Tough result. First half was strong defensively. Celtics took it to another level in the third. Raps had chances to try and steal it at the end but made self inflicted mistakes. Positives to be taken from it but still feels like a missed opportunity.
— William Lou (@william_lou) December 6, 2022
Well, can't say the Raptors didn't have a few chances.
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) December 6, 2022
If this was a measuring stick game, I'm not sure we learned anything new about the Raptors. When they play THEIR game they're pretty tough. When they don't, well, we've seen what that looks like too. Commendable effort vs NBA's best team but Celts are on another level right now.
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 6, 2022
celtics look like a well oiled machine that can plug and play and stay in a flow. the raptors look like a team that needs its best players to always run the show.
— Vivek Jacob (@vivekmjacob) December 6, 2022
• Guys go through shooting slumps. That is going to happen. Fred VanVleet is certainly in one. You cannot let it impact the shots you are taking. After missing two clean looks, VanVleet was annoyed and forced up a long 2 with White in his face. He forced it. That’s a bad process. The Raptors don’t have the depth of perimeter scoring to win often with VanVleet shooting this poorly. He’s going through it right now, no doubt. VanVleet shot 3-for-14 on the night.
• Look at how disappointed Smart was in himself for throwing a pass with less than complete focus in the general area of O.G. Anunoby. Smart hanging his head so dramatically is proof that Anunoby’s reputation as a premium defender is getting around.
“He’s athletic enough to guard anybody,” said Smart, last year’s defensive player of the year. “And he’s strong enough to guard anybody.”
• There are lots of ways to measure strength, but the way Anunoby stood up two Celtics on two possessions in close proximity of each other — Smart on a drive and Brown in the post — was dang impressive.
• That’s nice patience and vision from Christian Koloko in finding Siakam for a 3 when the overwhelming temptation had to be to try to dunk the ball in the paint.
• As a lifelong fan of the “pass up a good shot, take a much worse shot” genre, seeing Gary Trent Jr. do it off an offensive rebound and then bank in a 3 unintentionally is about as well as that can go for unplanned comedy. Trent stepped up given VanVleet’s struggles, scoring 20 points off the bench.
• How many extra free throws per year does Chris Boucher get because he doesn’t have his balance when he goes up for a drive, comes into contact with a defender at the rim and goes flying backward as a result? I say it happens once every two games.
• A younger generation of basketball fans will know Griffin more for trying to draw charges than being the guy who tried to dunk over guys drawing charges, and that is sad.
Tatum said the team has been good at not panicking and responding when it faces a challenge, which can be external from the opponent or internal from the steady stream of absences it has had. That’s where the center depth comes into play, which has worked despite how it looked on paper coming into the year.
Rob Williams’ absence has been felt in play style, but not in the team’s results. It is the first to 20 wins in the league and nobody else is even close. Milwaukee can’t even get there until Sunday. Boston is a step ahead of everybody, and it’s nights like this when it walks into a dangerous place with a banged-up squad that keeps it at the front of the pack.
It’s not like Griffin is still a game changer. But he does some things well, and the Celtics have been adept at accommodating some drastically varying center personnel throughout the year. Horford, Kornet and Griffin operate in completely different roles, yet the team’s playmakers don’t seem to have any issue keeping the offense flowing with any big.
This was Griffin’s night, who was in a rhythm on the roll and had one huge and-1 dunk attacking a closeout that brought the game to life.
“I know I didn’t, (but) I’m sure everybody here and in the world didn’t know Blake still had it in the tank,” Marcus Smart told reporters in Toronto. “To be able to see him come out and give the energy he’s been giving us, that’s all you can ask for. It’s no wonder why everyone loves Blake. It’s no wonder why he’s on this team and he’s still here in this league. He understands what it takes to be a vet.”
The dunk was a shock, but it wasn’t the first of these kinds of plays he’s made in recent weeks since he started getting spot starts. Griffin wants to make sure it’s no longer a surprise.
“I figure if I dunk once a game, people will stop acting like it’s a miracle,” Griffin said.
When Griffin is being an impact player from the back of the depth chart, they have every option at their disposal.
“We’ve been the best team in the league for a minute,” Smart said. “And every night throws a new challenge at us.”
There are tests and exams during an NBA season. For the Raptors, desperate to gain some traction to this point in the schedule, the Celtics were the latter.
“For sure it’s a measurement game,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said before the ball went up. “I think we totally need to see where we are with these guys. They’re obviously the best team in the league right now, and record and metrics and numbers and historic this and historic that at both ends, and they’re playing really good. I think we need to see where we are at.”
