The Toronto Raptors delivered a stunningly bad performance on Monday night and now they face their first win-or-go-home game of the season.
After winning two rousing games to tie up their dramatic best-of-seven playoff series with the Boston Celtics, the Raptors had no magic left for Monday’s Game 5, and they got crushed 111-89. Boston gets the opportunity to eliminate the defending NBA champs on Wednesday night.
The Raptors went from fiery and aggressive a few days ago to discombobulated and passive on Monday. Fred VanVleet had 18 points, while Norman Powell had 16 and Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Matt Thomas each contributed 10.
Jaylen Brown’s 27 points led the way for the Celtics. Kemba Walker, who blamed the Game 4 loss on himself, had 21. Jayson Tatum scored 18.
Asked if several key starters playing 40-plus minutes in the past few games was a factor in the loss, Lowry flatly refuted that theory.
“Nope,” said Lowry, who shot 3-of-8, emphatically shaking his head in his post-game video conference. “We just didn’t play well enough.”
The Raptors could not have played much worse offensively in the opening quarter, and it got them off to a terrible start. The Celtics were fantastic defensively. Toronto made a woeful four of their 20 shots, settling for a paltry 11 points in the first. It was the second-worst first-quarter shooting performance (20 per cent) in franchise postseason history.
“Give them credit, they outplayed us in pretty much every facet of the game,” said VanVleet, who made six of 14 shots on the night. “There’s a million and one reasons, and we could pick one if we want, but we’ve just got to be better for Game 6.”
Only two Raptors made field goals in the entire quarter – Ibaka hit one, and OG Anunoby accounted for seven points. The rest failed to score in all kinds of ways, from failed open layups, to badly bobbled put-backs, air-balled jumpers and blocked shots.
The Raps fumbled around with the ball and turned it over five times. They had a dry spell of three-and-a-half minutes where they scored no points at all. Jaylen Brown rumbled in easily and embarrassed them with a leaping dunk.
Toronto trailed 24-11 going into the second. They looked completely gassed. You saw something rare: opponents running right past the Raptors and out-working them.
The Raps tried some different things in spurts while searching for a spark, such as zone defence, a small lineup and calling role players off the bench, from Chris Boucher to Thomas. Nothing was working.
They shot an improved 39 per cent in the second, but Boston shot a soul crushing 65 per cent.
By halftime the Celtics were absolutely obliterating them, 62-35.
The Raps looked a little more inspired when they emerged from the locker room. Yet, it soon became obvious that one of those magical Lowry team-lifting performances just wasn’t in the cards this time.
Toronto opted to go small again for a little bit – removing centres from the floor, bringing in Norman Powell and sliding Siakam over to tangle with 6-foot-8 Boston centre Daniel Theis.
They tried a unit involving VanVleet and four bench players – including Terence Davis, who had not played since Game 2. They tried leaning on Thomas to fire up threes. There were some little spurts, but Toronto could barely get within 20 points.
Some of their frustrations boiled over into technical fouls.
Head coach Nick Nurse took out his starters very early and let the bench guys play out the game. VanVleet was the last one to leave the court when he checked out midway through the fourth. Toronto’s stars got a head-start on their rest before Wednesday’s Game 6.
“We just have to worry about one,” Lowry said. “Our team is tough-minded, tough-spirited. We’re a good team. We know what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to take it one game at a time, one possession, one minute, one second at a time. Just go out there and play.”
While the Raps haven’t faced an elimination game since Game 7 versus the Philadelphia 76ers last season, the feeling of fighting for one’s playoff life was experienced more recently.
“Game 3 felt like an elimination game and we were just there,” VanVleet said. “So go out there, give it all you’ve got, and see what happens.”
Game 6 takes place Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET.