Raptors can't hold lead, allow Celtics to storm back to win
Raptors centre Jared Sullinger (0) is trailed by Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) and forward Jae Crowder during first quarter NBA action in Boston on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)
If this does turn out to be a playoff preview, basketball fans in both the cities of Toronto and Boston are in for a treat.
With second place in the East on the line, these two teams went at it tooth and nail with the Celtics hitting the three when they needed it and the Raptors not quite able to match in the same situation.
With the 109-104 win, the Celtics lead over Toronto for second to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference grew to 1½ games and they can thank tiny-but-mighty point guard Isaiah Thomas for that breathing space.
Thomas scored 19 of his game-high 44 points in the final period to push the Celtics to victory in a game they trailed by as many as 18 midway through the third.
He salted this one away with a pair of free throws after Marcus Smart got the better of Norman Powell on a jump ball in a two-point game.
Kyle Lowry was no slouch in this one either with 32 points, his fourth consecutive game of 30 or more, but it was not enough the way Thomas got it going.
Raps head coach Dwane Casey was looking for some carry over from the defensive effort the night before in an overtime win over New Orleans when he arrived in Boston.
He got it for about 2½ quarters and then Thomas went to work.
The smallest guy on the court continually hit one big shot after another and when he wasn’t doing that, he was getting to the line and making the Raptors pay there.
Thomas wound up going 15-for-16 from the free-throw line.
Afterwards, he mentioned a quote from Jonas Valanciunas the last time these two teams met as his prime motivator.
Valanciunas was making the point that at the time the Raptors were in second and the Celtics third so, the Celtics were chasing the Raptors while the Raptors were chasing Cleveland.
It was more an observation of the standings than anything else, but Thomas took it as a slight and, like all good athletes, used it.
Lowry said it came down to not having an answer for Thomas.
“We just didn’t do things we needed to do,” Lowry said. “We didn’t execute. You let their best player get 44 points, 19 in the fourth, it’s kind of hard to win a game like that.”
Casey saw his team hold the Celtics to just 41.4% shooting and lose, so there was actually defensive improvement in this one.
“We’ve got to keep going, keep fighting, keep scrapping, stay together,” Casey said. “We held this team to 41% shooting percentage, we shot 52, we won the rebounding. A couple of those things went right for us.”
Foul trouble though hurt the Raptors. Already without DeMar DeRozan, who was sitting out for the fifth time in the past six games, the Raptors got limited minutes from both Valanciunas and Powell because of foul trouble.
Powell, in particular, was missed through much of that third quarter when he picked up his fourth foul in the first minutes of the frame and did not return until the fourth.
“I got to do a better job with that,” Powell said of the fouls. “Especially knowing situations. Coming out of halftime and picking up that early foul in the third and then not playing, I think that put a real strain on the rotation.
“It’s a learning experience for me knowing foul and time and situation but I got to play through it and find a way to make up for it,” he said.
Valanciunas was in trouble almost from the opening tip and only wound up playing just under 12 minutes the entire game.
For a half and a good chunk of the third quarter, it looked like the Raptors might just run away with this one, but, again, life in the NBA isn’t that easy.
What had been a 18-point lead got down into single digits early in the fourth quarter and remained there midway through the final period before the battle of the point guards began.
With the home crowd finding its voice as the Celtics came charging back, the Raptors put the ball in Lowry’s hands and, just as he did a night before, it looked like Lowry might bring this one home.
But just as Lowry started to turn it up, Boston’s Thomas was there to remind everyone that he too can carry a team.
Thomas scored eight consecutive points midway through the third to get the Celtics their first lead.
It went back and forth like that for a while with each point guard taking his turn until Thomas hit a three to put the Celtics ahead for the first time all night.
Hurting the Raptors’ cause in a big way was an uncharacteristic poor night from the free-throw line. The Raps converted just 14-of-25 trips to the line while the Celtics were good on 25-of-30.
Also not helping was the Raps three-point game, where the visitors hit just 12-of-36.
LOWRY MADE 'TOUGH SHOT'
BOSTON — In the end everybody was celebrating an incredible shot, but if you watch the replays of Kyle Lowry’s overtime game winner from Tuesday night, there is plenty of anxiety on the face of teammate Terrence Ross just to his left.
Ross and Terrence Jones, who is defending him, are basically on Lowry’s left hip when the shot is made.
“I was trying to get out of the way because I didn’t want to be like the guy where my man blocked his shot,” Ross said Wednesday night.
“That’s a tough shot because there are two extra guys including myself and my guy in that corner.”
Jones looks like he’s close enough to actually double-team Lowry on the shot which was Ross’ concern.
Fortunately Jones stayed focused on Ross and with Solomon Hill basically inside Lowry’s uniform, who could blame him.
Ross said the key to the shot was the pump fake.
“I think the pump fake helped him because when he got (Hill) going up and then when he’s coming down Kyle is going back up so he doesn’t see anybody really contesting him,” Ross said.
The main concern for Ross was just trying to put as much distance between himself and Jones from Lowry as possible.
“I just didn’t want to mess his shot up for him,” Ross said.