On Friday, the role of Jared Sullinger was played by Jerryd Bayless.
In an eerily similar script to their previous matchup, the Boston Celtics trailed the Toronto Raptors for most of the game before storming back in the final 12 minutes on the shoulders of a single player. On Wednesday, that player was Sullinger. This time, it was Bayless.
Bayless scored 14 points in the fourth quarter as a furious comeback attempt fell short for the Celtics in a 105-103 defeat at Air Canada Centre. Bayless, the reserve guard acquired in a midseason trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, finished with 20 points, but his late flurry was wasted, just as Sullinger’s was, when Toronto proved to be better at closing things out.
Bayless’ outburst was all the more striking because, when the third quarter ended, the Raptors (41-31) appeared to have a stranglehold on the game.
The Celtics (23-49) trailed by as many as 14 points and faced a 12-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. They were minus-14 in the paint and had 14 turnovers, twice as many as the Raptors. Bayless was 2-for-5 from the field, which actually sounds a lot better than it looked. The Celtics looked kaput.
In the end they still were, even though Bayless’ 3-pointer with 4:37 remaining gave Boston its first lead of the second half. In a tie game with seven seconds left, Amir Johnson put back a missed layup by Kyle Lowry, and an awkward 3-point floater by Jared Sullinger ricocheted off the backboard after the buzzer.
“We’ve got to stop getting down 14 points every game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Toronto. “Then we have to finish. That’s on me as much as anybody else.”
The Celtics are getting pretty good at this: falling way behind, mounting a comeback attempt and then leaving with a loss anyway. Some might argue that’s the best thing they can do. None of them are in the Celtics’ locker room.
It’s over. The longest playoff drought in the NBA is finished, with the Raptors’ clinching victory Friday. Canada will host playoff basketball after five seasons without it.
Despite the assumptions a lot of people make about basketball in hockey country, the Raptors actually enjoy pretty solid support. They are 11th in the league in average home attendance this season, enough to fill the arena to about 92 percent capacity every night. That’s fairly standard, too, even in seasons a lot rougher than this one.
So raise a Labatt Blue — or whatever Torontonians drink — for Raptors fans, whose dedication paid off this season.
You might not have caught it, but Rajon Rondo made an incredibly heady basketball play late in the game.
After DeMar DeRozan snapped a 101-101 tie with a short fade-away jump shot with 33 seconds to go, Rondo held onto the ball for just the right amount of time before driving and flipping home a tying layup with 28 seconds on the clock. All the good things people say about Rondo’s basketball IQ was evident on the play. He understood time and situation enough to realize the Celtics not only needed to score, but needed to leave enough time to ensure they would get the ball back.
Indeed, the Celtics did get the ball back, with seven seconds to go. The fact that they didn’t really do anything with it isn’t Rondo’s fault. It was thanks to Rondo’s understanding of the circumstances a possession earlier that they even had a chance at all.