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.

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.