Late rally by Raptors falls short as Celtics remain lone unbeaten team at home

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What looked to be a thrashing at the hands of the Boston Celtics after the opening jump for the Raptors turned into an exhilarating night of hoops.

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Now comes the hard part of bringing the same level of desperation and intensity into Saturday night’s game in Detroit where the Pistons are hoping to avoid infamy.

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Toronto’s three-game trip tipped off in Washington against a woeful Wizards team on a night when the Raptors routed the home side.

Friday night in Beantown, the Raptors were well on their way to getting obliterated when they suddenly discovered defence can actually be played, and head coach Darko Rajakovic found a lineup that actually worked.

What Toronto could not find was a win as the Raptors fell to the Celtics, 120-118.

Granted, the C’s were undermanned and Toronto’s early game performance was utterly inexcusable.

The evening did feature a one-possession game late that would be knotted up when Scottie Barnes buried his seventh three-ball of the game, setting the stage for a frenetic finish.

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With 13.5 ticks remaining, the Raptors had possession down two points.

The ball was in Barnes’ hands.

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On a rare foray to the basket, he couldn’t finish and the game ended with Boston extending its home winning streak.

As well as Barnes has played this season and as much hope he represents, he became too dependent on the three-ball in the game’s opening half, which would see the Raptors trail 68-53.

Keep in mind that in the opening 24 minutes the Raptors made a grand total of two trips to the free throw line, both by Pascal Siakam.

As for Barnes, once again the team’s primary ball handler to begin the game with Dennis Schroder coming off the bench, he jacked up 11 shots, including eight from distance.

He did end the night by making a career-high in threes, but he can’t be settling for jump shots at the expense of attacking the rim and applying pressure on defences.

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At the break, he had 11 points in one of his least efficient stretches of the season

Siakam, by far, was Toronto’s best player, showing an aggressive style that would see Spicy P pour in 20 points.

He was held in check for the next two quarters with Barnes emerging as the go-to guy.

No defence, no ball movement, and only one player — Precious Achiuwa — had a positive rating affixed to his name in the boxscore at intermission.

Mind you, he saw the floor for two minutes for a plus-1 rating.

In fairness, Toronto played better in the second and third quarters, at least compared to the embarrassment that was the first period.

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Toronto’s best stretch of defence arrived in the third quarter when Schroder, who was once again good until he missed a clutch free throw late in the game, and Malachi Flynn were on the floor in a two point guard look, a tweak that helped the Raptors better defend the three-point line.

Forcing turnovers also helped as the game turned competitive.

The Raptors even forged a lead in the fourth quarter because of their defence.

The insertion of Jalen McDaniels provided a jolt on both ends of the floor.

When Toronto played well it had Jakob Poeltl on the bench.

Toronto rolls into Motown with the likes of Barnes, Siakam, O.G. Anunoby and Schroder having played big minutes in Boston.

BOSTON TEA PARTY

The C’s entered the night having won 15 in a row on their home floor at TD Garden.

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They also entered the evening minus Jayson Tatum (ankle), Al Horford (rest) and Kristaps Porzingis (calf injury management), who each played the previous night when Detroit was in Beantown.

What Boston lacked in marquee power it more than compensated by bringing an energy level the Raptors failed to match.

One minute into the second quarter and the Celtics were leading by 17 points.

Shot after shot was being made when the Raptors seemingly had little to no interest in defending.

As is the norm with this club when defence turns deficient, Toronto went into a zone.

Jaylen Brown, who missed the Pistons tip and was a game-time decision Friday night because of a back contusion, went off for 15 first-quarter points against the Raptors, hauled down five rebounds and recorded three assists in an explosive first quarter that would see the C’s score 35 points.

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MOTOWN MISERY

As strange as it may seem, the Pistons sported a winning record before taking aim on one of the most dubious records in the annals of North American sports.

When the 2023-24 season began, Detroit jumped out to a 2-1 start.

In the intervening weeks and months, Detroit has experienced loss after loss in every conceivable way, including an overtime defeat in Boston Thursday when the visitors led by as many as 21 points.

Detroit enters Saturday night’s home game versus the Raptors with a 2-29 record.

The only other NBA team to drop 28 straight were the Philadelphia 76ers when the term Process became fashionable.

A loss Saturday and the Pistons set the NBA’s futility mark.

In major North American sports history, the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals lost 29 in a row from 1942-45.

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“I’m not interested in just winning one more game this year,’’ said Pistons guard Cade Cunningham, the NBA’s first overall pick in 2021 when Barnes was taken fourth overall.

“To stop this, that would be soft in my opinion. Our goals are a lot higher than that. We have what it takes to win a game, that’s nothing. But to put games together, to find our system, find what’s clicking and allow us to sustain winning. That’s all we’re looking for.”

Cunningham is a talented player as is Jaden Ivey, two young building blocks.

Depth is a major issue.

In recent losses to Brooklyn and Boston, the Pistons lacked an ability to finish games.

The Pistons set the NBA record for most consecutive defeats (27) in a season Tuesday night when the Nets visited Little Caesars Arena.

Philly’s streak stretched over two seasons beginning in 2014.

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