TORONTO — In a season of struggling to find some consistency, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse deemed Monday's game against the Boston Celtics a good measuring stick for his team.
He came away pleased for the most part after dropping a 116-110 decision to the league-leading Celtics that came down to the wire.
"I’m always gonna be concerned with: are we playing good basketball," Nurse said. "We had a couple of really bad quarters in (recent) games which we didn’t play very good at all. We're just striving for a little more consistency, little bit more building and trending in the right direction of playing good basketball.
"(A win) was there to be had tonight."
Jayson Tatum had 31 points and 12 rebounds, while Jaylen Brown had 22 points for Boston (20-5).
Pascal Siakam scored 29 points, while Scottie Barnes finished with 21 and Gary Trent Jr., added 20 for the Raptors (12-12), who lost for just the third time at Scotiabank Arena this season. O.G. Anunoby chipped in with 13 points.
"I felt we played well … we had a chance to win," Siakam said. "So … when we focus and everybody's healthy, everybody's playing the way that we know we can play, I don't think I fear anybody really, to be honest."
The Raptors paced the Celtics through most of the game, and led by as many as 10 points in the first half.
But Tatum poured in 17 points in the third quarter — one less than the Raptors combined — and when he laid it in with a finger roll with 2:33 left in the frame, the basket put Boston up by 13. The Celtics led 91-80 with one quarter to play.
Marcus Smart found Tatum alone in front of the Raptors bench for an easy three that stretched Boston's lead to 12, but a three-pointer by Trent and three-point play by Barnes pulled Toronto back to within six with 2:12 to play. A Siakam free throw made it a four-point game heading into the final minute.
But Blake Griffin's tip shot with 26.8 on the clock put Boston back up by seven and sent hundreds of Raptors fans to the Scotiabank Arena exits.
Siakam said after a slew of injuries and illness and a couple of horrible losses on the road in New Orleans and Brooklyn, the mood among the team was not surprisingly down.
"As long as it doesn't linger," Siakam said. "This is the NBA, we're trying to win games and it's not easy. And I know that we are used to winning as a team because this is who we are. We win. But it's not easy. Winning is hard, it's really hard. And sometimes we get spoiled by the success we've had as an organization."
Neither team led by more than 10 points in a tightly contested first half. The Celtics went ahead by eight late in the first quarter on a three-pointer by Sam Hauser, but the Raptors closed with a 7-0 run and trailed just 27-25 to start the second.
Toronto went on a 10-1 run in the second, capped by a couple of Christian Koloko free throws and then matched virtually every Boston basket the rest of the half to take a 62-56 lead into the halftime break.
GIANTS OF AFRICA
The night marked the annual Giants of Africa game in celebration of the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Among the celebrities in attendance: former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who received a standing ovation when he was introduced, and Akim Aliu, co-founder of the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
Raptors forward Juancho Hernangomez sat out after spraining his right ankle two nights earlier against Orlando. Precious Achiuwa (ankle) and Otto Porter Jr. (dislocated toe). The Celtics were also short-handed, missing Al Horford (low-back stiffness) and Malcolm Brogdon (non-COVID illness).
The Raptors host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, then head to Orlando for two games against the Magic, Friday and Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press