Raptors sense no. 1 seed

Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright driving to the basket as Boston Celtics forward Abdel Nader tries to defend. The NBA game ended 96-78 in favour of the Raptors, while the Celtics recorded their season low in points and fell to their second straight
Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright driving to the basket as Boston Celtics forward Abdel Nader tries to defend. The NBA game ended 96-78 in favour of the Raptors, while the Celtics recorded their season low in points and fell to their second straight defeat.PHOTO: REUTERS

Toronto extend lead over Celtics and are one victory away from clinching top billing in the East

TORONTO • It was a rematch of the top two teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference, and this time the Raptors duly demonstrated they were worthy of being the leaders.

Following Saturday's 110-99 away defeat by the Celtics, which preceded a 106-112 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto welcomed Boston to the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday knowing they needed to bounce back.

The Raptors (56-22) then proceeded to crush the Celtics 96-78 to equal their franchise record in wins for the season while extending their lead atop the standings.

They now have a three-game cushion over Boston (53-25) with four to play. The Raptors need only one win or a Celtics loss to clinch the top seed.

"To be a good team, that's how you've got to respond," guard DeMar DeRozan, who scored a team-high 16 points, said.

"When you have games like we had (Tuesday against Cleveland), to be able to understand, you know, let's tighten it up, understand our mistakes and come out the next night and handle business."

Kyle Lowry delivered 13 points, five rebounds and five assists as the Raptors halted their two-game losing skid.

Toronto had also lost five of eight since a season-high, 11-game winning streak, but Lowry was not discouraged.

SPACING OUT

You always talk on offence about owning your space, and they owned our space all night.

BRAD STEVENS, Boston Celtics coach.

"I am very confident we can get it done. We got a great opportunity but we still got to go ahead, be professional, and finish games out," said the All-Star guard.

Marcus Morris scored 21 points for the Celtics. Terry Rozier had two points and nine rebounds on his return to the line-up. He sat out Tuesday's 102-106 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks with a left ankle sprain.

Boston lost their second consecutive game after winning six straight.

They were playing without star Kyrie Irving, who missed his 11th game in a row after undergoing a left knee procedure. Marcus Smart (thumb) also missed his 11th straight and Shane Larkin (illness) sat out a second straight game.

The Raptors won despite shooting just 43.5 per cent (40 of 92) for the game. Toronto, however, out-rebounded the Celtics 48-43.

Al Horford contributed 16 points for the Celtics, who were held to a season low in points. Boston shot just 33.3 per cent (25 of 75) from the floor while making just 13.6 per cent (three of 22) of their three-point attempts.

"You always talk on offence about owning your space, and they owned our space all night," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

"They were very physical. They were very good. I thought that we had unbelievable defensive mentality and the way we were playing was terrific on that end.

"But it's hard to keep playing that way when you're not making baskets, or at least occasionally making one. And they did a great job. They're really deep. Hats off."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2018, with the headline 'Raptors sense no. 1 seed'. Print Edition | Subscribe