Celtics

Celtics implode in fourth quarter, lose to Raptors, 114-106

Celtics implode in fourth quarter, lose to Raptors, 114-106

The Boston Celtics have been one of the league’s best fourth quarter teams most of this season.

So there was indeed a bit of irony to their 114-106 loss at Toronto, a game in which the Raptors closed out the night with a decisive 23-6 run.

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With the loss, Boston (23-15) is now two games behind Toronto (25-13) in the Atlantic Division standings. Even more significant is that the Celtics have now lost both of their head-to-head matchups with the Raptors, with two more to play this season.

That could come into play if these two finish with an identical regular season record, which is very possible especially when you consider half of the teams in the East that made it to the playoffs finished the regular season with a 48-34 record.

But playoff position was the last thing on the Celtics mind following Tuesday’s loss, a game in which they went into having a chance to tie the Raptors record-wise and with that, move into the No. 2 spot in the East.

Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan took over in the second half which is when he scored 31 of his game-high 41 points which included 19 points in the third quarter which is when the Raptors swung the game’s momentum in their favor.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 27 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter. Boston got a nice lift off the bench from Gerald Green who had 14 points and five rebounds off the bench.

It was a sluggish start for both teams offensively in the first quarter which ended with Toronto ahead 23-18.

But the second quarter was an entirely different game for the Celtics who pulled ahead by as many as 10 points.

And like most of their success, it was far from a one or two-man show, either.

Marcus Smart, filling in for Avery Bradley (Achilles injury) for the second straight game, had nine points in the quarter along with a couple rebounds and a couple steals. He would finish with 15 points, five assists and four steals.

And off the bench, Green didn’t waste any time heating up from the field with nine points while playing all but 35 seconds in the second.

Meanwhile, the Celtics were able to keep DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry from having big quarters in the first half as each scored five points in the second quarter which was equal to what they delivered scoring-wise in the first.

At the half, Boston had a solid 55-46 lead that they increased to as many as 16 in the third quarter before the Raptors began to make their all-too-predictable surge.

Toronto’s shooters began to heat up, but didn’t cut into Boston’s lead until the latter stages of the third quarter.

Boston’s double-digit lead was down to just 80-76 with 1:06 to play as Toronto went on an 8-0 run.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens brought Thomas back into the game earlier than usual.

And Thomas didn’t waste much time, getting to the free throw line within seconds of returning to the floor as the Celtics went into the fourth quarter ahead 84-80.

But Thomas' usual fourth quarter heroics just weren't enough to withstand a strong finish by the Raptors who remain the best team in the East besides Cleveland.

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

MILWAUKEE – With a possible Game 6 return for Marcus Smart, there’s no question that would be a good thing for the Boston Celtics. 

Well, here are six ways having Smart back in the lineup can help aid Boston which is currently tied at two games apiece with the Bucks. 

Defensive versatility: At 6-foot-4 with a strong build, Marcus Smart gives Boston another body to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the two players who have given the Celtics the biggest problems thus far in this series.

Additional ball-handler: The Milwaukee Bucks have tried to mix up their pressure defensively with an occasional full-court press of the Celtics. Smart is a combo guard who has shown tremendous growth this season as a floor leader with the ability to impact the game both as a scorer and facilitator.

Leadership: As the most tenured member of the roster, Marcus Smart has a high love of respect from his teammates. Not only because of his seniority with the franchise, but also because of the way he plays the game and his teammate’s understanding of how much he means to Boston when it comes to winning.

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Increased roster depth: Injuries devastated the Celtics’ roster heading into the playoffs. So a return of Smart would give Boston 12 healthy bodies. It may not seem like that big a deal. But as we’ve seen with this series, every available body matters when it comes to finding a pathway toward the second round of the playoffs for these teams.

Less pressure on Rozier: The first two games of this series really put a positive spotlight on Terry Rozier. The last two games, both losses for Boston, have featured Rozier struggling at both ends of the floor. Having Smart back would lighten Rozier’s plate some and in doing so, could better position him to be closer to the game-changing, difference-maker we saw in Games 1 and 2.

Playbook expansion: Having Marcus Smart back in the lineup gives head coach Brad Stevens a lot more options at both ends of the floor, which could be just what the Celtics need to limit Milwaukee’s 1-2 punch of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as the Bucks bench which has been the better unit of two, in Games 3 and 4.

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Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

MILWAUKEE – With Boston’s 104-102 Game 3 loss to Milwaukee, the Celtics are guaranteed a return trip to Milwaukee for Game 6 later this week.

At that point in the series, both team’s depth will be an issue.

Boston’s depth hasn’t been great, but it potentially could be better if Marcus Smart is cleared to play following a right thumb injury suffered last month.

The 6-foot-4 guard will have a check-up on Tuesday and if he’s cleared to resume practicing with the team, that would pave the way for him to be available to play in Game 6 on Thursday.

“That’s the plan. We’re still on the same track,” Smart said.

Smart has been working diligently with the training staff since he had his right thumb surgically repaired last month.

“I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there,” Smart said. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”

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In the meantime, Smart has been walking around with one type of splint to help insure that he doesn’t accidentally bump his thumb and potentially do damage to it. That splint is different than the one he will play with upon getting cleared to return to action. While the idea of playing with a splint may not seem ideal, Smart said he’s comfortable shooting with it.

Before playoff games 2, 3 and 4 of this series with Boston, Smart has been on the floor prior to the game working on his perimeter shooting, dribble-drive, pull-ups, free throws and pretty much anything he does shooting-wise during a game. Smart has also worked on his conditioning, lateral quickness drills and other work to help strengthen his core, all done with him returning sooner rather than later. 

But ultimately, it is Smart's comfort level with his right hand and the splint that he'll play with, that will determine what kind of impact one can expect once he returns to action. 

“It feels like it’s nothing there,” Smart said of playing with the splint. “To have that comfortability in my dominant hand, my shooting hand, that’s a good feeling to have.”

Smart, who has distinguished himself as Boston’s top perimeter defender, has appeared in 54 games for the Celtics this season. The fourth-year guard averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds this season while playing 29.9 minutes per game.

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