Well, after a week in which the Raptors got thumped on the road by New Orleans and Brooklyn, and fell 116-110 at home to a shorthanded Celtics team playing for the second time in two nights, the answer might be: not particularly close to where they want to be, which is in the mix for the top teams in the East.
Boston improved to 20-5 and Toronto fell to 12-12 with the red-hot Los Angeles Lakers due in town on Wednesday. The Celtics got 31 points and 12 rebounds from Tatum and 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists from Brown. Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while Barnes ended with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Celtics shot 13-of-36 from three while Toronto converted 10-of-28 chances, though Fred VanVleet was 1-of-6. Gary Trent Jr. scored 20 points off the bench and was 3-of-3 from deep. The Celtics made just enough plays to see them through.
With the Raptors on a 2-on-1, O.G Anunoby ended up bouncing the pass from Siakam off Smart’s leg. Boston took the turnover and pushed the ball to the frontcourt where Tatum rose up for a big three to put Boston up 12 again with 3:29 left. A three from Trent Jr. and a three-point play by Barnes gave the Raptors hope, but they couldn’t take advantage. Trent Jr. missed a lay-up, VanVleet missed a wide-open triple that would have cut the lead to three, Siakam missed a crucial free throw and Anunoby let a pass from Barnes slip through his hands and into the crowd with 50.9 seconds left, wasting another possession. It wasn’t the Raptors’ defence that hurt them against the Celtics juggernaut, it was their inability to make or finish plays at the other end.
“That was there to be had tonight,” said Nurse. “We didn’t make the plays, probably we made the ball bounce the wrong direction a couple of times on some of those little passes. Just unfortunate plays but that’s it.”
Overall the Raptors opted to look at the glass as half full. They don’t see themselves as a team that has lost three of their last four. They see a group that is close to breaking through.
“I think we’re getting better from that, and we just have to take the positive from it, and just keep working, keep working hard,” said Siakam of Toronto’s rough patch. “And I think that things are going to turn around for us and we’re gonna have one of those runs. [But] to do that we need to continue to focus on the details and continue to stay together, play as a team. And, yeah, I believe that we’re going to turn around and we’re going to have one of those stretches where we feel like we play our best basketball. It feels like it’s close … but we just got to keep going.”
For the Celtics of course, it was just another game, one they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and without two starters (Al Horford, 36, who was resting and Robert Williams, who is injured and hasn’t played yet this season) and a key reserve (Malcolm Brodgon; illness) and against the backdrop of: The only thing that matters this season is to return to the Finals and win a championship.
“We look at [this] as the next game on the schedule,” said Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla. “I look at it as we have to get better from the things that we learned yesterday … I look at the challenge that Toronto presents in their physicality and their active hands and their ability to turn you over and their ability to be physical on the offensive end. So I think each game presents its own challenges.”
As the second quarter progressed, it became apparent that the Raptors were the team with fresher legs. Much of the quarter belonged to Toronto, as they pushed ahead by as many as 10 points. The Celtics’ shooting certainly helped them along; after connecting on four triples in the first quarter, the Celtics missed their first six attempts in the second before Smart finally found paydirt with just over two minutes to play in the half. Tatum followed with a three of his own moments later, and the Celtics managed to stem the bleeding for the moment, trailing by just six points at the halftime break, 62-56.
The Celtics asserted themselves as play commenced in the second half, kicking off the third quarter with a 17-5 run to put themselves back in the driver’s seat on the scoreboard. It was a gritty quarter from Tatum in particular, as he dug deep and came up with some desperately needed buckets to spark the Boston offense. He scored 17 of his 31 points on the evening in the third quarter, and the Celtics thoroughly manhandled the Raptors as a result. They outscored the Raptors 35-18 in the frame, and entered the final quarter with a double-digit advantage, 91-80.
Deserving of a shout-out this evening: Luke Kornet. With Rob Williams yet to make his return, any game where Horford sits out for rest purposes understandably becomes a bit of an adventure for this team’s frontcourt. Blake Griffin had a nice spot start, with 13 points (10 in the first half) and 2 assists in 32 minutes, but Kornet was also a notable difference-maker as the Celtics built their second-half lead. He scored 11 points in 16 minutes, including some timely buckets as the clock started to really matter.
