A well-oiled machine the Toronto Raptors are not.
Maybe one day they will be, once they get to know the nuances of each other’s games and once they get everyone together for more than a locker- room chat, but for now?
Now they are a group than can be proud of a workmanlike effort to somehow gut out a big win against all odds.
And they will take that any day of the week.
Missing their starting point guard and with two new additions being asked to immediately play key roles, while another important piece appeared for the first time in almost three weeks, the Raptors ground down the Boston Celtics on Friday night, eventually registering a 107-97 victory at the Air Canada Centre.
DeMar DeRozan had a sparkling 43-point effort — a career high — to take some of the sting away from Kyle Lowry’s absence, but P.J. Tucker provided defensive excellence and Serge Ibaka was quietly effective in what has to be one of the team’s most impressive wins this season.
Isaiah Thomas had 20 points, and Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder 19 each for the Celtics, who wilted under Toronto’s fourth-quarter intensity.
As to be expected, there were moments that were quite good for the Raptors — wiping out a 17-point first-half deficit to lead by five in the third quarter, and a defence that, at times, looked aggressive and quick and cohesive.
And, as to be expected, there were moments that were quite gruesome: unforced turnovers, stagnant offence, defence that was blitzed because of unfamiliarity.
But it was the “grit and grime” of which coach Dwane Casey speaks so fondly that got them over the hump before a predictably raucous audience on Friday, a game won on effort rather than intricate strategy, toughness overall.
Enjoying the best season of his 11-year career, Lowry originally hurt his wrist in a win over Charlotte on Feb. 15, but took part in the all-star weekend competitions figuring he would just play through the discomfort.
He was icing his wrist on the bench during Sunday’s game in New Orleans, but told reporters after that he wasn’t in any serious pain and that he would be fine.
That turned out to be not quite true.
“He thought it was going to get better. He did it in the Charlotte game, had treatment over the all-star break, down in New Orleans,” Casey said before Friday’s game. “(He) got treatment, came back last night, got treatment and woke up this morning and it wasn’t any better.
“It is what it is.”
What it is, is a huge blow to a team that was brimming with confidence heading in the final 25 games of the regular season, bolstered by the addition of forwards Ibaka and Tucker.
Ibaka started and had 15 points, while Tucker — going on no sleep for 30 hours, he said — led the team in rebounding with 10 in 30 minutes.
The return of Patrick Patterson also helped. He chipped in 11 points off the bench, back in his familiar role after missing six games with a bruised knee.
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