Celtics implode in fourth quarter, lose to Raptors, 114-106

Celtics implode in fourth quarter, lose to Raptors, 114-106

The Boston Celtics have been one of the league’s best fourth quarter teams most of this season.

So there was indeed a bit of irony to their 114-106 loss at Toronto, a game in which the Raptors closed out the night with a decisive 23-6 run.

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With the loss, Boston (23-15) is now two games behind Toronto (25-13) in the Atlantic Division standings. Even more significant is that the Celtics have now lost both of their head-to-head matchups with the Raptors, with two more to play this season.

That could come into play if these two finish with an identical regular season record, which is very possible especially when you consider half of the teams in the East that made it to the playoffs finished the regular season with a 48-34 record.

But playoff position was the last thing on the Celtics mind following Tuesday’s loss, a game in which they went into having a chance to tie the Raptors record-wise and with that, move into the No. 2 spot in the East.

Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan took over in the second half which is when he scored 31 of his game-high 41 points which included 19 points in the third quarter which is when the Raptors swung the game’s momentum in their favor.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 27 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter. Boston got a nice lift off the bench from Gerald Green who had 14 points and five rebounds off the bench.

It was a sluggish start for both teams offensively in the first quarter which ended with Toronto ahead 23-18.

But the second quarter was an entirely different game for the Celtics who pulled ahead by as many as 10 points.

And like most of their success, it was far from a one or two-man show, either.

Marcus Smart, filling in for Avery Bradley (Achilles injury) for the second straight game, had nine points in the quarter along with a couple rebounds and a couple steals. He would finish with 15 points, five assists and four steals.

And off the bench, Green didn’t waste any time heating up from the field with nine points while playing all but 35 seconds in the second.

Meanwhile, the Celtics were able to keep DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry from having big quarters in the first half as each scored five points in the second quarter which was equal to what they delivered scoring-wise in the first.

At the half, Boston had a solid 55-46 lead that they increased to as many as 16 in the third quarter before the Raptors began to make their all-too-predictable surge.

Toronto’s shooters began to heat up, but didn’t cut into Boston’s lead until the latter stages of the third quarter.

Boston’s double-digit lead was down to just 80-76 with 1:06 to play as Toronto went on an 8-0 run.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens brought Thomas back into the game earlier than usual.

And Thomas didn’t waste much time, getting to the free throw line within seconds of returning to the floor as the Celtics went into the fourth quarter ahead 84-80.

But Thomas' usual fourth quarter heroics just weren't enough to withstand a strong finish by the Raptors who remain the best team in the East besides Cleveland.

Celtics-Bulls preview: Gerald Green, Terry Rozier could change series

Celtics-Bulls preview: Gerald Green, Terry Rozier could change series

CHICAGO – The calls to package players and go get a dominant, superstar-caliber talent, were loud and often from Boston Celtics fans. 

But president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and company preferred to stay the course and build a team that was strong on depth, particularly on the perimeter. 

In doing so, it meant many nights where good players would simply watch, wait and wonder when their opportunity to play would come. 

And while players say all the time that they’re ready for their opportunity, most struggle when the spotlight shines brightest – the playoffs.

That’s why the play of seldom-used Celtics Gerald Green and Terry Rozier, was so important in Game 3 and speaks to why Boston’s depth may be what gets them over the hump in their playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.

In what was one of the most ballsy calls we’ve seen in the Brad Stevens era, he opted to put Green in the starting lineup – his first start of the season – in place of Amir Johnson.  

“I was just trying to bring energy,” Green said. “I feel my energy was there early on. That’s what I’m going to try and do (in Game 4).”

It was a move that no one outside of the team and the front office, saw coming. 

At a minimum, it was a curveball that threw the Bulls off course temporarily. And while they have had a day or so to figure out how to combat that, it’s not like the Bulls have a lot of attractive options on that bench which is already being stretched thin with ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo out with a fractured right thumb injury suffered in Game 2. 

And then you’ve got Rozier whose success as a summer league darling didn’t translate to the regular season with the kind of consistency that he or the Celtics were hoping for. 

That led to him being in and out of the rotation, which he readily admits wasn’t always easy to handle. 

Coincidentally, one of the constant voices encouraging him during those down times, was Green. 

“He’s been huge for me,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He’s great at keeping your spirits up, helping you make sure you’re locked in and ready to go when your number's called.”

