Since the Celtics’ comeback-surge victory against the Raptors Feb. 1, so many have anticipated this matchup. With so much riding on it, from playoff seeding to the perception of both teams around the league, it was as all-or-nothing as regular-season games get. While it was close more often than it wasn’t, the Cs showed some shortcoming while the Raptors preened with their shiny trade-deadline acquisitions and took the season series.
THE GAME FLOW
To paraphrase Celtics play-by-play legend Mike Gorman, both teams looked in vacation mode to start. Jaylen Brown had the unlucky role of guarding DeMar DeRozan and fell for some pump-fakes of the seriously? variety, but Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas got rolling to stave off a Raptors lead. On Toronto’s side, only DeRozan and the newly acquired Serge Ibaka appeared engaged–the latter particularly so, on both ends. Boston’s lead got comfortable fast, and while that not might have been the case with Kyle Lowry (wrist) playing, you take opportunities when you get ’em.
Part of Toronto’s early struggles stemmed from bad rebounding, with only one offensive board as the game moved into Q2. (God it’s nice to say this about, like, not the Celtics.) Little of what they trotted out was working–poor shooting, few trips to the line, no made threes–and Boston spread scoring around almost the whole depth chart. The atmosphere and effort level (on the Cs side) felt playoff-like. Think of how many loose balls off Celtics fumbles could’ve been turnovers but weren’t–it was like everyone adopted Marcus Smart’s level of determination.
The Raptors managed to cut their deficit off a Jonas Valanciunas-led run, but also fucked themselves when DeMarre Carroll elbowed I.T. in the head. This cut off any momentum they would’ve gained and allowing Boston to regain a sizable lead…and then Isaiah got hit with legitimately inexplicable flagrant-1 due to hard if hardly intentional contact to DeRozan’s face. Regardless, the Cs held a 10-point lead going into the half.
I didn’t think Toronto’s tired/cold streak would last long, and was right. Nice plays by DeRozan, Ibaka and Cory Joseph–as well as discombobulated movements/poor D on Boston’s part–closed the gap to a 1-point Cs lead. (They allowed a goddamn 3 from DeMar, who hardly ever shoots 3s.) Ibaka ended up giving the Raps their first lead since Q1 on a smooth 3. Toronto didn’t get far ahead, but the Cs poor shooting, which had persisted throughout Q3, kept them from re-establishing a lead until the final minute of the frame, off a desperate Smart 3-pointer.
In Q4, we saw persistent fire from Smart, I.T. and Brown to start. Toronto couldn’t match up, aside from bench buckets off the promising Delon Wright and reliable Patrick Patterson. Boston maintained its small lead off tough D and the luck of shitty Toronto shots. The Raptors didn’t come back until the final 4:30 of the game, and retook the lead after buckets from Ibaka and Joseph. They kept it–as much thanks to DeRozan’s team-on-my-back, 43-point effort as contributions from Ibaka and the Raps’ other new acquisition, P.J. Tucker. Boston didn’t have enough juice to break Toronto’s reinvigorated D after losing their mojo at the half, and fell 107-97.
HOME COOKING. As my previous recaps bear out, I haven’t been an incorrigible homer–I have accused Celtics players of committing dumb or uncouth fouls. (Like, just because I don’t think a player deserved a flagrant-2 doesn’t mean a flagrant-1 wouldn’t have been perfectly appropriate.) All that said, even beyond the superstar calls that one expects DeRozan to get…but Tucker? You fucking kidding me? As for Carroll not earning a flagrant-2 for that elbow while I.T. got one for what he did? Fuck out of here, man.
You can understand, seeing this, why Ainge was loath to part with Smart in any trade proposals. WOW.
I.T. had a middling game by his current standards–but he’s not gonna stop doing awesome things. Observe:
Marcus Smart: Even by Smart’s hustle-hard standards, his performance tonight was excellent–19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a ton of diving plays that kept this game from being more of a defeat than it was.
Jaylen Brown: Of every Celtics player to score in double figures, Brown was the only to have a positive plus-minus–a 3, with 13 points on 63 percent shooting, 2 assists and a steal.