Celtics turn it on too late, fall to Raptors

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Celtics turn it on too late, fall to Raptors

TORONTO This should not have happened to the Boston Celtics.

Not with something to play for (higher playoff seeding, Atlantic Division crown), not with the need to build on their already strong momentum (they came in with four straight wins), not with the opponent being... the woeful, lottery-bound (again) Toronto Raptors.

But there were the Boston Celtics, dead as can be, well on their way to a disappointing loss to the 20-win Raptors.

And then came a Celtics lay-up, followed by a 3-point play by Paul Pierce.

Suddenly, more than three quarter's worth of putrid play just might be washed away by two minutes of stellar basketball.

But it was not meant to be, as the Raptors made all their free throws down the stretch to pull off a shocking 84-79 upset win over the Celtics.

Sooner or later, the Boston Celtics were due for the inevitable let-down game. That's the only way to explain what happened Friday night in Toronto.

The Raptors, with nothing to play for but pride, took advantage of a lethargic effort.

After falling behind by double digits, the Celtics' finally started playing Celtics-like defense in the game's final minutes, as they frantically fought back to cut Toronto's lead to single digits.

But as much as they needed to get stops, they also had to make shots with the latter proving to be a problem on multiple occasions.

Mickael Pietrus had a number of good looks at the basket, only to see his shot rim in and out - and with it, out went Boston's chances at winning.

The loss did nothing to Boston's chances at winning the Atlantic Division, as Philadelphia lost at home to New Jersey.

Boston (34-25) led by as many as 13 points in the first half, but appeared to morph into what Doc Rivers refers to as "cool Celtics" with an abysmal showing in the third quarter.

There was bad defense, worse offense and it provided just the fuel Toronto needed.

Boston led most of the first quarter with Rajon Rondo once again shredding a team's defense to pieces, racking up seven first-quarter assists as the C's led 20-13 after the first.

C's coach Doc Rivers has talked about finding ways to give his core guys more rest heading down the homestretch of the regular season.

Going to his bench earlier with more bodies is one way to achieve that. In the first half, Boston played 11 players which is a bit unusual considering they've gone with an eight-man rotation for the past few games.

Regardless, the Celtics' main guys played more than enough minutes to off-set any points lost by the backups.

Because truth be told, the Celtics' problems all night had to do with a lack of aggression on the part of all.

Rondo was getting his usual share of assists, but very few came with him attacking the lane.

And eventually, that lack of aggression caught up with the Celtics.

When it did, the Raptors got hot, gained more confidence and before you know it, they were rolling along to an unexpected win.

The Celtics seemed to show some signs of life in the fourth quarter when Rajon Rondo stole the ball and coasted in for a lay-up that cut Toronto's lead to 68-57.

But on the ensuing possession, Alan Anderson nailed a 3-pointer from in front of the C's bench while being fouled by Avery Bradley to give the Raptors a 71-57 lead with 5:56 to play.

Boston responded by getting the Toronto lead down to 10 points following a short jumper by Rondo.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey knew his team was starting to falter, so he called a time-out to get his best scorer - DeMar DeRozan - back into the game with 4:01 to play.

Wojnarowski thinks Celtics are perfect candidate for Jimmy Butler trade

Wojnarowski thinks Celtics are perfect candidate for Jimmy Butler trade

Most NBA teams would benefit from adding Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler. But few NBA have the assets to acquire him. The most legitimate suitor in the NBA resides in Boston.

"The potential of a Boston-Chicago deal for Jimmy Butler -- I think it will loom over the entire week," Yahoo! NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski said Saturday. "These teams have engaged on the potential of this trade. They have not gotten far down the road on it. There still needs to be alignment within the Bulls organization -- from ownership to management -- that they want to make the decision to enter a full rebuild.

He added: "But the poential of this deal really illustrates the State Farm right combo, because these are two teams that have exactly what the other wants. Boston has been hoarding assets for years for a couple of season, trying to get in the position to get a star player."

Wojnarowski suggested the first building block for the Butler trade would start with either the 2017 or 2018 Brooklyn Nets' first-round pick, which the Celtics acquired in 2013 in the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade.

"And Jimmy Butler in Boston, paired with Isaiah Thomas and this Celtics team -- it would put this Celtics team in a position to seriously challenge Cleveland [Cavaliers] in the east, not only in the short term, but also in the long term."

Butler's contract extends to 2020, and then Wojnarowski explained Boston could then sign the guard to another long-term deal. In the meantime, he could help Boston surpass a vulnerable-looking Cavaliers team.

Forbes ranks Celtics as fifth-most valuable NBA franchise

Forbes ranks Celtics as fifth-most valuable NBA franchise

The Boston Celtics are one of the NBA's top teams -- and not just in terms of talent. Forbes has ranked the Celtics as the fifth-most valuable NBA franchise at $2.2 billion.

The Celtics "sport" valuation is one of the highest in the NBA at $674 million. Their "market" valuation comes in as $883 million, their "arena" valuation falls at $341 million and their "brand" valuation stands at $302 million.

Boston is a constant in a continually emerging NBA. Forbes reports the NBA is worth $1.36 billion, which 3.5 times its value five years ago. The league is also on a seven-year collective bargaining agreement that will provide stability in the league for that duration. The NBA also signed a $24 billion deal with ESPN and TNT that began at the start of the 2016-17 season.

The Celtics will continue to play an important part in the growth of the league.