The Toronto Raptors entered Q4 against the Boston Celtics with a 15-point lead, which should have been more than enough against almost anyone. Yet somehow the Celtics, behind the 3-point shooting of Jared Sullinger(!), roared back to within 3 points with almost 6 minutes to play. Oh no, we thought, the Raps, playing on the second night of a back-to-back are gassed. We’re going to fumble away this huge lead….except this squad isn’t your father’s Raptors. Kyle Lowry drained a turnaround jumper, then created a turnover, after which Terrence Ross’ driving finger roll got a friendly bounce. Despite another Sullinger 3-ball (what is it with this guy – he averages 12.6 PPG, yet he’s scored 51 in 2 games against the Raps?), Boston couldn’t fend off the Toronto offense. Consecutive long balls by Lowry and Ross were the daggers.
All five Raps starters scored in double figures, a hugely encouraging development as we approach the playoffs. TRoss poured in 24 to lead the team; that’s 40 in 2 nights. We’ll take it. Jonas Valanciunas added 14 rebounds to his 15 points, many of the buckets coming as he backed down the smaller Celtics frontcourt. DeMar DeRozan, the fulcrum upon which the Raps’ offense pivots, was fiercely guarded all night, yet still managed 20 points. Lowry’s 23 included 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. While his 3 assists appears paltry when stacked up against Rajon Rondo, his opposite number who had 15, nobody contributed more that our little point guard. And a pointless Rap made his point about being a valuable contributor. Chuck Hayes grabbed 6 boards and blocked 3 shots (the only ones we managed). Beyond that, he showed the limitations of cold statistics. Chuck’s defense was inspired, and his battling for rebounds meant Toronto grabbed a few it might not have otherwise. The Raps won the boards battle 48-36. Amir Johnson was hampered by foul trouble, but 10 points and 7 boards is not a disaster.
I must admit I feel like my crystal ball was in fine form. Not only did I give you in my preview, Rapture Nation, the exact score, I also told you Boston should chuck its ho-hum starters and play the kids. The only Celtics starter in double figures was Avery Bradley with 16, while Sullinger had 26 and fellow rotation player Chris Johnson tossed in 16.
Let’s see if my luck holds on Friday night, as these two teams hook up again, this time at the Air Canada Centre.