With first place in the Eastern Conference still within reach, the Celtics got off to what was an absolutely perfect start of their season-series finale against the Raptors.
Seemingly carrying the momentum of last Saturday’s comeback win over Toronto into the first quarter, the undermanned C’s came out of the Air Canada Centre gates and scored 20 points, but more importantly held the Raptors to just 14 points. It was the fewest points that the Raptors had scored in any single quarter this entire season.
But finding a way to take advantage of Boston’s turnover struggles before the end of the first half (Toronto finished with 29 points generated off the Celtics’ 17 turnovers), and with the Celtics painfully unable stop the bleeding against a deeper Raptor bench, the Raptors grabbed a hold of the lead and never looked back in a dominating 96-78 final.
“They owned our space all night. They were very physical, they were very good,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, whose team set new season-worsts almost across the board in a loss that seemed way worse than the final indicated, said of the Raptors’ efforts. “They did a great job. They’re really good, they’re really deep. Hats off.”
“They dictated the game that quarter,” Marcus Morris, who led all Celtics with 21 points behind a 7-for-14 shooting night, said. “Not being strong with the ball — I fault myself there. I think I had five turnovers. Definitely gotta do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Terry Rozier, returning to the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee due to a left ankle sprain, noticeably struggled to find his offensive rhythm and pace, converting on just one of his nine field goal attempts in a 27-minute disappointment.
But what really killed Boston in this game was their lack of success from behind the arc.
Finishing the night with a woeful 3-for-22 mark from three-point land, the Celtics had threes from just three players, and saw their bench go 1-for-12 from deep, and with 0-fors from seven different players. (The three treys stood as the fewest threes made by the Celtics since they went 3-for-19 in a win over the Knicks back on Feb. 2, 2016.) This was a staunch change from the 7-for-17 mark that the Celtics posted in last Saturday’s win over the Raptors, and a sneak peek of what could and would make the Raptors a difficult matchup for the Celtics in a potential third-round showdown.
But a letdown was bound to come for an injury-riddled and overworked Celtic squad (tonight was the C’s sixth game in the last 11 days, and fifth away from TD Garden over that span), and a road showing in Toronto, where the Raptors have captured wins in 10 of their 11 head-to-heads with the Celtics, seemed like the perfect venue for that.
“Coulda played better,” Stevens, immediately downplaying any fatigue or schedule issues, said. “I’m not going there [making excuses].”
The loss, which came with a season-low in points by the Celtics, unofficially locks the Celtics into the No. 2 seed in the East. That means that Stevens and Co. are expected to draw a first-round series against the Bucks, Heat, or Wizards.
The Celtics return to TD Garden for a Friday night tilt against the Bulls.
Full article @ Raptors 96, Celtics 78: 1st place seems like thing of past for Celtics
Source: GreenStreet Blog