For three quarters, the Toronto Raptors were able to hang with the Boston Celtics. Then the fourth quarter came.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this story before.
Despite battling with the Celtics through the first 36 minutes of the game and piecing together one of their strongest quarters of the season, the Raptors fell apart in a disastrous fourth quarter and dropped a 99-95 decision at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night.
After keeping pace in the first half and then coming out to score 34 points in the third, Toronto reeled off a 17-4 run to close the quarter and went into the fourth ahead by 10. The ten-point advantage was the largest of the game for either team, and the Raptors gave it away in the opening three and a half minutes of the quarter.
Tying the game at 79 on a made free throw off of a Kevin Garnett three-point play, the Celtics were able to grind out their fifth straight game to remain unbeaten since they lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL.
Toronto was as bad in the fourth as it was good in the third, following up a 34-point quarter by managing just 16 in the fourth. The Celtics nearly doubled their offensive output by scoring 30 points, with Garnett contributing 11 of his game-high 27 in the final frame. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I think the whole city knows what we can do,” Gay said. “We saw a little bit in the third quarter and the fourth. We had some defensive letdowns that we couldn’t come back from.”
The game also marked the return of Andrea Bargnani to the lineup after missing the previous 26 games with a torn ligament in his right elbow. He finished with 13 points off of the bench, one of five Toronto players to top double figures in the loss.
The team was led by Rudy Gay’s 25 points, marking it three straight games of leading the team in scoring since being traded to the Raptors from the Memphis Grizzlies.
The return of Bargnani
After a 26-game absence, Bargnani was greeted with a mix of cheers and boos when he checked into the game for the first time. Despite the rough reception from his home crowd, Bargnani played well in nearly 24 minutes of action. Finishing with 13 points, he shot 5-for-10 from the floor and added three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
While his rebounding numbers were nothing to write home about, that was to be expected. He did play with a lot energy on both ends of the floor and earned the appreciation from the crowd after he cut to the basket immediately after a missed jumper to receive a feed from Kyle Lowry for the easy finish.
After the game, Bargnani was asked for his reaction to the less-than inviting reception he received when he checked into the game for the first time since December.
“No reaction,” he said. “I try to focus on the game. I hear some cheers, some boos, but I try to lock in and try to be aggressive. Try to do my best to help the team. It’s not my role to say it’s fair or unfair. I’m a player so I just have to go in and try to contribute to the team.”
Coach Dwane Casey, on the other hand, was not a fan of the reception toward his player.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “This young man has done nothing to deserve that. He’s been hurt. Fans have a right to boo, cheer. Boo me, whoever they want to boo. I don’t think Andrea deserved that. The young man is coming back from a serious injury. I thought he was a pro about it.”
A “Lowryesque” third quarter
Ever since Kyle Lowry returned from the triceps injury that kept him sidelined for seven games in December he has floated between aggressive Kyle and passive Kyle. While his want to move the ball and keep his teammates involved is a great thing, the team needs Lowry to play his game. The rough, bold and aggressive style of play that makes him one of the toughest point guards in the league to try to stop.
The aggressive Lowry was present in the third quarter of the game on Wednesday night. Lowry scored 10 points and had three rebounds and three assists, shooting 4-of-5 from the floor and 2-of-2 from deep in the quarter. He finished the game with 17 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and four steals (to go along with four turnovers), but it was in that third quarter where he was truly a handful.
Highs and lows for Gay
Gay led the team in scoring for the third straight time with 25 points against the Celtics, but he needed 24 shots to get them. Shooting just 8-for-24 from the floor, Gay logged over 41 minutes but really faded in the fourth, making only one of his nine attempts in the quarter.
While it’s important to have Gay on the floor to get acclimated with the offensive and defensive schemes, the drop off of his effectiveness after exerting energy on both ends of the floor all game was visible down the stretch.
Youth meets experience
Despite Gay and DeMar DeRozan combining to shoot 13-for-40 from the floor and the team having that horrific fourth quarter, the Raptors still had a chance to win the game, only losing by four.
In a season with countless games lost by a handful of points, they might have traded for a go-to guy, but the Raptors still need to learn how to advantage of their opportunities.
Squandering a 10-point fourth quarter lead is bad. Squandering a 10-point fourth quarter lead to a veteran-laden Boston team is even worse. Against the Celtics they lost their composure while Boston remained calm.
“I thought we rebounded well, defended well, caused some turnovers and were able to get out on the break and get some easy ones,” Paul Pierce said about Boston’s fourth-quarter effort. “I feel like we didn’t have the pace we wanted all game long until the fourth and once we picked that pace up we got the lead and were able to win the game.”