Final, Raptors win 99-90: Jared Sullinger was immense late and Rajon Rondo was excellent early, but they were not enough.
The Boston Celtics (23-48) dropped their second straight thanks to a putrid third quarter in which they scored just 16 points. Rondo finished with nine points and 15 assists, while Sullinger put up 26 points and eight rebounds — including 19 points and three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics simply ignored defense too long, especially in the paint, where the Toronto Raptors (40-31) outscored them 40-28 and outrebounded them 48-36.
Terrence Ross led the Raptors with 24 points, but Kyle Lowry had all their big shots down the stretch, ending up with 23 points and nine assists.
Fourth quarter, 1:03, Raptors 99-90: It looks bleak now. Sully misses a layup with a ton of contact, Lowry — again — hits a shot to keep the Celtics at bay, and people are streaming for the exits. It doesn’t look like Rondo will do his old buds Garnett and Pierce any favors in the Atlantic Division standings tonight.
Fourth quarter, 2:40, Raptors 92-87: Rondo smells a possible win and he doesn’t want it to get away. After a defensive stop, Rondo went into old Paul Pierce mode — slow the ball down, grind out a possession, get a good shot.
It worked, too. The Celtics got a corner three from Johnson, who normally knocks those down in his sleep. But the shot rimmed out and Boston remains behind by two possessions.
Fourth quarter, 5:18, Raptors 86-81: Lowry just will not let the Celtics come all the way back. Every time they pull close, he gets into the lane to give them some breathing room.
He did it earlier in the quarter when the Celtics briefly closed the gap to six, then again after Sully drained two 3-pointers to pull Boston within three points at 84-81. Lowry simply penetrated, pulled up and softly nestled a floater through the net.
Fourth quarter, 8:18, Raptors 79-73: With Rondo back on the bench after receiving nine stitches on his forehead, Phil Pressey is trying to lead the Celtics back. They’re on an 11-2 run to open the fourth quarter and have the Raps on their prehistoric heels.
Johnson’s contagious hustle has the team playing harder than it has all game. Johnson won a jump ball against the much bigger Amir Johnson, part of a Boston run that has featured a three by Olynyk and a three-point play by Sully.
Stevens is keeping Rondo on the bench, and why not? Might as well see how far Pressey, Johnson and company can carry them.
End of third quarter, Raptors 77-62: As if the Celtics needed a reminder that this really wasn’t a good quarter for them, Ross put the punctuation mark on with a step-back three at the buzzer.
The Celtics were outscored 22-16 in the frame with Ross, Valanciunas and Lowry each scoring six points. Everybody in a white jersey misfired, whether Sully going 1-for-5 or Bradley going 2-for-5. This wasn’t a memorable 12 minutes for the Celtics.
Third quarter, 6:28, Raptors 68-54: Lowry opening the second half with a pair of threes pretty much set the tone. The Celtics aren’t going to be able to make a dent in this deficit if, as they did Friday in Brooklyn, they continue to just not defend.
The Raptors are plus-12 in the paint, which would be OK if the Celtics were at least getting to the line or shooting more effectively from the outside. They’re not.
The Raps are 8-for-14 from deep and 12-for-12 from the charity stripe. The Celtics, meanwhile, are just 5-for-13 from outside and 7-of-8 from the line. The Raptors are getting their points wherever they want them.
Worst of all for the Celtics, Rondo just got poked in the eye cutting through the lane and will have to leave. Rondo’s been tremendous in this game and his absence, no matter how brief, will hurt the Celtics.
Halftime, Raptors 55-46: Here’s why you can only put so much stock into plus-minus as a stat: For the first half, Rondo was a minus-3.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Rondo was a net three-point drain on his team, but that’s what the stat traditionally suggests. There’s no way Rondo’s been a drain at all. He’s the only reason they’re not getting blown out and he’s the best player on the court.
Rondo cruises into halftime with nine points and 10 rebounds without a single turnover. His team has just four turnovers, not merely because they’re being careful with the ball but because they’re really getting some pretty good shots. They just look very unsure of themselves when they get those shots.
