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Raptors’ win proved Celtics will remain 3rd fiddle until they get some help

01.10.17 at 10:29 pm ET
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DeMar DeRozan torched the Celtics for 41 points Tuesday night. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

DeMar DeRozan torched the Celtics for 41 points Tuesday night. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

This was supposed to be as inspirational as a mid-January game could be.

Beat the Raptors, draw even with Toronto for second seed in the Eastern Conference, and prove yourselves to closer to Cleveland than ever before. That was the plan for the Celtics.

The plan fell apart with one Raptors’ fourth-quarter flurry. Toronto boosted its lead over the Celts in the conference standings to two games after completely dominating the final seven minutes of what would end up as the Raptors’ 114-106 win over Brad Stevens’ club in Toronto.

(For a complete recap of the loss, click here.)

The Raptors would out-score the C’s, 34-22, in the fourth quarter. But the ultimate dagger would reveal itself in the form of a 23-6 run by the hosts to close out the Tuesday night loss, leaving the Celtics just one game ahead of the Hawks for the conference’s third spot.

The frustration that came with the Celtics blowing a 16-point, third-quarter lead was just a small part of the equation. The big picture reality should have been much more painful.

While Toronto’s backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were taking over the game down the stretch, the Celtics were left defaulting to their fourth-quarter superstar Isaiah Thomas. This time, however, Thomas couldn’t keep up. Simply watching the collapse unfold, you could get that feel that something was missing for the Celtics.

The easy elixir would be remembering that the Celtics’ second-leading scorer, Avery Bradley, wasn’t available due to an Achilles tendon injury. But Bradley isn’t exactly that kind of create-your-own shot, end-of-the-game presence the likes of the Toronto duo (and Cleveland’s backcourt) deliver.

Part of the frustration should also emanate from Al Horford. The player the Celtics are paying to be an All-Star, go-to guy, is good but hardly great. Horford is having a Horford season, averaging right around the same points per game as he has the previous two seasons (15.4). In this game, the power forward netted 14 points while grabbing rebounds. Not bad. But the lack of either an above-average inside presence (Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas had 23 rebounds) or any kind of offensive dominance left the Celtics needing more.

Horford is a nice player, as are Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder (who was not very formidable in scoring nine points). Still, something is missing.

If you want to keep raising the blood pressure understand DeRozan, the player who finished with 41 points and is neck-and-neck with Thomas in scoring at 27 points per game, signed a contract that pays him around the same amount per season as Horford. While it is clear the forward is a nice fit for this Celtics team, he is not the type of guy who is going to put the C’s over the top.

That was a reality that was put on display in Canada Tuesday night.

Which do the Celtics need more?

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