The Toronto Raptors rebounded from their Christmas Day loss to the Boston Celtics in a big way.
Led by Kyle Lowry, who finished with a team-high 30 points, the Raptors defeated the Celtics in Boston by a final score of 113-97. Lowry was one of four Raptors to score in double figures, the others being Serge Ibaka (20), Patrick McCaw (18) and Fred VanVleet (18).
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The Celtics got 30 points out of their point guard, Kemba Walker, but Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each struggled in the loss.
For more on the game, here are some thoughts...
1. Patrick McCaw shines in new role
After losing to the Celtics on Christmas Day, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talked about putting the ball more in Patrick McCaw's hands.
"I've got to play-call a little more where he's running the ball," he said. "I'm not sure I want him shooting a ton of shots. If they're there, great. Some nights they are, some nights they're not. But I do want him handling more, because he's a good ball-handler and he's fast."
In other words: McCaw isn't a great shooter, so teams won't hesitate to help off of him when he's off-ball to muck up spacing for others. By running more of the offence through him, it forces teams to account for him. And when he's playing alongside Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet in the backcourt - two players who are capable of spacing the floor at a high rate - he has plenty of space to work with.
How sustainable of a strategy that is moving forward remains to be seen, but McCaw made the most of his new opportunities against the Celtics. He had probably his best stretch in a Raptors uniform in the first quarter with eight points and four assists, the combination of which helped Toronto jump out to an early 36-25 lead.
McCaw then added four points and two assists to his stat line in the second quarter, giving him a new season-high of 12 points and six assists by halftime.
10 Pts- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 29, 2019
- @PMcCaw0 pic.twitter.com/e3KHJwh04Z
McCaw finished with 18 points and eight assists. The assists marked a new career-high and the points were one off his career-high.
2. Nick Nurse continues to make smart adjustments
Brown was the standout player in Boston's win over Toronto on Christmas Day, but Enes Kanter made his presence felt with 12 points and 11 rebounds in only 18 minutes off the bench.
The rebounds hurt the Raptors more than the points. Of Kanter's team-high 11 rebounds, three came on the offensive end. It contributed to the Celtics pulling down 13 offensive rebounds as a team, which they turned into 24 second-chance points.
In response, Nurse matched Ibaka's minutes up with Kanter's on Sunday - a decision that sent Ibaka to the bench earlier than usual for Chris Boucher - to give them more size against the 6-foot-11 centre. Ibaka wasn't able to prevent Kanter from scoring nine points in the first half, but he did keep him off the offensive glass entirely.
Ibaka also made Kanter work on the other end of the court, scoring 11 points to go along with seven rebounds in the first half.
It wasn't as flashy as the full-court press he unleashed on the Dallas Mavericks that sparked a 30-point comeback or the box-and-one he broke out against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, but it was another smart adjustment by Nurse, who is an early Coach of the Year candidate.
3. It helps when everyone chips in
Ibaka wasn't the only reason the Raptors were able to keep Kanter and the Celtics off the offensive glass. Lowry spoke about the need for the guards to crash the boards, and they did just that.
McCaw tied Ibaka for team-high honours with six defensive rebounds while Lowry and Terence Davis recorded four defensive rebounds each.
The three of them, plus Ibaka, OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, helped the Raptors finish with 22 more rebounds than the Celtics and limit them to seven offensive rebounds, most of which came in the fourth quarter when the Raptors had already built their lead.
Credit the Raps for their attention to detail and following the game plan.- Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 29, 2019
They were outrebounded 101-80 in the first 2 meetings with Boston, 34-14 on offensive boards. Tonight: Raps had a 53-31 edge, 15-7 on offensive glass.
Brown/Tatum last night vs CLE: 64 pts. Tonight: 29.
A team effort, indeed.
4. Oshae Brissett might have a future on this team
Oshae Brissett hasn't played much this season, but Nurse gave him an opportunity in this game with Hollis-Jefferson being in foul trouble for most of the night.
While Brissett's numbers don't jump off the page - he finished with four points, six rebounds and two assists - the Mississauga native provided some positive minutes with his energy. He pulled down a couple of offensive rebounds in the third quarter alone, one of which led to a 3-pointer for Fred VanVleet, his fourth of the game.
.@Obrissy hustle@FredVanVleet bucket- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 29, 2019
Vote FVV 👉🏽 https://t.co/kQYeprYRUk pic.twitter.com/a8pFE2Bko4
He also flashed some potential on defence by switching onto various players and making a couple of plays at the rim.
Brissett will continue to spend most of his rookie season in the G League, where he's averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game with the Raptors 905, but he showed what he's capable of in his first real minutes of the season.
5. Kyle Lowry is on a mission
With 6:59 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Raptors saw Anunoby join Hollis-Jefferson on the bench with six fouls.
The Raptors had a 13 point lead at the time, but losing Anunoby and Hollis-Jefferson to foul trouble forced Nurse to go deeper into his bench that he usually would and set the stage for a potential comeback by the Celtics.
Then Lowry took matters into his own hands.
First, he nailed a 3-pointer to put the Raptors back up by 15 points with 6:40 to play. Two minutes later, he drained another 3-pointer, this time to put the Raptors up by 16 points.
Kyle Lowry is a BAD MAN.- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 29, 2019
Vote KLow 👉🏽 https://t.co/kQYeprYRUk pic.twitter.com/2TfB5BQOOu
Lowry then put the nail in the coffin with a step back jumper with 2:03 to play to put the Raptors ahead by 17.
Lowry is now averaging 26.4 points, 8.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game since Pascal Siakam's injury. He always seems to step his game up when the Raptors need him to, this season being no exception.
Just in time for All-Star voting, too!
6. Wins have been hard to come by in Boston
As Josh Lewenberg of TSN noted, this is the first time the Raptors have beaten the Celtics in Boston since Dec. 9, 2016.
Funnily enough, it was Lowry who dominated that game as well - he scored 34 points to lead the Raptors.
The Celtics have been a tough team in general to beat at home this season. This was only their second loss at the TD Garden, their only other home loss coming to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Even though the Celtics were on the second night of a back-to-back, it was an impressive win for the short-handed Raptors.
7. Another struggle for Jayson Tatum
This marks two games in a row in which Tatum hasn't been much of a factor against the Raptors.
On Christmas Day, Tatum finished with 11 points on 5-for-18 shooting from the field. He also committed three turnovers in the win.
On Friday, Tatum attempted only seven shots en route to 12 points. He also committed six turnovers in the loss.
Two of Tatum's three-lowest scoring games of the season have now come against the Raptors. Lowry deserves a lot of credit for keeping him in check, but Tatum is one of many All-Star calibre players who have struggled against the Raptors this season.
8. A quick turnaround
The Raptors are back in action on Monday, when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This will be the fifth of 13 back-to-backs for the Raptors this season. The Thunder enter the game having won five of their last six. Toronto native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been fantastic during that stretch with an average of 23.2 points per game.
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