Sports

Raptors snap losing streak with win over Celtics

By Ryan Wolstat, Toronto Sun

Celtics’ Jared Sullinger brings down the hammer on the Raptors’ Amir Johnson during the first half at the ACC last night. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)

Celtics’ Jared Sullinger brings down the hammer on the Raptors’ Amir Johnson during the first half at the ACC last night. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)

The skid is over.

 

Facing a game, but overmatched and inexperienced Celtics club, the Raptors snapped a four-game losing streak with a 109-96 victory.

Playing a rare Saturday night game at the ACC, the 25-11 Raptors looked horrible to start, before gradually getting untracked, eventually embarking on a huge run that 12-23 Boston could not battle back from.

The Raptors got a huge spark from newly re-inserted starter James Johnson (15 points, 10 rebounds) a solid game from Jonas Valanciunas (15 points, seven rebounds) and double-figure outings off the bench from Lou Williams (19 points) and Patrick Patterson (10).

They also got a 10 point fourth quarter from Kyle Lowry, who was thrown back into the action after Boston scored 10 straight points.

It was clear that Johnson provided a lift.

“He covers up a lot of mistakes. He covers a lot of floor, a lot of ground,” Lowry said of Johnson.

“We love his energy, we love his enthusiastic nature and what he brings to the table.”

Johnson also had four assists, but it was the defending that most pleased him.

“C’mon, man. That’s what I’m here for. I make sure I establish that first, impose my will on the defensive end. Then the offence just comes,” he said.

Toronto-born forward Kelly Olynyk led the Celtics with 23 points, Avery Bradley added 17.

The Raptors had a brutal start at both ends of the floor, missing good looks that usually fall in turning in just a 19-point quarter, while allowing Boston to shoot 50% from the floor.

Valanciunas and Johnson could not finish in the paint, but eventually rectified that issue.

It was the ninth time in the past 11 games that the Raptors lost the first quarter.

The defence finally woke up in the second quarter, in combination with Boston’s inability to hang on to the ball. The Raptors feasted on nine Celtics turnovers to scratch out a four-point advantage at the break.

What changed leading to the better defence?

“We were tired of it. Everybody buckled in,” James Johnson said.

“Everybody took responsibility for what they were doing and we started playing Toronto Raptors defence.”

In the third, the Raptors went to Valanciunas early and often. He had five shot attempts, made four of them and also gave Celtics centre Tyler Zeller — who had been shooting 60% from the field and 12 points a night as a starter to half of those numbers. It was enough for Valanciunas to do a bit of a victory jig in the locker room post-game.

Valanciunas also did one of his best jobs all season of finding open teammates. Twice, the third-year centre tossed one-handed passes to Terrence Ross, who responded with his only two makes of the game, both three-pointers.

The Raptors kept rolling and when Patterson finished the third with a buzzer-beater from in close, the lead had bulged to 17 points.

The Celtics made a run in the fourth quarter to close within seven, but Lowry re-entered the game and immediately attacked, scoring five quick points to basically put away the tired visitors, who were playing for the third time in four nights.

The Celtics came in ranked third in the league in points in the paint, but got clobbered inside.

They also allowed the Raptors to zip the ball around far too easily — a problem lately for Toronto — surrendering 10 assists on Toronto’s first 13 field goals and 23 in all.

But all the Raptors wanted to talk about post-game was the defence.

“I think we just got more defensive-minded and we really weren’t worried about the offensive end,” Lowry said.

“We knew shots would fall. I think we put a real emphasis on defence tonight.”

Amir Johnson praised his namesake for allowing him to do his job easier.

“James does it all, he scores, can guard, can guard guards, can guard bigs. He’s pretty much the guy that helps everybody out there,” Johnson said.

“My job is to help everybody out there, another help guy, that’s pretty big for us.”

Big enough to stop a streak the whole team had been feeling bad about.

“We sat amongst each other and said, ‘we have to get this win tonight, we can’t keep sliding down,’” Amir Johnson said.

And they didn’t.

AROUND THE RIM

Boston dropped to 19-19 all-time in Toronto ... Toronto has attempted 22 fewer free throws in 20 games without DeMar DeRozan than in the 16 games he has played ... The Raptors improved to 6-0 against the Atlantic Division this season and to 14-0 when holding opponents under 100 points (50-9 over the last two seasons.

JAMES JOHNSON JOINS STARTING LINEUP

As was widely expected, the Raptors returned James Johnson to the starting lineup on Saturday night.

Johnson replaced the ineffective Landry Fields at small forward. Head coach Dwane Casey had said that he was pondering a change or two to the first group and returned to Johnson, who averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds on 62% shooting in five starts earlier this season, three of them wins, and one an overtime loss in Portland.

“I think he’s been under control. James plays within himself,” Casey said when asked if there is a worry Johnson will try to do too much with an expanded role.

“He’ll do things just out of playing the game that he gets caught up in every once and a while on both ends of the ball, defensively and offensively. He’s becoming more disciplined from that aspect. And that’s another area of growth he has to go through is be more disciplined on both ends, defence and offence.”

Casey said the move wasn’t made because Fields alone hadn’t been the problem, he just wanted to shake things up.

“I don’t want to imply that guys are not playing hard because I think they’re going through the motions but just mentally it’s the time of the year, if you look at a lot of teams around the league, you see that this time of year,” Casey said.

“It’s just a flatness mentally that they’re going through right now that we’ve got to get out of.”

 

 


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