For a young Toronto Raptors team learning under the tutelage of new head coach Dwane Casey the team has had its share of disappointments this season.
Fourth quarter collapses have been a major problem but on Friday night the team barely held off a late charge from the Boston Celtics to win 84-79 at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors (21-39) were up by 15 points with 5:56 to play but a Boston went on a 18-4 run to trail by just one point with 38.8 seconds left. Sandwiched between successful trips by DeMar DeRozan’s two trips to the foul line was a running Paul Pierce dunk. With the score 80-77, Pierce then missed a game-tying three point attempt with 14.9 seconds left and Linas Kleiza sealed the game by making four straight free-throws.
Both teams struggled offensively throughout the game, especially in a low scoring first half as the Celtics held a 36-30 lead at the break. The Raptors came out strong in the third quarter and started making shots to outscore the visitors 27-11 in the frame. DeRozan had the hot hand scoring 13 of his game-high 22 points in the quarter as Toronto entered the fourth with a 57-47 lead.
“My shots weren’t falling so I was just trying to be aggressive try to get some easy points especially from the free throw line,” said DeRozan who finished a perfect 13-for-13 from the stripe.
“We knew we had this game in the first half. We couldn’t make our shots but we were still in the game. It was a six point game at half time and we knew if we turned it up and just started to be aggressive on both ends we could win this game and that’s what we did.”
Kleiza came of the bench to finish with 17 points while starters Alan Anderson and Amir Johnson added 12 and 10 points respectively. Toronto was also very strong on the boards and outrebounded Boston 50-37 with Ed Davis hauling down a game-high 12 rebounds.
“They did an excellent job of coming in offensively and defensively and taking it to a team that has been one of the hottest since the All-Star break,” said Casey. “My hat is off to the players and everybody that played contributed. I thought the guys inside battled.”
Point guard Jose Calderon was active but did not dress again after taking another knock to his swollen right eye on Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Prior to the game the Raptors announced that Andrea Bargnani, who has missed various stretches of the season and 26 games with a left calf injury, would be shut down for the rest of the season. The decision was based on the reoccurrence of previous symptoms and the team wanted to eliminate any further risk to its leading scorer. Bargnani also joins guard Jerryd Bayless on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
Boston (34-25) came into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NBA and had won nine of its past 11 games. But the team struggled after a good start and let the Raptors go on a 13-4 run in the second quarter to close the gap. The Raptors carried that momentum into the second half and the Celtics had a poor third quarter. Boston wasn’t able to pick up the slack until midway through the fourth and simply ran out of time.
Pierce led the Celtics with 18 points to go along with his eight rebounds while Kevin Garnett finished with a double-double, 13 points and 10 rebounds. Avery Bradley added 15 points and Brandon Bass had 10 while Rajon Rondo dished out a game-high 12 assists.
The game was the first of a back-to-back-to-back road games for the Celtics and the beginning of a grueling stretch of five games in six nights. Head Coach Doc Rivers admitted that he made a mistake in resting his regulars in the first half and that may have affected the team’s rhythm.
“I told our guys I messed their rhythm up a little bit in the first half,” said Rivers. “I told them I was not going to play them a lot of minutes and give them rest and then try to make a charge in the second half. I don’t think I handled that very well. Again, you keep learning your team and I thought we came out almost in a slow, cool mood. I thought I activated that somehow.”
Garnett is known for being a fierce competitor who hates to lose and he along with Rondo (see video below) were clearly frustrated after the game.
“I thought for the most part we had a pretty good (first) half,” said Garnett. “From then on we were digging ourselves out of a hole.”
“They have been playing some decent basketball and have always been known as a hard working team. They shared the ball and were aggressive. We couldn’t hit shots or get any stops. Tough game.”
When asked if there was any particular reason why his team struggled on both ends of the floor, Garnett responded with:
“It’s possible man. @*#! You know, @*#! happens man.”
Despite the playoffs being a certainty, Pierce thought his team’s performance was disappointing with so much still left on the line down the stretch.
“Right now we have a lot to play for, we are playing for playoff positioning and that has to be the mindset regardless of who steps on the court,” said Pierce.
“So with the possibility of moving up to the three or four seed, these are must win games for us. A little slippage and little chinks in the armor, but hopefully we can bounce back…we have to take care of business for the rest of the season.”
Pierce also disagreed with the notion that the Raptors were a team with nothing to play for.
“They have a lot of guys playing for pride,” added Pierce. “They have a couple of guys on 10-day contracts maybe looking for a job. You have a guy trying to establish himself as a premier player in the NBA in DeRozan. So they have things to play for.”
The Celtics continue its road trip Saturday in New Jersey and Sunday in Charlotte before finally having a day off. Meanwhile the Raptors are off until Sunday when it hits the road to kick off a home-and-home set with the Hawks in Atlanta and then return home on Monday.
Viewer discretion is advised in the below video - beware of foul languageAman Dhanoa is a Toronto sports beat reporter covering games live and bringing Digital Journal insights from within the locker room.This article was originally published on Oye! Times