Toronto Raptors failed to stick to a lead at the end of the fourth quarter against Boston Celtics before they…
Toronto Raptors failed to stick to a lead at the end of the fourth quarter against Boston Celtics before they got outscored 16-9 in overtime. Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving went back and forth too much of the exciting game but it was Irving who had the last laugh, scoring or assisting on every Celtics bucket in overtime.
Here are five takeaways from the tough 123-116 loss.
Even in the up-pace NBA match, games between evenly matched teams often become slugfests, with defense up and offensive performance on a prize. Scoop on “iso-ball” all you want, but there’s a reason to play is full of it in important moments, when the clock wins down and the defense digs in. It was on display in almost every important moment of what was an outstanding early season matchup between Raptors and Celtics.
Lost third on Toronto, losing their record to 1
2-4, as they kick off a four-player trip. Their season series with Boston is now split 1-1. They have two matches left and they can be important, as it is easy to imagine a Toronto-Boston conference finale. In that scenario, the advantage of the court can be the difference, and in quick playoff games it is often the team that has the best or most shotmakers who weigh against the balance.
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The Raptors are deep and talented and – in Leonard – have a talented shotmaker and anti-defensive defender. Leonard had 31 points and 15 rebounds, but he was outdone by Kyrie Irving who had 43 points and 11 assists, apparently every bucket of any twist, slithering, well-defended appearance impossibility. That’s his game though. And when he did not score the distance, he could see Jayson Tatum deliver or see some signs of life in Gordon Hayward’s game.
Did it fail? Pitch out to Al Horford, left at open as the defense goes to everyone else. The Raptors have a chance to be a really good team, but in the tight moments in a tight series, who has more guys who can get buckets when they play?
The Raptors attack was buzzing sometimes, but in the game’s last possessions and overtime, it stuck in the mud, the ball stopped moving, and Celtics pulled away. The raptors had three assisted baskets in the last game of 10:33, and sometimes they seemed barely having so many passes. If Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan were still with the club, people would lose their minds. Celtics, meanwhile, had alternatives.
Usually, when a “big” setting up a bullet screen is the hope that the bullet will be isolated on the opposite big and faster and more skilled player will attack the big man in space and either get an open bracket, a slap for a lay-up or a color attack that pulls help and opens up things for a cutter or catch-and shoot three. Another option is for the big one to set the screen for to take the guard to the rim if the defense changes and punishes him in the color.
When Pascal Siakam sets screens for Lowry or – by the way, when Lowry puts a screen for Siakam, all efforts are suspended. Siakam is great for moving a smaller man down to the rim and using his aftermath to great effect, but he can even better attack smaller defenders from the dribbing. At least twice in the third quarter, he drove pick-and-roll with Lowry and ended with Irving who checked him on the three-point lane.
Siakam is not much of a shooter, but he is so mean and fast Irving could not handle him by dribbing either. Of course, he can do it closer to guys closer to his own size and beat a sparse lay-up over Jayson Tatum to give the Raptors a 82-78 leading title in the fourth. Siakam made 13 of his 16 points in the second half, several of whom attacked less defenders from the dribban like this.
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Before the last iso ball in the late play, Leonard decided to share wealth against Boston and he drove deeply and leaned out that some easily helped Danny Green, who fell late in the fourth quarter.
It was a similar story early on Detroit Wednesday. The problem was later in the game, when things got tight, the ball stopped all too often in Leonard’s hands, as his 52.6 percent fourth quarter’s speed of use against the pistons would prove. It combines with its five fourth quarter sales tells the story. It’s hard to find a balance, because Leonard can be so efficiently insulated. He overwhelmed Marcus Smart, one of the league’s best defenders, on several possessions. But the Raptors will be a better team when he can facilitate more comfort – it would be good to see them run more pick-and-roll – with the possibility that he turns off and goes iso when the moment demands.
This pick-and-roll that ended with Leonard alone on the too slow Aron Baynes may be the perfect mix.
Fred VanVleet’s woes seem no closer to solving. Last season’s super-sub started the game 0-for-5 from three in the first half and ended 0-for-6. This, after entering the game, only shoots 35 percent from the floor. VanVleet shot 41.7 percent from last three years.
He missed three matches with tension earlier, so it’s fair to wonder if there’s a question there. “He’s probably not 100 percent healthy,” Raptor’s head coach Nick Nurse. “He does not get the ball where he usually gets it. He is affected by it, but there is no harder. He will be playing, fighting and scratching.” We will try to get through these two games and try to rest him a little until we come to the next part of our journey. “
Perhaps they should rest him earlier. Where Raptor’s bench unit was money in the bank last year, it has been pulled over this season and VanVleet is one of the reasons he was made the worst -21 against Boston. It did not help that OG Anunoby left the match in half with a reinforced right handler. On the bright side? Delon Wright was very efficient all games and soaked VanVleet’s crunch-time minutes.
Also: VanVleet shot only 35 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three to 15 matches a year ago before firing, so you do not have to panic yet.
It’s interesting about a victory like this sparks Celtics, now 9-6. This time a year ago they were 13-2 and in the middle of a 16-player winning line and a possible 22-4 start. By that time, they had already lost Hayward to a broken leg during the first season of the season and would lose Irving on knee and shoulder problems.
In view of the start, it came to the point and how the Celtics clashed in a game to advance to the NBA final last year seemed inevitable that Boston was placed to accommodate after incorporating Hayward and Irving.
If it is possible to be under-achievers through 15 games in an 82-game season, it is. There is no reason that they should have entered the game with NBA’s 24th Class Crash. But Irving starts cooking after a slow start and while Hayward is so far a spell of the Utah-star star, he was on average 22/5 / 3.5 with a true shooting rate of .595 in 2016-17 compared with 10/5/3 and .487 so far this year – contributing down the distance to a big victory should build their confidence.
Tatum looks primed to roll. If Celtics starts, this might be their starting pillow.