The fourth quarter was not without drama, however. The Raptors, as always, were far too feisty to simply roll over. They didn’t make substantial inroads towards cutting the Boston lead down to size, but they didn’t allow the Celtics to put this game to bed early, either. The two teams traded punches for much of the fourth quarter, but some late-game heroics from Barnes and Trent Jr. weren’t quite enough to turn things around for the Raptors. A tip-in from Griffin with just under 30 seconds to play put the game on ice, and after some free throw shenanigans, the Celtics walked away with a hard-fought 116-110 victory.
The Celtics went on a 23-7 run early in the third quarter as the energy completely shifted and they sustained that momentum. Tatum’s finger roll gave the C’s a 13-point lead – their largest of the night – late in the third and their strong defense led to better offense. Smart had eight points and four assists in the quarter and added several hustle plays as the Celtics turned their six-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead going into the fourth, where they closed out the win despite a late Raptors run.
“We were just playing too slow, we were worrying about the officiating too much, and we just wanted to change that,” Tatum said of the first half. “So we came out at the start of the third quarter with just a different boost of energy.”
Other takeaways and notes from the win:
– Blake Griffin has become a valuable asset off the Celtics bench and he continued to thrive Monday night in his latest spot start for Al Horford, who was resting on the second night of a back-to-back. Playing in just his fifth game in the last month, Griffin’s fresh legs gave the C’s a lift, especially during a shaky first half in which they struggled at times to generate offense.
For a second consecutive game, the 33-year-old Griffin offered a reminder that he can still fly. Late in the first half, Griffin got the ball in the right corner and faked a shot on Scottie Barnes, then drove to his left and took off for a one-handed dunk with his right hand, drawing a foul in the process. Griffin’s latest highlight play got the entire Celtics bench off its feet and capped a strong half. He finished with a season-best 13 points in a season-high 32 minutes, which also included several hustle plays. He took a charge and grabbed eight rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.
Luke Kornet provided another lift off the bench, too, as he posted 11 points and seven rebounds. Without Horford, the C’s continued to show their frontcourt depth is viable.
“Give a lot of credit to Blake, man,” Tatum said. “Blake played his ass off tonight. Luke came in and played tremendous for us. I’m super happy for those guys because without them, we wouldn’t have won.”
– Turnovers have plagued the Celtics of late and it continued to haunt them in the first half Monday as they had nine giveaways. But they only committed two turnovers in the second half and it paid dividends.
– Horford sat the second game of a back-to-back for the sixth time this season, while Brogdon is dealing with a non-COVID illness. Smart returned after missing Sunday’s win with a left hip contusion.
VanVleet looked slow and tentative, or whatever the opposite of aggressive is, on offense. It wasn’t just the 3-for-14 shooting — though that certainly stood out. But just the way he’s dribbling, a lot of side to side, the lack of precision passing, and the shots he’s forcing up from two point range… just a lot of ugly stuff, and not stuff you expect from VanVleet. He’s mentioned multiple times that he’s still not 100% after his illness, but Nick Nurse dismissed that idea after the game, saying he thinks Fred feels fine.
Of his shooting, Nurse said he thought 10 of VanVleet’s shots were pretty good, open shots; even some of those two-pointers that I thought were forced, Nurse said he thought they were good looks. “I think both him and O.G. are our best shooters,” Nurse said, “and O.G. had five open ones too.” He’s confident that’ll swing back Toronto’s way.
But Nurse confirmed that the third quarter was the key. “We had a bunch of wide open shots in the third,” he said, “and didn’t make any of ‘em.” And on the other end, the Celtics “made a whole bunch of well-guarded threes.” Nurse called it a “shot-making stretch” that unfortunately just didn’t go their way.
In terms of seeing the game as a measuring stick, Nurse said that the team executed pretty well, but they know, if they wanna make the jump to get to the level of the Celtics, they need make those plays, and make a few more open shots, to get there.
Pascal Siakam concurred, noting that he thought the Raptors matched Boston’s intensity all game, and if a couple more of those shots go in, it’s a different game. “Things aren’t going to they way you have in your head,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go in — it’s basketball. There’s no other way to say it.” True enough!
For his part, Tatum said that at halftime the Celtics spoke about playing with more energy, more pace, and making the second and third effort — and that’s exactly how they responded in the third.
The Celtics — who came into the game with the best first-quarter point differential in the league — did lead 27-25 after one quarter. Both teams played excellent D in the frame, with Marcus Smart and O.G. Anunoby particular standouts. Siakam, as well, played solid D on Tatum, holding him to just three shots — but it was Smart’s effort on VanVleet, who missed six of eight shots, that stood out.
