The Celtics didn't lose Sunday's tilt in Toronto based solely on what transpired over the final 21.3 seconds, when the shorthanded Raptors scored the final four points of the game to emerge with a 102-101 triumph. Clearly, allowing 38 second-quarter points hurt the Celtics far more than anything that transpired over the other 36 minutes. Regardless, the final seconds of a close game -- fair or not -- are magnified based on the additional pressure that typically engulfs those moments and Toronto shined in crunch time. In fact, while re-watching the final moments of Sunday's game, what stood out most was Toronto's ability to avoid the pitfalls that most underachieving teams fall prey to. Three examples:
1. GIVE & GO LEFT CELTICS UNABLE TO GIVE FOUL
After Glen Davis made a pair of free throws to give Boston a 101-98 edge with 21.3 seconds remaining, the Raptors ran a simple, but perfect inbound play. Not only did Toronto avoid the "need to get a 3-pointer" syndrome that many young teams develop, it ran a textbook give-and-go that prevented the Celtics from utilizing the foul they had to give in fear of giving the Raptors a potential three-point play.
Sonny Weems is the inbounder on the play with Celtics captain Paul Pierce defending. Amir Johnson comes to the 3-point line to receive the ball and, while he's moving a bit, he's able to snag Pierce after giving the ball right back to Weems who, with a head of steam gets past Davis who doesn't force him to go wide enough, and storms the lane (where Andrea Bargnani is clearing space by forcing Kevin Garnett to chase him). Pierce can't foul and Weems produces a layup with 18 seconds to go to make it a one-point game.
2. NOTHING FREE, DESPITE TORONTO'S NEED TO FOUL
On the ensuing inbound, Pierce is able to get the ball to Ray Allen, exactly who Boston wants to end up with the ball in a situation where the opposition must foul. The thing is, Leandro Barbosa wisely doesn't just bearhug Allen on the baseline, like many would do given the lack of time on the clock. Instead, he applies pressure and makes Allen dribble, likely hoping he'll give the ball up, which would allow the Raptors to foul someone who doesn't shoot 90 percent at the stripe. But fearless to foul because it has to come sooner than later, Barbosa takes a chance by reaching around Allen's back to attempt a strip and -- while you can certainly argue he committed a foul in the process -- Barbosa produces the turnover. Thanks to an offensive rebound on the Raptors' final possession -- Amir Johnson ends up at the charity stripe for the go-ahead freebies.
Did Barbosa foul Allen? Likely. But by not just giving the obvious foul, he at least gave the refs a chance to miss this call.
3. SOLID DEFENSE ON BOSTON'S FINAL GASP SEALS THE WIN
OK, so even struggling teams know that the ball is likely going to end up in Paul Pierce's hands when Boston has a final-shot opportunity. That doesn't make defending it any easier (particularly when the clock is low enough to prevent the obvious isolation situation).
Coming off a Garnett screen, Pierce gets the ball near the top of the arc, but DeMar DeRozan does a nice job fighting through the screen and scrambling to contest as soon as Pierce catches the ball. More importantly, he doesn't leave his feet when Pierce gives a quick head fake and blankets him moving to the right wing (At the same time, Johnson does a nice job at least filling any passing lane to Garnett, preventing a feed on the pick-and-roll). DeRozan contests the final shot, Pierce finds iron, and the Raptors escape with the win.
Celtics fans can blame second-quarter defensive lapses, particularly by the bench, or blame statistical anomalies (Shaq finished 2-of-8 shooting from the floor ... but made all four free throws he attempted). But they should also give Toronto credit for its late-game play.