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2 key takeaways as Raptors crumble against Celtics

Raptors, Celtics, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam

The Toronto Raptors couldn’t overcome a severely depleted roster and dropped their second game in a row after losing to the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

There were some spirited runs, including a breathtaking third quarter stretch that saw Scottie Barnes morph into the 6’9” version of Stephen Curry, raining three-pointers from a variety of areas and in a number of ways. But still, it wasn’t enough.

Ultimately, the Raptors are now a mere 2-7 at home and three games below .500. It’s easy to point out the deficiencies on the floor, but there also comes a point when not having a number of important players available just becomes too much.

“I thought Scottie (Barnes) gave us an offensive spark,” coach Nick Nurse told reporters after the game. “They tried pretty hard, there are just a couple things you can’t overcome there. I thought it was a good effort, just didn’t quite bounce our way.”

Here are two key takeaways from the Raptors’ defeat to the Celtics.

2. Scottie Barnes-Pascal Siakam connection

Might as well start with something fun: A game after Siakam was asked about what it was like playing with Barnes—to which he replied that Barnes is “definitely an easy guy to play with”—the two of them flashed signs of a burgeoning chemistry against the Celtics.

The first instance came as a transition opportunity. Barnes caught a rebound and, his innate vision kicking in, immediately flung an outlet pass to a streaking Siakam, who flew down the floor in a whirlwind before ramming home a monster slam.

Later, an equally enjoyable but perhaps more interesting play happened in the half court. Barnes was at the arc, the ball in his hands, while Siakam received some off-ball screening action to break free from the defense. He then tore into an open lane and Barnes fired a bullet to him at once, leading Siakam into an easy layup.

That sort of two-man play is the kind that the Raptors should look to utilize more often: Barnes at the high post, threading the needle for Siakam, who’s then able to catch and attack a defense in motion. Such plays put an active emphasis on a talent Barnes already has and give him an increased number of developmental reps, all while making life significantly easier for Siakam as an attacker.

Right now, the moments in which Barnes winds up creating for others are largely not scripted. They occur after initial actions have failed, or within the chaos of broken plays, and are successful purely due to Barnes’ natural talent.

As the Barnes-Siakam pairing continues to grow, an intentional focus on leveraging the two-man actions frequently should become more and more common for the Raptors.

1. Free throw disparity

At first blush, the disparity seems ridiculous. The Celtics went to the free throw line 31 times, hitting 29 of their attempts, while the Raptors got there just 16 times and nailed 14 of their shots.

“I think for the most part we did an okay job (on defense),” Nurse said. “Again, not very fortunate. We did have a few in a row there that were early holding calls. Those are the ones, especially when you’re in the bonus, you’ve gotta stay away from.”

Certainly, there were some non-calls that could’ve perhaps gone their way on the other end, and they will feel like they got the short straw more often than not, but the fact remains that without some of the roster’s premier shooters in OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr., the Raptors just didn’t have enough of a perimeter threat to force the Celtics to unclog the paint.

While Barnes, for example, was able to take advantage of that to some degree, the Raptors were largely left to try driving continuously into a horde of green jerseys, coming up against a set wall and rarely getting the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, without Fred VanVleet on the floor, the Raptors were hardly able to score in the half court at all.

So, no, it wasn’t that the officials had it out for the Raptors. It was that the offensive firepower was lacking, and allowed the Celtics to hold fast in the interior and prevent a ton of fouls, which typically come after defenses have been coerced into movement.

Of course, it is also true that the disparity had a massive impact on the Raptors eventually succumbing to a loss. Such a difference is incredibly difficult to overcome, no matter how it happens.

“Unless you have $25,000 to spare,” VanVleet said, “I’m gonna stay away from officiating comments other than to say it was a tough night for us on that end of the whistle.”

For now, all the Raptors can do is hope that better collective health is on the horizon.