By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Toronto Raptors, winners of the Atlantic Division in four of the last five seasons, have always been a difficult matchup for Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. And that was before they swapped DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Matched up for the first time this season Friday night in Toronto, both Leonard and Green came to play, and it was their efforts that proved to be too much for the Celtics to handle in a 113-101 loss.
In what was a playoff-like, back-and-forth battle between these teams, you saw the Celtics and Raptors trade runs and key makes. But it was in the second half that the Raptors pulled away, with help from foul trouble from the Celtics, and a noticeably improved rebounding game (the Raptors collected 22 rebounds in the second half after grabbing just 15 in the first half).
Perhaps no Raptor was more annoying in this regard than Serge Ibaka, who finished the night with six rebounds (four of which were offensive boards, and five of which were collected in the decisive fourth quarter). Leonard looked like the healthy Leonard that was an all-world talent for the Spurs, too, with 31 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of action.
All five Boston starters finished the game with at least 13 points, and it was Irving that had the true bounce-back game, with a Celtic-leading 20 points on a 10-for-20 night (one-for-three from three-point land) from the field.
But it really was the fourth quarter that separated the Raptors from the Celtics in this game.
Trailing for just nine seconds in the entire 12-minute quarter, Toronto finally found breathing room and put this head-to-head away with a 10-0 run (12-2 run in the final two and a half minutes of play) that came immediately after an Al Horford three-point conversion. Led by back-to-back threes from Green and Kyle Lowry (who played an excellent game despite his relatively quiet numbers), the Raptors quickly put the pressure back on a Celtic squad that failed to convert on their chances at the other end.
With the loss, the Celtics dropped to 7-14 against the Raptors since Stevens took over as the team’s head coach, and 1-10 in their last 11 head-to-heads in Toronto’s building.
The Celtics will shift to New York City for a Saturday night head-to-head with the Knicks.