10 things: Shorthanded Raptors no match for Celtics on Christmas Day

William LouNBA reporter
Yahoo Sports Canada

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 118-102 loss to the Boston Celtics.

One — Unfortunate: Sometimes it’s just not your night. The shorthanded Raptors were playing their third game in four nights, against a fully loaded Celtics squad, and they just didn’t have it in them. Toronto raced out to a 10-0 lead at the start, but Boston responded with a 20-4 run of its own and held control from there. Given the gulf in available talent between the two sides, this was the expected result.

Two — Disjointed: It’s hardly a surprise to see the Raptors struggle to generate offense. Pascal Siakam was a top-15 scorer in the league, Norman Powell was putting up 17 points as a starter, and Marc Gasol brought structure and playmaking to every lineup he was in. Without them, the Raptors simply don’t have enough juice to score efficiently in halfcourt offense. The Celtics took care of the ball, got back in transition, and the Raptors had no recourse other than to turn the ball over to their 6-foot guards to weave magic out of nothing. That’s just not going to cut it.

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Three — Bright: Fred VanVleet tried his very best to keep the offense afloat. VanVleet pieced together his highest scoring output since his injury — 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting — and was relentless in his drives to the rim. He hunted switches against Boston’s bigs, dragged them to the perimeter, and left them in the dust with an assortment of crafty fakes and dribble moves. VanVleet’s burst and ability to finish at the basket is a welcome sight, and a much-needed boost for the team’s offense.

Four — Sloppy: VanVleet and Kyle Lowry’s best efforts weren’t enough to carry the offense, but lackluster defense was the reason why this game ended as a blowout. The Celtics got whatever they wanted, and it usually just took one screen to break down the defense. Serge Ibaka was especially slow to react, as Boston’s wings used his man as a screener to get open shots at the perimeter, which is why Ibaka got benched. However, he wasn’t the only offender, as the Raptors’ wings were especially bad at avoiding screens and staying attached to their man. This shorthanded roster should still be able to put up a stiffer challenge on defense, and efforts like tonight are unacceptable.

Five — Positive: Chris Boucher made the most of Ibaka’s absence by posting a career-high 24 points in 28 minutes off the bench. Boucher rolls hard to the basket, he makes his open threes, and he’s tenacious on the offensive glass. Players like that will always thrive, especially alongside a pass-first guard like Lowry. Sure, Boucher was too light to check Enes Kanter in the post, but he showed great effort and compete on defense. The Raptors need to think long and hard about how Boucher fits into their future plans. Every time he gets extended minutes, Boucher shows them something.

Six — Empty: Pat McCaw is an easy target for criticism, but tonight it was valid. McCaw played 32 minutes and scored just once off a cut to the rim for a layup. Otherwise, his unwillingness to shoot clogged up the paint, and it forced the already shorthanded Raptors to play 5-on-4. McCaw is like mustard — it’s fine as a condiment, but you’ll gag if you have a spoonful. McCaw can be a useful complementary piece when everyone is healthy since he’s a willing defender and a good passer. But when he’s asked to do anything outside of that, the results will be painful. The fact that McCaw is playing 32 minutes is a reflection of just how shorthanded the Raptors are.

Seven — Uneven: OG Anunoby played his worst game of the season, and got benched as a result. His defense was uncharacteristically average — there were spurts of stops, mixed with plenty of mistakes — and he was a non-factor offensively. Without Gasol to find him on cuts, and Siakam to collapse the lane, there just isn’t much that Anunoby can do, especially when he doesn’t even have the strength advantage over his defender. Nick Nurse pulled Anunoby after he shanked a layup, then bricked an open three in the third. It just wasn’t his night.

Eight — Gimmick: It’s one thing to play zone and press against bad teams, but the best teams in the league will always have a response. Boston picked apart Toronto’s zones either by swinging the ball for open threes, or by finding Kanter in the post on a mismatch. And when the Raptors tried the full-court press to open the fourth quarter, Boston calmly advanced the ball with great patience and positioning. Unfortunately, with the way things are, the Raptors need a few tricks to go their way, but the Celtics were too good for it.

Nine — Disparity: The divide in talent became apparent in the third quarter, when Jaylen Brown started cooking every defender the Raptors threw on him. Brown repeatedly crossed up Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and he connected on every jumper he tried. Meanwhile, the Raptors had to set a half-dozen screens and use most of the shot clock just to create a mismatch for their guards.

Ten — Opportunity: This is a great time for someone to step up off the Raptors’ bench. Stanley Johnson made a rare appearance and scored three layups, which would be a positive if he didn’t also fumble a dunk and lose his way on defense. Malcolm Miller is usually decent defensively, but he lacks aggression on offense. Even Terence Davis isn’t a sure thing, as he still makes rookie mistakes like picking up his dribble needlessly which ends up stalling the offense as he looks to reset. Still, the opportunity is there, and someone needs to follow Boucher’s lead.

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