After just enough mistakes at key times in a game that required nearly flawless execution, the Raptors dropped a 116-110 decision to the league-leading Celtics and fell back to 12-12 on the season.
The game was typical of the way the season, still with plenty of time in it, has gone for Toronto: enough maddening inconsistency and crucial mistakes at both ends to show that they are not at the level of the Celtics today. Two ghastly turnovers in the final three minutes — one a blown three-on-one break, the other a mishandled pass — were killers on a night when the Raptors were good, but not good enough.
“I think if we’re gonna get over the hump … we need to make those three or four little plays,” Nurse said after the game. “We need to make a few more open shots when they’re generated like that. But I thought we did OK as far as executing what we were trying to execute defensively for good chunks of the game.”
Boston brought not only the best record in the league into the game but also the most explosive offence, averaging 120 points on every 100 possessions.
It’s a combination of tremendous shooting — six rotation regulars were shooting better than 40 per cent from three-point range — and sharp ball movement that’s made them the juggernaut they are. And after Toronto’s defensive struggles in two of its last three games, the Raptors couldn’t afford a slow start.
“A lot of them can take (you) off the bounce and … if they’re beating you off the dribble and you help, they find the right guys,” Nurse said before the game.
“They’re really killing people from behind the lines. It’s a tremendous challenge for our guys individually, guarding their matchup, and then trying to figure out (how) to help and then trying to figure out how to defend (the next guy).”
The Raptors did it well at times, but not nearly consistently enough, which has been the team’s major failing all season.
After a solid first half that gave them a six-point lead at the break, the Raptors were outscored 25-18 in the third quarter. It was a microcosm of the season: just enough defensive breakdowns to suck the life out of the team and the crowd, and have an impact on the Toronto offence.
And against a team as talented as Boston, small mistakes are magnified because the Celtics offence can be lethal.
Jayson Tatum exploded for 17 of his game-high 31 points in the third quarter, when Boston shot 58 per cent from the floor overall and 50 per cent from three-point range.
Tatum had 17 of his game-high 31 points in that game-changing third quarter in which the visiting Celtics shot 57% from the field and 50% from distance.
“We come out and generate wide open shot after wide open shot and we don’t make any of them,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “They were really good wide-open shots and we just didn’t shot-make well enough.
“Then at the other end I thought, and give them credit, they made a whole bunch of look-us-in-the-eye totally guarded threes.”
With Tatum playing at that level and Jaylen Brown not far behind at 22 points for the night, the Raptors need all of their scorers contributing at a high level and they’re just not getting that right now.
Fred VanVleet continues to struggle with his shot, going just 3-for-14 on the night and with just one make in his six attempts from three. He finished the night with eight points and three assists.
O.G. Anunoby, coming off that season-high tying 32-point effort on Saturday against Orlando had his own struggles in this one settling for 13 points on a 6-of-14 shooting night which isn’t bad in terms of efficiency but just not enough to keep up with the Celtics.
The Raptors did get solid to above-average nights from the trio of Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr., who had another good game off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Celtics on this night.
Siakam had a Raptors’ game-high 29 while Barnes looked much more like the Barnes of a year ago in that second half as he poured in 21.
Trent Jr. was once again effective off the bench, finishing with 20 points on just 10 shots and making all three of his three-point attempts.
“It was a shot-making stretch, a lack of it at our end and a very strong (showing) in their end that opened up the game,” Nurse said.
“But we had our chances tonight,” Nurse said.
“We did a lot of really good things defensively in stretches. We didn’t get it quite executed as well in the second half, but again, a lot of the three balls they made came off pretty guarded shots.”
The Raptors, down by as many as 13 in that third quarter, got it all the way down to a five-point game in the final couple of minutes and might have had a chance to get it down to a one-score game, with just under a minute to play as Barnes found Anunoby for an open three on the break.
Unfortunately, the pass slipped through Anunoby’s hands and went out of bounds for a turnover. Boston basically sealed the game with a Blake Griffin tip-in at the rim.
It was the Raptors third loss in the past four games as they fell to 12-12.
The Celtics improved their record to a league-best 20-5.
Just think of where Pascal Siakam was two years ago, battling through the COVID-19 pandemic and unable to generate anything against the Celtics in the Orlando Bubble. Back then, there were calls for Toronto to move on, tank, and give up on the then-26-year-old All-Star. Imagine if they had.
