down underneath ’em a little more. Scottie’s a little taller. Pascal’s a little quicker. Whatever it is, just give them different bodies to not allow them to get a great rhythm that a lot of these star players and high-scoring players get.
“That’s probably more of what we’re after: multiple bodies on one scorer.”
But even if there is equality among the three, Nurse wants more from Barnes offensively. Not taking shots away from either Siakam or Anunoby intentionally, but finding a way for the rookie to get more field-goal attempts. Barnes had only seven against Brooklyn on Sunday, 19 against Cleveland on Friday. The coach wants his per-game total far closer to the latter.
Midway through the third quarter, Barnes found Al Horford in isolation. He scanned the court for a pass, looking to find an open cutter, but when nobody presented themselves, Barnes turned toward the net and swished a 20-foot pull-up, his seventh bucket of the night. This time, though, as he ran back on defense he gestured toward Udoka. On the video, it appears as though Barnes shushed Udoka as if to say, “you can’t stop me.”
“He’s another long active body similar to the body types they like in Toronto, (Pascal) Siakam-type or whoever it may be, (Chris) Boucher or whoever. Guards multiple positions, plays with high energy, aggressiveness intensity,” Udoka said. “He made a shot and looked over and said something to me one time. So I love his confidence and he’s I think the front runner for rookie of the year as of right now.
“He’s a guy that’s obviously highly touted coming in and he’s met every expectation so far.”
But Barnes wasn’t the only problem for the Celtics that night. Boston got killed on the offensive glass, giving up 21 offensive rebounds, and turned the ball over 25 times. It was their worst performance of the season and left a “nasty taste” in their mouths, Robert Williams III said.
That kind of performance has been the Raptors’ calling card this season. They’ve been the league’s best offensive rebounding team and the second-best turnover producing defense, per Cleaning the Glass.
“They’re one of the more physical, aggressive teams, one of the top offensive rebounding teams, and they really junk it up,” Udoka said. “They’ll blitz, they’ll switch, they’ll rotate from weird areas. So you have to be ready for that.”
The Celtics have gone over the tape and tried to prepare everyone for Toronto’s hyper-aggressive defensive schemes, the kind Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant said can keep players up at night. Even with all that preparation though, the Raptors still find a way to wreak havoc, jumping into passing lanes and poking balls away.
After posting five wins in a row, the Raptors have now dropped three straight, the latest more disconcerting than the previous two given they gave themselves no chance.
What the Raptors must do is get Siakam more engaged and more active on offensive sets.
He forced his game against Boston, playing 30 minutes and turning the ball over more than he made baskets.
It’s not known if Siakam will play in Philly.
Not surprisingly, the Raptors’ defensive intensity was much improved in the third quarter, 12 minutes of play that would see Toronto hold the Celtics to 18 points.
Had the Raptors been on point offensively, it would have been a two- or three-possession game.
As it was, Boston maintained its double-digit cushion.
Chris Boucher looked lost and heaved some ill-advised threes, including one attempt that turned into an air ball.
There was one possession where the Raptors went to a zone, only to have Boston flash a player to the top of the key for an easy, uncontested basket.
In the fourth, they began to defend in the full court.
Toronto was aggressive and tried to dictate a quicker pace, turning a double-digit deficit into single numbers.
All the while, the Raptors had rookie Scottie Barnes on the bench.
Even though they improved defensively, the Raptors still trailed 91-79 with six minutes left in the period.
With Barnes and Fred VanVleet back on the floor, the Raptors turned the ball over twice and suddenly trailed by 16 points.
Offensive rebounding was the biggest area of concern in the game’s opening 12 minutes, a deficiency on the glass that allowed the Celtics to attempt more shots and as a result able to make more baskets.
At times, it was Boston’s size advantage that led to second-chance opportunities and then there were times when the Raptors forgot to put a body on their man.
Few (if any) rookies have gotten their seasons out to a better start than Barnes. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft continued his high level of play on both ends of the floor in this one, providing a ton of energy for the Raptors, as always.
When the team looked flat at times during the first half, Barnes was there to keep the heartbeat going. It wasn’t the loudest performance, but Barnes nearly led the Raptors across the board, finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
He was a bit outmatched by the size of Boston’s frontcourt, but the 20-year-old held his own inside against Al Horford and Robert Williams. It was another test of his defensive versatility, and it will be a learning experience for the first-year player.