BOSTON — On paper, this was the one you thought the Raptors should get.
The Boston Celtics were fresh off a west-coast trip, a grind at any point in the season, but certainly that much tougher this late in the year.
Toronto was well-rested, conversely having just come off a homestand that ended with a day off and two key practice days.
Throw in the injuries the Celts were dealing with and this one looked like a good bet for a win for the visiting Raps.
Turns out that would have been a bad bet because these Celtics, as injured as they are, as tired as they might be, just don’t give away games.
The Celtics, as has become their custom, just got stronger as the game went on, trailing for the majority of the night until it mattered.
With three minutes to go, they had opened up a 10-point lead and even a handful of empty trips down the court weren’t enough to hurt them as they turned to their defence and still won easily, 110-99.
The result moved the Celtics to within two games of the East-leading Raptors. Each team has six games remaining, including a rematch back at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night.
DeRozan, who has not been scoring as much recently, preferring to be more of a facilitator and, in his own words, be the glass you break in case of emergency, reverted back to form.
With the stakes a little higher on this night, DeRozan didn’t wait to break the glass and, while he did have six assists on the night, he was back to his scoring ways with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting.
Celtics centre Aron Baynes, who came into the game having attempted 19 three pointers in his career and made just one, was a perfect 2-for-2 in the first quarter as the Celtics refused to let the Raptors get any separation. Baynes had 12 points in the quarter.
Valanciunas, who was on the defensive end for most of those Baynes scores, got quite a bit of that back on the other end with 10 points of his own in the half and seven rebounds, three to extend Raptors’ possessions on the offensive end.
Toronto’s bench, outside of a solid scoring first half from VanVleet, struggled as the Celtics went with just nine players and, with Shane Larkin out with the flu, had little-used Kadeem Allen in as the point guard on that second unit.
The prime point guard duties though were handled by Al Horford, who was the first sub out of the game and then brought back in with the second unit.
The Celtics were without several key players, including Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart. Should these two clubs meet in the post-season, chances are those missing pieces will be back and this will be a very different Celtics team.
Consider this from Celtics head coach Brad Stevens before the game regarding his plans for the final half dozen games of the regular season:
“We have to focus on only us for the next couple of weeks because we are still trying to figure out how to play together with this group,” Stevens said. “We can’t get caught up in the standings or any of that stuff.”
Toronto seemed to have no answer for Boston’s length or its zone defence, particularly finding someone to slow down Jayson Tatum who had 24 points as Casey tried OG Anunoby to start the game on him, VanVleet, Powell and then back to Anunoby late.
Casey believes it’s just a matter of a tweak here or there in their switching.
“It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” he said. “The thing about it is we just have to understand what they are trying to do, where the help is coming from, and they made some tough shots. Some of it was off our turnovers in the fourth. Areas where we know we’ve done a better job and will do a better job. Give them credit. They made their tough shots against good defence in some possessions in the post. You shake their hand and go the other way but we know there are areas where we can be better.”
Consider this from Celtics head coach Brad Stevens before the game regarding his plans for the final half dozen games of the regular season: “We have to focus on only us for the next couple of weeks because we are still trying to figure out how to play together with this group. We can’t get caught up in the standings or any of that stuff.”
The two teams will do battle one more time Wednesday in Toronto with both teams coming off games the night before — the Raptors in Cleveland and the Celtics in Milwaukee.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies