Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 113-97 win over the Boston Celtics.
One — Revenge: The Celtics ruined the first Christmas Day game in Toronto, so the Raptors were hell-bent on payback. The Raptors raced out to an early lead and withstood every punch from the Celtics to finish with a blowout win. Toronto’s effort was night and day as compared to their previous meeting, which was borne out in the 53-31 advantage in rebounds. That’s the difference between playing on two days rest, and slugging it out at 12 a.m. after playing in the third game in four nights. Mix in the added motivation of playing after a loss, and it made for one of the Raptors’ finest wins of the season.
Two — Circumstances: It wasn’t enough that the Raptors won on the road without Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas and Marc Gasol. The Celtics also got a comical advantage in foul calls which made it nearly impossible for the Raptors to even field five eligible players. Boston enjoyed a 32-17 advantage in foul calls from Tony Brothers’ crew, and shot twice as many free throws as Toronto, and yet they still faded in the fourth quarter and lost by double-digits. That’s what made this win so, so sweet.
Three — Godly: Kyle Lowry is three months away from his 34th birthday, and yet he’s somehow playing the best basketball of his career. Lowry has been a superstar in the wake of Siakam’s injury, and has seamlessly reclaimed his former role as the No. 1 option on an interim basis. Lowry hasn’t scored with such ease since he broke his hand prior to the 2017 All-Star break, and he’s doing it at every level. He’s in a tremendous rhythm on his pull-up threes, the mid-range game is working, he’s getting to the basket at will, and he’s even commanding respect from officials at the free-throw line. Lowry was brilliant from the start, and he finished strong with two threes and a 17-footer to close out the game.
Kyle Lowry has stepped up since Pascal Siakam's injury.— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 29, 2019
42.9 3P% on 9.8 attempts pic.twitter.com/W2L9UDscTc
Four — Perspective: Despite missing 11 games due to injury, Lowry should be considered a lock for his sixth consecutive All-Star appearance. And if he maintains these numbers throughout the season, and carries the Raptors through a few rounds of the playoffs, then there might need to be a serious discussion about Lowry’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame. He’s not as flashy as some of the best to ever do it, but his impact on winning is undeniable. Lowry’s competitiveness has come to personify this golden generation of Raptors basketball, and it should not go unrecognized.
Five — Unexpected: Pat McCaw played horribly, and became the sacrificial lamb for the Raptors’ loss on Christmas Day, so this turnaround was completely unforeseen. McCaw was nothing short of stellar, as he exploded for 18 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists while playing a team-high 43 minutes. McCaw was aggressive from the jump, as he collected two steals, blocked a shot, found Serge Ibaka for a layup, banked in a 12-foot jumper, and flashed to the rim for a layup. He sustained that aggression throughout the night, played lockdown defense on the Celtics’ perimeter scorers, and he was vital in running the offense. McCaw’s ability to handle and initiate plays allowed Lowry and Fred VanVleet to thrive as scorers.
Six — Boost: Speaking of unforeseen, nobody could have predicted the clutch contributions of Oshae Brissett. The G-League rookie was an emergency option after OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson combined for 12 fouls in 34 minutes, and Brissett ended up playing the entirety of the fourth quarter. Brissett’s hustle was incredible, as he secured key defensive rebounds, won extra possessions on offense, ran the floor hard for easy baskets at the rim, and he held his ground on defense. Brissett bottled up Kemba Walker, and then forced Jayson Tatum into a shot-clock violation in short succession right after he entered the game. Brissett’s skillset is still too raw to contribute consistently at an NBA level, but his frame, hustle, and athleticism will shine if he refines his three-point shot.
Seven — Resilient: The Raptors won the game in the third quarter after taking the Celtics’ (and the officials’) best punch. Everybody played their part in maintaining the lead: Serge Ibaka drilled a heavily-contested three, Lowry nailed one, VanVleet drew two shooting fouls for five free throws, McCaw and Anunoby both connected from the corner, Terence Davis flew in for a putback, and Brissett made hustle plays all over the floor. The Celtics were expecting to take the lead after a weak first half, but instead, the Raptors maintained their energy and held a 10-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Eight — Brilliant: Nick Nurse made all the right calls tonight. It started with a rare coach’s challenge in the first quarter, when Nurse overturned an erroneous call that would have sent Lowry to the bench with his second foul in the opening six minutes. Nurse also adjusted his rotation to have Ibaka check out of the game early so that he could mirror Enes Kanter’s minutes off the bench, which negated Kanter’s strength advantage over Chris Boucher. Nurse also stuck with Brissett throughout the fourth quarter, while also smartly staggering VanVleet and Lowry so that both players got their rest and were fresh for the fourth.
Nine — Lovable: Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong is a legend for several reasons, not the least of which is his willingness to tell it like it is. Jack was in rare form with his reactions to the one-sided whistle, especially after Jaylen Brown mugged Lowry (no call, of course) for an offensive rebound that forced Hollis-Jefferson into committing his sixth foul.
Ten — Intensity: Tonight was one of the four best wins of the season, right along with shocking the Lakers, holding Joel Embiid scoreless, and the 30-point comeback. The commonality in those four results is that the Raptors hit another gear in competitiveness that the opponent wasn’t able to match. That’s the benefit of championship experience: The Raptors are able to play harder, smarter, and tougher because they’ve done it before.
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