 Rozier was indeed ready to go when called upon, scoring 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting in Game 3 which led all reserve scorers. 

And just as significant was his impact on the game when he was on the floor, leading all reserves with a plus-minus of +19.

“When I get in, it doesn’t matter the game, my focus is always the same,” Rozier said. “I want to make plays and help this team win; that’s it.”

Boston’s Jonas Jerebko knows exactly what both players are currently experiencing. A year ago, Jerebko went from being a Celtics bench player who saw decent minutes, to a starter delivering big shots in the playoff. 

After the first two games of Boston’s best-of-seven series with Atlanta last year, Stevens made the bold move of putting Jerebko into the starting lineup with the Celtics going 2-2 in that time. The move last year involving Jerebko provided an immediate jolt of energy to the first unit, but soonfaded as the Atlanta Hawks closed out the series in six games. 

But this latest resurgence has a different feel about it due to Celtics seemingly having a deeper roster.

Need proof?

The two biggest difference-makers for them in their lone win in this series were Green who played just 47 games this season with 28 DNP-CDs (and 7 games on the inactive list with injuries); and Rozier who was also out of the regular playing rotation. 

“Like I’ve been saying all season, this team is really deep,” Jerebko told CSNNE.com following the team’s practice on Saturday. “Anyone on this team can step in and contribute. It’s just a matter of getting an opportunity. The one good thing about our guys is that, whether we’re playing or not, guys always stay ready.”

Celtics stay laid back, but 'intentional' in preparation for Game 4

Celtics stay laid back, but 'intentional' in preparation for Game 4

CHICAGO – The mood was significantly lighter at the end of the Boston Celtics’ practice on Saturday at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. 

At one end of the floor, players were playfully jacking up 3’s. At the other end of the floor, some were working on ball-handling or mid-range jumpers. 

And then there was Kelly Olynyk draining shots from half court. 

But as jovial as they were on Saturday, players understand there is still a lot of work to do in order for them achieve their primary goal which is to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Boston’s 104-87 Game 3 win over the Bulls cut Chicago’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. A Celtics' win in Game 4 would not only tie the series at two games apiece, but also re-establish home court advantage for the top-seeded Celtics.

“We’re going to have to play with great purpose, be intentional in the way we approach (Game 4),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We know it’s gonna be really hard. Each game is its own entity.”

He’s right. 

Games 1 and 2, both won by Chicago, were about the Bulls’ supporting cast led by Robin Lopez. 

And in Game 3, Boston’s small-ball lineup dominated play in leading Boston to its first win in the series. 

Despite Boston’s impressive showing in Game 3 which included a playoff franchise-record 17 made 3’s, Stevens – like most coaches – sees plenty of room for improvement heading into Game 4. 

“I thought we could have done some things a little better on offense,” Stevens said. “Defensively, they put us in some tough positions, missed some shots. We have to be better in some of our defensive stuff. We’re going to have to play better.”

And that maybe more than anything else, is what makes Boston’s Game 3 win so sweet. 

They led most of the game and won by a sizable margin, but clearly did not play their best game. 

Chicago has out-rebounded Boston in each of the first three games by an average of 12.3 per game. 

And the Celtics endured a miserable second quarter scoring drought, scoring just seven points in the final 11:17 of the quarter.

But the goal in Game 3 was very simple: win by any means necessary. 

“Certainly, better to be down 2-1 than 3-0,” Stevens said.

But the Celtics have to maintain the same sense of urgency on Sunday, that they played with in Game 3.

“The vibe for me is the same,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “I knew we’d come here, play hard and get a win. It’s always good to be back on the winning side. I feel we need to have the same mentality when we were down two. Otherwise we’ll be down 3-1 if we don’t have the same mentality.” 

Bradley knows all too well that there have been times this season when the Celtics would play well and come away with a marquee win, only to get seemingly fat and happy afterwards and suffer a loss rather than build off the momentum of an impressive win. 

The playoffs are a different kind of animal than the regular season.

And the best teams tend to respond to the moment, finding ways to succeed and survive rather than struggle and stumble. 

“We used today to prepare for (Game 4) so we can improve on those mistakes we made last game,” Bradley said. “Hopefully we’re able to get a win again if we’re playing with the same intensity as (Game 3).”