TORONTO – New teams. New season. New Lineups.
The Boston Celtics just can’t buy a win in Toronto.
The hype surrounding Friday’s primetime matchup in Toronto between the C’s and the Raptors was real. The result? Well, Boston wishes it wasn’t.
For the 10th time in 11 tries during the Brad Stevens era, the Celtics came up short in Toronto as the new-look Raptors earned a 113-101 win following an entertaining matchup at Scotiabank Arena. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto’s shiny new addition, led the game in both scoring and rebounding, with 31 points and 10 boards.
Leonard’s effort played a key role in the Celtics’ continued struggles in Toronto. Boston’s only win in the building since the start of the 2013-14 season remains a 117-116 overtime victory on April 4, 2015.
As Brad Stevens said Friday morning, “They make it hard (to win here).”
The Raptors did so again Friday night, but this matchup featured a very different vibe than those in the past.
Most of Boston’s recent losses in Toronto were runaways, including two blowout defeats last season. This one, however, was highly competitive. That much was obvious to everyone watching from home and to everyone playing on the court.
“I felt like we were in the game,” said Al Horford, who nearly logged a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. “We were in a good position to win the game. Last year we came in and I think they got us out of here pretty quick.”
A contributing factor to the increased competitiveness of this matchup was the increased similarity of each teams’ style of play. In 2018-19, these two teams look eerily similar to each other.
During previous seasons, Toronto used a traditional starting lineup with two big men in its frontcourt. When the C’s and Raptors met, two different styles of basketball collided. Toronto’s bulky style oftentimes came out on top, with many victories in convincing fashion.
This season, however, Toronto’s first-year head coach Nick Nurse has implemented a more skilled and versatile starting lineup. The Raptors are now starting only one big man, which has led to lineups that look a whole lot like the one Boston rode to Game 7 of the Eastern Finals a season ago and is using again this season.
“They’re a lot like us in that they’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of depth,” said Gordon Hayward, who tallied 14 points and seven rebounds. “They’re also like us in that they’re pretty versatile.”
Each team’s versatility and depth were on full display Friday night. Both teams used their players as interchangeable parts on offense and on defense, and both teams had five players score at least 11 points.
With similar talent levels on both sidelines, it’s no wonder why this game stayed within eight points until the final minute of the night. Leonard and Kyle Lowry combined for seven of Toronto’s final nine points, including four during the final minute, while the Celtics failed to capitalize on their opportunities.
“They executed much better than we did,” Horford said plainly of crunch time. “We didn’t take care of the ball as well as we could have down the stretch.”
As a result, Boston’s long run of struggles in Toronto continued Friday night.