Celtics strong fourth gives Raptors something to work on

BOSTON — The optimist looks at Saturday’s Raptors loss in Boston and sees a team that had a tough fourth quarter but otherwise played the game they wanted to play.

The ball was moving for most of the game, the assists were up and the scoring was shared. Again for three quarters they dictated the pace of the game. They saw a re-energized Serge Ibaka doing exactly what the Raptors need from him — knocking down three pointers and providing a physical rebounding presence and their leading scorer was hitting some remarkable shots.

The pessimist sees a game in which the Raptors re-affirmed their inability to match up with elite opponents particularly in crunch time and the doom and gloom view, an inevitable disappointment of a short playoff run to follow. They see a fourth quarter in which the Raptors scored just 15 points and saw the offence bog down trying to deal with the Celtics’ zone defence. They see the Raptors vaunted bench mob struggle to overcome Boston’s bigger and longer bench

Then along comes the realist to point out both the good — a tour de force from DeMar DeRozan for three quarters surrounded by complementary scoring from the rest of the roster also for three quarters — and the bad — an inability to execute in the fourth quarter when the Celtics went to a 2-3 zone not to mention a horrendous night shooting the basketball from behind the arc from all the usual suspects not named Ibaka or Fred VanVleet.

This was not the end of the feel-good season for the Raptors nor was it a game that can simply be dismissed as just a bad night.

The Raptors have to learn from this one. That becomes vitally important if, as many suspect, the playoff path winds up with these two clubs meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics, even at far from full strength, showed the Raptors they have ready-made answers for one of the biggest advantages Toronto would take into a potential series against Boston with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.

That would be Toronto’s depth, something Brad Stevens has been talking about every time the Raptors come up in conversation.

Even back in early February when the Raptors dropped a 20-point loss on a Celtics’ team with Kyrie Irving an active participant, Stevens marvelled at the advanced play of a unit that was 4/5 composed of young and raw talent.

Prior to the two teams locking horns again Saturday night, Stevens admiration for Casey’s bench mob had not wavered.

“The bench is special,” Stevens said picking up where he left off in February. “And that doesn’t even always include (Norm) Powell or (Lucas) Nogueira. Those guys can come in and they just keep it going when they are in. It’s as deep of a team and as good of a team as there is. It’s a credit to everyone involved. They have young guys playing on that second unit and they play like they’ve been playing together for 10 years.”

What Stevens wasn’t saying was that he had already come up with a group to counter Toronto’s bench mob and on Saturday he unveiled it to great success.

By stocking the front court with physical and long bigs like Greg Monroe, Al Horford and Marcus Morris, Stevens was able to get the Raptors’ second unit off its game. Where Pascal Siakam would normally use his athleticism to find a way to the basket, this time he was met by a wall of big bodies waiting for him deep in the paint. There was no getting to the rim on this night for Siakam.

Toronto’s response to teams that have done that is to make them pay with their outside shooting but that was nowhere to be found. VanVleet had a couple of early threes but that was the extent of the damage they could do leading to a rare night where Toronto’s bench got outscored 35-20. Toronto’s bench shot just 28% for the game.

But the big issue, and this is one Casey and his staff will undoubtedly have the Raptors better able to handle in the next meeting Wednesday in Toronto and one would hope at a future date in the playoffs, was Toronto’s inability to penetrate or score on Boston’s zone defence in the fourth.

Casey was adamant after the game that the Raptors were prepared for this but the proof was not on the floor.

When Boston went to the zone in the fourth, the Raptors offence bogged down or in the words of DeMar DeRozan “it got stagnant.”

This is obviously not the first time the Raptors have seen a zone defence but they clearly did not handle it well on this night turning the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter alone.

Dealing with that zone defence and perhaps a little more attention paid to ball security will be areas the Raptors will work on before they meet up with Boston again, this time on home soil Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

But before they get to that there’s the not small issue of a date with LeBron James and Cavs on Tuesday in Cleveland.

So plenty to work on for the Raptors, but also still time to get things right before the playoffs arrive.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies

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