Today, it’s Boston on their heels against Siakam who has blossomed into a true three-level scorer and one of the league’s most dynamic offensive weapons. He’s confident going right at Smart, taking the reigning Defensive Player of the Year off the bounce and blowing past him for buckets at the rim as he did to open the second half. When the Celtics played back, daring him to shoot those same shots he couldn’t make in the Bubble, he’d pull up, dropping 29 points on 9-for-20 shooting.
“This year, [it] doesn’t matter what obstacle is in front of him, he’s going to continue to keep going,” Smart said of Siakam. “We all know what type of player Siakam can be and is.”
Toronto will need that same patience with Scottie Barnes who has and will continue to have a tumultuous sophomore season. Monday, though, showed the offensive upside of the 21-year-old who came alive in the fourth quarter with 11 of his 21, trying to will the Raptors back with his usual inside attack game. When the Celtics collapsed into the paint to stop him midway through the quarter, he found Thad Young for a corner three, cutting the Celtics’ lead to just eight. He then took it deep inside, converting the and-1 bucket over Grant Williams with two minutes to go.
“I’m a big fan of Scottie’s,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “But the cat’s out of the bag. He’s not surprising people anymore. … People know what he’s capable of and know how talented he is.”
If Monday was a “measurement game,” as Raptors coach Nick Nurse said pre-game, the Raptors measured up OK. They jumped up 10 points in the first half before the offense went silent in the third and the lead quickly vanished. Tatum picked apart Toronto’s high-pressure defense in after halftime, scoring 17 of his game-high 31 points in the third quarter and kept the Raptors at bay in the fourth.
“I thought we played well, we had a chance to win,” Siakam said. “When we focus and everybody’s healthy, everybody’s playing the way that we know we can play, I don’t think I fear anybody really, to be honest.”
The good and the bad of Monday night at the Scotiabank Arena was that the Raptors could have beaten the Celtics, who do not seem to beat themselves. Boston shot the ball better than the Raptors. Passed the ball better than the Raptors. Defended better than the Raptors. They fundamentally ended up with a 116-110 win that could have been a 116-110 loss – had the Raptors converted on their open shots.
They couldn’t make open threes. The Celtics didn’t seem to miss threes in which they were completely covered. And a win became a loss in the process and the possibility of a 13-11 record ending up at 12-12.
“We have to go back and learn from this,” said Siakam late Monday night. “We have to take the positives from this. We have to focus on details (more).”
And then he was asked about himself and what he sees and what we see and what he feels are not necessarily the same. “I feel like I’m a ways away from (being better),” he said. “Little things. I missed four free throws. Little things can make a difference.
“I’m not 100 percent where I want to be.” He wants to play himself to exhaustion and practice himself the same way. That he can learn from, he says. “I’m a hooper,” he said. “I play all day, every day.”
And if he gets knocked down, he wants to get back up. Right away. And fight back. And get up again.
Because this is the player Siakam has grown into at the age of 28. He was a late bloomer and he continues to get better at an age when some players plateau. There is no plateau here. There is another level to climb to, and the players around him have to find that level as well. You could see that Monday night.
Every time the Celtics got themselves in any kind of trouble, they played all but played a three-man game. The ball went from Marcus Smart to Jaylen Brown to Tatum, and then from Tatum to Brown to Smart in return. Their big three was sharper and more secure and probably smarter than the Raptors big three.
And now the improving Los Angeles Lakers, with LeBron James and a suddenly emerging Anthony Davis, come to Toronto Wednesday night. Another game and another challenge for Siakam and the Raptors, whose record could and should be better.
“Losing,” said Siakam “it’s not fun. This organization is not about losing. This is not who we are. We expect to win.”
13. Toronto Raptors (previously 12th) | 12-11 | +1.6 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Cavs, Loss at Pelicans, Loss at Nets, Win over Magic
First-quarter grade: C+
The Raptors seem like a pain to play against every night. They’re mentally exhausting with their activity. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet have both missed some time, and the Raptors continue to look pretty good. We just haven’t seen them take off. They haven’t won more than two games in a row this season. The flip side of that is they haven’t lost more than two games in a row. The Raptors figure out quickly how to dust themselves off, but they’re so bad at making shots as a team that it’s hard to see them going on a run without finding some consistency there. Still, this team, if it can stay healthy, can be really dangerous in the crowded East.
Prediction update: Raptors finish top five in defensive rating. … Toronto is seventh right now in defensive rating, and the Raptors are not that far behind Phoenix, which sits fifth. They’re going to need health, but I think they can do it. The concern is they can’t stop anybody inside the arc. That has to get better.