Saturday's game brought another wild and chaotic finish for the Toronto Raptors, one plagued by inconsistencies that ultimately left them with another loss. This time it came at the hands of the short-handed Boston Celtics, who came away with a 106-104 win at Scotiabank Arena.
It was a night of runs from both teams. For the Raptors, it was their effort on the defensive end that proved to be their biggest weakness, as the Celtics saw them crumble in lapses. Head coach Nick Nurse says it was either the Raptors were playing great defence by swarming the paint, or allowing straight line drives to the rim. It helped Boston get easy looks or kick-outs for big threes, which proved to be pivotal, especially late.
“It was really too much hit and miss,” said Nurse, noting that his team needs to be more “consistent over the 48,” to help them secure their leads late in games.
Pascal Siakam, who finished with a game-high 29 points on 14-of-23 shooting, echoed similar thoughts on the team’s play, contributing to their overall woes for the season.
“So many of these games I feel like we did a lot of good things, but then a couple of mistakes here and there, and you get what you pay for," Siakam said. "It sucks, because I feel like there's definitely a lot of games we could have won. We chip away and play better and better, but we have to translate to winning.”
It marks another bad loss for the Raptors in a season that seems defined by them, as they now sit with a 20-27 record, their worst since the 2012-13 season through 37 games, and good for 11th in the Eastern Conference.
“It's hard especially when you get to this point where every game is important and you try to scratch and find wins,” said Siakam. “So everything feels so heavy. We got to just take that responsibility and know that every possession counts and it leads to winning, so we got to do anything that we can.”
For moments in Saturday’s matchup, it looked like the Raptors were going to be able to come away with a win. However, mistakes that now seem predictable brought them down.
They entered the fourth quarter up 85-81, thanks in part to big performances from Siakam and Precious Achiuwa. Nurse opted to rest them for the start of the fourth, and the Celtics capitalized. Boston opened the final quarter with a 9-0 run to take a lead. It was mainly behind missed defensive rotations, leading to 3-pointers.
After a timeout to get the forward duo back in the game, and some back-and-forth, the Raptors responded with a 10-2 run of their own to tie it at 103, thanks in part to a pair of clutch 3-pointers from Gary Trent Jr., who finished with 22 points.
Following a Payton Pritchard 3-pointer (one of four he had in the final frame) and Siakam going 1-of-2 at the free-throw line, the madness went into full bloom in the final 25 seconds of Saturday’s matchup.
With the Raptors down 106-104, Trent Jr. made a strong attack to beat Grant Williams for a wide-open shot at the basket — one that he painfully missed, and left Williams hobbled on the ground. Trent Jr.’s hustle to get back on defence, and his anticipation, helped him secure a steal at halfcourt. With the Raptors’ having a 5-on-4 advantage, Nurse called a questionable timeout.
“I just felt like there was a little wildness going on,” said Nurse. “I just wanted to get it settled down.”
Siakam tried to even things up with a layup, but instead got tangled up with Al Horford, leading to a jump ball. On what Nurse says was advice from referee Michael Smith, the Raptors head coach called a timeout with the sole purpose to challenge the call. In a change of events, Nurse says he was then ultimately told by referee Ed Malloy that he couldn't call for a challenge on a jump ball. To make matters worse, instead of keeping his last timeout, the Raptors were forced to use it, which would prove costly moments later.
Hortford would go on to win the tip, but Scottie Barnes secured the ball. Instead of getting another shot, Horford and Barnes got tangled up. The Celtics would win the second jump ball as well and call a timeout.
With the ball advanced up the floor, the Celtics just needed to get it in. Instead, Williams committed an offensive foul, giving the Raptors another possession with 3.8 seconds left. Instead of being able to call a timeout and advance the ball themselves, Siakam had to bring the ball up the floor. He was ultimately met with a successful double team from the Celtics, who stripped the ball away and secured a win.
It was a gritty display from the Celtics, who sit with the best record in the NBA at 35-12. Against the Raptors, they were without their superstar in Jayson Tatum, and also two of their starters in Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III for the second half due to injuries. Along with Pritchard, Williams and Malcolm Brogdon stepped up, combining for 48 points (7-of-11 from 3) off the bench.
The Celtics had to weather impressive performances from Siakam and Achiuwa. The former had a masterful performance Saturday, dicing up the Celtics in the midrange. After starting the game 1-of-5 from the field, he finished strong the rest of the way going 13-of-18. Along with the 29 points, he had nine rebounds, 10 assists and an emphatic block.
Achiuwa had arguably his best game of the season, totalling 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 37 minutes — the most he’s played since returning from injury to start 2023.
He also helped contain Brown, who opened the first frame with 13 points. Achiuwa was then tasked as his primary defender, helping slow down the All-Star guard, who finished with 27 points, but on 10-of-23 shooting from the field.
“His fight and compete level were as good as they could be,” Nurse said about Achiuwa whose performance on Saturday sits as a bright spot as the Raptors inch closer with uncertainty around the NBA’s Feb. 9 trade deadline.
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