Kyle Lowry rises up in Raptors’ time of need to clinch win over Celtics

Boston Celtics' Grant Williams (12) defends against Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) during the second half on an NBA basketball game in Boston, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Kyle Lowry scored 30 points and dished out seven assists as the Toronto Raptors got vengeance after a sleepy-looking Christmas Day performance against this same Boston Celtics team, beating them 113-97 Saturday evening at TD Garden.

The Raptors hadn’t won in Boston since Dec. 9, 2016, when the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Cory Joseph were still on the team. Additionally, this improves the Raptors to 6-10 against teams with records .500 or above and 2-6 against the top-six teams in the Eastern Conference.

Those two records still don’t look great, but Saturday’s victory was a major step in the right direction to correct things there, and should absolutely be seen as one of Toronto’s signature wins this season.

Here are a few takeaways from a thrilling, statement Raptors win in Boston:

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Nurse makes the adjustment

The Raptors were eaten alive on the glass on Christmas Day, as Boston out-rebounding Toronto 45-34.

A major reason for this disparity was Celtics backup centre Enes Kanter, who finished with 11 rebounds and chipped in 12 points as he appeared to bully his Raptors counterpart, Chris Boucher. The Canadian was greatly overmatched by the superior strength and offensive guile in the post that Kanter possesses.

Given how banged up the Raptors are at the moment, the thought coming into Saturday’s game was that there weren’t many adjustments to be made, especially at the centre position. However, Raptors coach Nick Nurse found a tweak that basically won the game for Toronto.

As usual, since Marc Gasol was forced out of the lineup, Serge Ibaka started Saturday, but with 8:16 left to go in the first quarter, Ibaka was subbed out earlier than he normally would’ve to get Boucher into the game. This was a deliberate call by Nurse because about four minutes later, Kanter checked in and Nurse then was able to sub Ibaka in at the same time as him.

This proved to be a trend throughout the night as Nurse continually would match Kanter’s minutes with Ibaka’s, something that proved to be genius. Not only did the Raptors have a much better game on the glass overall Saturday – they crushed the Celtics 53-31 and Kanter only ended up grabbing six rebounds – it helped them greatly offensively as it meant Ibaka was matching up with Kanter.

Ibaka finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, largely thanks to the steady diet of pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop he and partner Kyle Lowry were forcing Kanter – one of the NBA’s worst defenders in space – into, allowing Ibaka to feast and, therefore, limit Kanter’s impact on the game overall.

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Lowry continues to reign above everything

With 3:57 left to go in the first quarter, Nurse won a key challenge, overturning a call that would’ve earned Lowry his second foul on the evening, something he didn’t want to happen because the Raptors had jumped out to a fantastic start to the game, and Lowry was the catalyst for it.

Up to the point of that challenge, Lowry had nine points and three assists, an early indication that he, once again, might be on one that night. Nurse appeared to sense that and called a very early challenge to try to put money where his feelings were, so to speak.

The gamble paid off. Lowry ended up finishing the quarter with 11 points as the Raptors closed out the opening frame with a 36-25 lead and never looked back. Lowry exploded for 30 points, bringing his scoring average since Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell went down with injuries to 26.4 per game.

Lowry has always risen in times of need for the Raptors. Saturday night – and this injury-plagued period in general – is no different.

McCaw better than you’ve likely ever seen him before

This is likely sounding like a broken record, but maybe – just maybe – Nurse is onto something with Patrick McCaw?

McCaw had, by far, his best game as a Raptor Saturday, finishing with a season-high 18 points – just one point off his career best – and a career-high eight assists.

Coming into Saturday, Nurse and the Raptors discussed how they wanted McCaw to be more aggressive looking for his shot and to get the ball in his hands a little more to initiate offence for others.

“It gets Kyle and Fred [VanVleet] into the shooting slots a little bit,” said Nurse Friday at practice of needing McCaw to have the ball in his hands a little more. “It’s a different rhythm and a different pace, usually.”

Added VanVleet: “Patrick’s very, very talented and I think sometimes he’s just a little too passive. Hopefully getting the ball in his hands, getting him more rhythm and getting him more reps, letting him feel the game out, he can get a feel for the game.”

McCaw listened to what was being said, and the Raptors were better because of it.

Canadian kids impress for Raptors

McCaw was the obvious feel-good storyline to take away from Saturday’s game, but the play of Canadians Boucher and, especially, Oshae Brissett was not to be overlooked.

The two combined for 10 points and 10 rebounds and in a game that saw two players foul out (Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson). That meant Toronto’s frontcourt depth was severely tested and needed contributions from unlikely sources.

On Saturday, while we’ve come to expect relatively solid play from Boucher, that unsung hero was definitely Brissett.

Playing the most (and most significant) minutes of his young NBA career, the Toronto native was instrumental in the Raptors holding onto their lead with rock solid defence and tenaciousness on the glass when the Celtics were threatening.

This was only the seventh game Brissett managed to get into, but it’s clear he was ready, a testament to his own work ethic. You never know when your number is going to be called.

Overcoming a tough whistle

Lastly, let’s very quickly discuss the officiating Saturday night.

In short: It was uneven.

The Raptors had 32 personal fouls called against them to Boston’s 17, and saw the Celtics take 19 more free throws.

As mentioned before, Toronto had two players foul out, Hollis-Jefferson – who had four before halftime – and OG Anunoby, Ibaka had five and two more, Lowry and Brissett, picked up four.

Still, complaining about officials, as cathartic as it can be, is ultimately meaningless, especially in this case as the Raptors managed to rise above it all and come out looking every bit the defending champions they are.

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