East race more interesting after beefed-up Raptors top stand-pat Celtics

Two games since they rejigged their roster, the Toronto Raptors are marching back up the Eastern Conference standings - despite the absence of all-star guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry has keeping awfully busy while he's spent two consecutive games sidelined with a right wrist injury, walking out to midcourt to yell out instructions, offering his opinion on coaching decisions, and delivering constant guidance to his teammates when they return to the bench during stoppages in play.

The Toronto Raptors have been a sneakily bad team for the last two months, having won only 11 of their last 25 games coming into tonight's contest against the Portland Trail Blazers. That's a huge blow for us.

The physicality and toughness that Casey has been talking about repeatedly during his tenure in Toronto was on full display against Boston.

The Celtics realized they need a better plan against DeRozan, who also had 41 points in his last game against them, on January 10. (No offense, Pascal Siakam, who is totally a real player and not a computer generated name!) While his defense has slipped from where it once was, Ibaka's scoring is the most consistent it has ever been. “When the pick and roll comes Im going to get the early calls and will understand exactly what to do. You know, like you do. Ibaka finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds as a starter while Tucker added 29 minutes and nearly a double-double of the bench (he had 9 points and 10 rebounds). Boston did not make any additions to their team. I thought in the first half (against Boston) we were nearly tentative, playing in mud. "And the biggest thing for us is we have to play the last five minutes of the game nearly like it's the middle of the first quarter with the execution, with the quick movements, instead of just walking it up". "When you have that kind of defensive effort, you wish you could have a better offensive game".

Bojan Bogdanovic's 33-footer capped a 14-3 Wizards run to end the quarter and Utah's lead was 73-60 to start the fourth. Lillard did manage to cut the lead to three (107-104) a minute after that, but DeRozan scored easily in isolation on the next possession.

"He thought it was going to get better", Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. They are in a good form and Blazers will be today's favorite National Basketball Association team. And when Boston was rolling in the first half, it seemed like the sort of night when the Celtics could thump their chests for being unwilling to part with prized young talent like Jaylen Brown (13 points in 28 minutes).

The Raptors scored the next seven points to trim the lead to five, then Joseph and DeRozan hit jumpers to reduce the lead to one.

Tucker said he already knows DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll well.

"We have a lot of potential to a lot of good things this year", Ibaka said.

The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't play on Friday, and they weren't traveling. Tucker played in just 17 games for Toronto in his rookie season and then ended up playing overseas for several seasons before landing with the Phoenix Suns in 2012. Even without All-Star Kyle Lowry (wrist), the Raptors punched their way out of a 17-point deficit, sending a message they might - again - be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, after looking for the last two months like they had been passed by the Celtics and Washington Wizards.

Damian Lillard studied a box score in disgust in front his locker stall, hanging around after more than half the team had already disappeared by the time the media was let in while disgruntled Moe Harkless took his time getting dressed before declining to answer questions from reporters. Both teams went back and forth hard for the rest of the quarter, before Toronto emerged with an 82-80 lead.

  • Julie Sanders