Olynyl and Sullinger and been hesitant to take makeable, short-range shots, leading to their combined 2-for-9 shooting mark. The Celtics are shooting 41 percent overall to Toronto’s 50 percent. Ross and DeRozan are killing Boston from both wings, with 13 points each.
Second quarter, 3:03, Raptors 45-41: Whatever missing that layup did to Olynyk’s psyche, it wasn’t good. He looks tentative ever since that shot, passing up open looks and moving without any certainty on defense.
That’s worth watching, especially considering how well he’s played lately. The rookie’s confidence looks to be shaken at the moment.
Second quarter, 5:53, Raptors 40-39: Not surprisingly, the Raptors have outscored the Celtics since Rondo went to the bench just over three minutes into the quarter. Yet the Celtics have been able to keep it manageable.
The Raptors have only outscored the Celtics 7-4 since Rondo’s exit, with Chris Johnson providing a major boost of energy. Johnson caught a tough, over-the-shoulder outlet pass from Jared Sullinger for a layup, then chased down DeRozan for a block after Kelly Olynyk missed an open layup.
Second quarter, 10:04, Raptors 33-30: Four days between games must have rejuvenated Rondo. He might single-handedly give the Celtics a win, if he keeps playing like this.
Rondo’s added three more assists to key an 8-2 Boston run to begin the second quarter. He found Jerryd Bayless and Chris Johnson for transition threes, although Bayless’ shot didn’t count as an assist. The Raptors don’t have a response for Rondo so far, no matter how good Lowry can be.
End of first quarter, Raptors 31-22: Rondo’s run of accounting for every Boston basket eventually ended, but so did the Celtics’ attempts to defend the basket.
Rondo scored or assisted the first 18 points for the Celtics, before back-to-back buckets by Jeff Green ended the streak. He’s got four points and six assists at the end of one.
On the other end, the Celtics aren’t giving much resistance, particularly around the hoop. The Raptors have 12 points in the paint, and even Terrence Ross — who averages less than an assist per game — was able to penetrate into the lane and drop a pass to Jonas Valanciunas for a dunk.
DeMar DeRozan is off to a solid start, exposing Green with old-fashioned cuts and footwork. He leads all scorers with 11 points, thanks to a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line.
First quarter, 5:55, Celtics 13-10: The pace of this game hasn’t been blazing, but what few plays have been made, Rajon Rondo has been in on most of them.
Rondo began the game with a layup, then a steal from Lowry leading to an assist to Avery Bradley for a 3-pointer, to get things started. He’s off to a pretty nice opening to this game, with five assists. He’s freed Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries for 15-footers that the two big man hit with ease.
If you’re keeping score at home, that means Rondo has scored or assisted all five baskets for Boston so far.
6 p.m. ET: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and the rest of the Toronto Raptors have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves. They continue to lead the Atlantic Division and would be the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference if the playoffs started today.
Everything about this season has been a positive for the Raptors, who were expected to go nowhere. But suddenly the playoff-bound Raps (39-31) have run into a few speed bumps. They have lost four of their last six games, including a two-point gut punch against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday. They’re not exactly rolling to the finish.
Still, they have Lowry, whom Celtics coach Brad Stevens raved about in practice earlier this week, and DeRozan, who is one of this season’s most markedly improved players. The All-Star swingman enters the game averaging 22.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, but the real eye-opening stats to Stevens are the ones he personally keeps on hand.
“I’ve got a little sheet that I make for myself, kind of my cheat sheet or study sheet, as we go throughout the year,” Stevens said. “In January, his numbers were good. Now, they’re better. That’s pretty unusual for a guy having his best year. Usually, you start to become more targeted, you fall off, blah, blah, blah, and he’s just continuing to go up.”
The Celtics (23-47) look to spoil Toronto’s victory lap with a more or less fully healthy lineup, relatively speaking, tonight.
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