Raptors comeback bid falls short, drop first In-Season Tournament game to Celtics amid 'slippery' conditions

On a brand new court, Pascal Siakam and the Raptors stormed back in the second half against the best team in the East.

Nov 17, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;   Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) tries to dribble the ball past Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday (4) in the first half at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors fell short of another comeback on the back of Pascal Siakam, as they lost to the Boston Celtics, 108-105, in what marked their In-Season Tournament opener at Scotiabank Arena.

With a black and gold colour scheme for their jerseys and court — which included a trophy at the centre for the special NBA occasion — much of the conversation post-game surrounded a “slippery” playing surface, as Celtics star Jaylen Brown called the court “kind of unacceptable.”

"We're all here for the In-Season Tournament, because it's going to generate revenue, excitement, competition, etc. But we got to make sure the floor is safe to play on," said Brown, who had to leave the game with 8 seconds left after hurting his groin.

"We can’t put our players out there, risk their health. Tonight, I thought the floor was kind of unacceptable and guys were just slipping all over the place."

Raptor Precious Achiuwa also found himself losing traction, while Siakam called it “OK” — but something that maybe should be investigated, given there were similar concerns about the new In-Season Tournament courts in New Orleans.

In terms of what happened in-between the lines, no matter their colour, the Raptors lost to a Celtics team that Brown says “kind of sucked tonight,” as they “didn’t play [their] best game.”

All-in-all, a win was a likely outcome for the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference (10-2) that also holds a top-five offensive and defensive rating in the NBA — even if Jrue Holiday was the leading man with 23 points, among a starting lineup where no player had more than a 4-plus/minus.

Thanks to an improved Raptors second-half defensive effort and also another willful outing from Pascal Siakam, the Friday night contest did end in thrilling fashion. The two-time all-star was exceptionable in his limited 29 minutes, finishing with 23 points (11-16 shooting), six rebounds and five assists while battling foul trouble on his way to a game-high 17-plus/minus.

“He was able to come back, kept his mentality there and he was huge in the second half for us. I wish he played eight, nine more minutes,” said Rajakovic, noting he had a sub ready to get Siakam out before he picked up his third foul with about 4 minutes left in the first quarter.

“I mean, I sat down for like how many minutes, so I was just trying to play basketball at the end of the day. That was it,” said Siakam post-game, noting it was “frustrating” to pick up a couple “tick-tack” fouls to start.

It looked like things were going to get ugly quickly for the Raptors, after Siakam was forced to be sidelined for the second. Boston took advantage, winning the second frame 39-17, while holding the Raptors to 19% shooting as they went up by 16. It was a quarter that Rajakovic said had its share of “breakdowns.”

When Siakam made his return, he quickly got to work, putting up 11 points (5-7) to will the Raptors back into the game, winning that frame 32-19 and cutting the Celtics lead to 3. Like he’s done routinely this season, he hunted for his opportunities on post-ups, notably this time against guard Holiday — one of the NBA’s best defenders, but one that Siakam has a size advantage over.

“For me that area of the floor, I think I'm one of the best at that position or at my position there,” said Siakam calling his post-ups “instant offence,” since defences need to choose between letting him go one-on-one, or sending a help defender and leaving a Raptor teammate open.

"I hope we can do more of that."

Achiuwa says it was another opportunity that allowed Siakam to “impose his will,” like he’s done in other Raptor comebacks against the Spurs and Wizards.

Thanks to Siakam, in the fourth quarter, the Raptors used their momentum to go toe-and-toe with the Celtics. They exchanged leads, before Boston ultimately put the game away — with the most notable basket being a Derrick White 3 to give the Celtics a 106-103 lead with 27.1 seconds to go.

The Celtics were able to collapse the Raptors’ defence with Holiday driving and Brown attempting to cut, which pulled in help from Gary Trent Jr. and Siakam, and leaving an open shooter in the corner in what Rajakovic described as a “broken play and big time shot from White.”

Out of a timeout, the Raptors drew up a play that found Scottie Barnes open to shoot a 3-ball with 11.1 seconds left to tie the game, but an unfortunate miss sealed matters — though the opportunity for a quick two was also there according to Rajakovic, given the paint was “wide open”

“But you know, I trust his instincts going to the corner and trying to get us back in the game with a three-point shot,” the Raptors head coach said.

Barnes didn’t play the majority of crunch time — entering with 26.1 seconds left — as no timeouts or fouls were committed for about 3 minutes of continuous game-play with the Raptors and Celtics exchanging buckets.

“Unfortunately, that's on me. I'm gonna own that [one]. I was not able to get him back on the court,” said Rajakovic, noting that he considered doing a take-foul, but that the team had “momentum.”

Post-game, Rajakovic credited his team, saying “we won the second half.” It was in large part to the defence, which limited the Celtics to 43 second-half points. Aside from the White-play late, they were constantly able to switch on the Celtics' starters. That included a lineup with both Jakob Poeltl and Achiuwa, who Rajakovic says brings “elite defence.”

“We had a good defensive run, the switchability, the size … I think my ability to guard multiple positions is the reason,” said Achiuwa on why the pairing of him and Poeltl worked.

In terms of star power, the Raptors were able to slow down Jayson Tatum, who only scored four more points after dropping 13 in the first half. Post-game, Siakam gave Scottie Barnes "kudos as a primary defender," as he took on the challenge in O.G. Anunoby’s absence, who missed his third straight game.

Making their return to action was Trent, who as a starter dropped 14 points with a 14-plus/minus.

“We missed him big time … He’s the guy that we as a group, we as a team need to do a better job of finding him shots. because he says such a shooting threat we should be locating him at any point of time on the court,” said Rajakoic.

Along with Trent’s outside shooting, Dennis Schroder contributed with 23 points on 5-11 from distance in the loss.

The Raptors now drop to 5-7 on the season, and 0-1 in the In-Season Tournament, which is good enough for 4th in their Group C standing, thanks to point differential.

It was something that Rajakovic was mindful of at the end of tonight’s matchup. Given that it was a three-point game, with just over a second left and no more Raptor timeouts, the head coach made the decision to not foul, which would award the Celtics two free-throws — an opportunity to further the point-differential of the game.

“It really felt that every point and every possession is important. So I really enjoyed that,” said Rajakovic post-game.

The NBA In-Season Tournament consists of six groups of five NBA teams. Each team will play each other once in the “group stage,” with the results counting toward their regular season records as well. Eight of 30 teams will ultimately move on to the “knock-out group” stage, progressing to the Championship game on Dec. 9 — the one game that won’t count toward the regular season record, but instead will come with a prize of $500K for each player on the winning team.

The Raptors will play their next in-season game on the road on Tuesday, Nov. 21 against the Orlando Magic, who sit in last in Group C. Before that, they’ll wrap up their four-game home stretch, hosting the worst team in the East in the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, Nov. 23.