With a team like the Toronto Raptors, where the losses during the truncated 2011-12 season have been known to come both fast and furious, rookie head coach Dwane Casey has tried his best to keep his players focused on the task at hand.
No looking back at past setbacks went Casey’s reasoning. After all, he didn’t want his players to get too depressed.
With the strutting Boston Celtics coming to town to play the Raptors Friday night, Casey was willing to make an exception.
The Celtics had owned the Raptors in two previous meetings this season, including an embarrassing 100-64 shellacking back in Boston on Feb. 1.
And Casey wanted his team to recall every nook and cranny of that decision.
“We should have a memory of how they spanked us at their place,” Casey said earlier in the week. “And we want to make sure we have that pay back mentality. We should have that.”
Proving that his players at least have long memories, the short-handed Raptors went out and extracted the payback Casey was hoping for, blitzing Boston for a surprising, not to mention thoroughly satisfying, 86-74 victory at a ramped up Air Canada Centre.
“It was solid,” Casey said afterward when asked if it was perhaps his team’s most thorough performance of the season. “Everybody that played contributed. I thought our disposition was good.”
Things didn’t look promising for the Raptors heading in without the services of leading scorer Andrea Bargnani (calf) and guard Jerryd Bayless (ankle) and riding a three-game losing skid.
But the Celtics, one of the stronger teams in the Eastern Conference, were also hurting, including centre Jermaine O’Neal, who was unable to go with a sore left shoulder.
And the Celtics were also playing the second game of a back-to-back, having lost an energy-sapping overtime loss the previous night at home to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Raptors came into the game smelling blood and it was colored Celtics’ green.
“We had a bad taste in our mouths,” said Toronto forward James Johnson, who chipped in with 14 points and seven rebounds in the Raptors win.
DeMar DeRozan paced the Toronto victory with 21 points while Jose Calderon also was a huge factor, with 17 points and 14 assists without a single turnover.
For the Celtics, who were pressured into 17 turnovers over the course of the game, they were led by Kevin Garnett’s 17 points.
The Raptors set the tone of this one early with James Johnson flying in from the top of the key for an early dunk, with Allen obligingly stepping aside to avoid being trampled, to provide Toronto with some early jump.
The Celtics were uncharacteristically sloppy in the opening half, especially the first quarter where Boston committed six turnovers and only made four of their 13 shots that allowed Toronto to assume a 26-14 lead.
At one point during the frame, an increasingly agitated Boston coach Doc Rivers called a 20-second time out where angrily chewed out his players for their continued apathetic play.
The Raptors carted a 63-51 lead into the fourth quarter and when Mikael Pietrus made a three-pointer with just under seven left to play that trimmed the Toronto lead to 72-63 you could sense a comeback in the air.
Linas Kleiza wouldn’t let it happen.
Quiet up until that point, Kleiza knocked down his first points of the game, a three-point bucket that boosted Toronto’s lead back up to a more nerve soothing 12 points.
When the Celtics once again showed signs of pulling back into it, it was Kleiza once against throwing down a three-point dagger that gave Toronto a 80-69 lead.
And when Calderon drained another three-pointer with about 1 1/2-minutes left to play to a rapturous roar, it provided Toronto with an 84-72 cushion and payback was theirs.