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Celtics play role of Grinch in Raptors first Xmas Day home game

Last Updated Dec 25, 2019 at 6:23 pm EST

Kyle Lowry dressed for the special occasion in shoes with the names of his sons Karter and Kameron.

The 13-year NBA veteran and the Toronto Raptors played their much-anticipated first Christmas Day game at home on Wednesday – but the one major element missing was a victory.

Fred VanVleet scored 27 points while Chris Boucher added a career-high 24, but there was no late-game heroics from the Raptors in a 118-102 loss to the Boston Celtics.

“It was a special Christmas Day treat to have an opportunity to have my kids see me play on Christmas, enjoy the moment,” said Lowry, his sons roughhousing in the lockers behind him.

“It’s cool man, it’s something that took 14 years to get to. I got to it. Unsuccessful. But it was a fun, great time.”

Jaylen Brown scored 30 points to top the Celtics (21-7) in their fourth consecutive victory, and first win in Toronto in nine tries.

“It was good to get a win here on Christmas,” said Brown, who had five three-pointers. “I’ve never won here period, so it was great to just get one.”

Kemba Walker added 22 points, while Enes Kanter had 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in his first game outside the United States in more than a year.

The Raptors (21-10), who sorely missed the service of injured teammates Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring), and Norman Powell (shoulder), saw their 34-game winning streak against Atlantic Division opponents come to an end.

Played against a festive backdrop of fans dressed in Santa hats and ugly Christmas sweaters, the game itself was an eyesore. The Raptors botched easy layups and turned the ball over 17 times for 20 points, and were outscored 24-4 on second-chance points.

But playing three games in four nights – including a thrilling 30-point comeback victory Monday versus Dallas – the Raptors look spent.

“We’re pretty short on our roster,” said coach Nick Nurse. “We’ve played a lot minutes, these guys, a lot of games in a lot of days, the schedule hasn’t been very good to us. This is our third game in four days, one was an overtime game, one was a come-from-30-points-behind-game, where we used a lot of energy too. . . so I don’t know. Maybe we just need a little rest.”

After sprinting out to a 10-0 lead Wednesday, the Raptors played the gracious holiday host virtually the rest of the way.

The Celtics compiled an 11-point lead in the second quarter, and had stretched it to 19 points by the end of the third in a sloppy affair that saw 29 combined turnovers through the first three quarters.

And three nights after their franchise-record comeback, there were no late-game heroics. Trailing 88-69 to start the fourth, the Raptors pulled to within 14 points in the first 35 seconds, injecting some life into Scotiabank Arena’s 19,800 fans.

But Patrick McCaw missed on a cutting layup on Toronto’s next possession, prompting groans from the crowd, and barely a minute later the Celtics were up by 20.

A VanVleet layup pulled the Raptors to within 17 with 4:46 to play, but Toronto couldn’t sustain any energy. Nor could the fans, who began heading to the exits shortly after.

How tough is it to dig out of big deficits?

“Obviously it’s not good,” Boucher said. “You get down and have to find a way to get back. We have to find a way to get started and be able to get a lead or something like that. It’s hard to come back from 15 or 20 down. I know we did it once, but that’s not something we want to have to do every game.”

The afternoon marked the first NBA game played outside the U.S. on Christmas, and tipped off a schedule of five marquee matchups on the day. Teams consider it an honour to play on Christmas; the Raptors had done it only once previously, in New York in 2001, while the Celtics were playing for their fourth consecutive Christmas game.

“I know that I’ve got contacts from all over the world that have said they can’t wait to open their presents and then watch the game, so I think it’s really cool to be a part of it,” Nurse said before the game.

The Raptors are 2-2 since losing Gasol, Powell and Siakam, and while there was no update of the threesome’s status on Wednesday, their absence is clearly posing a problem for Toronto.

“Scoring is not very easy for us right now,” Nurse said. “It’s tough.”

Kanter hadn’t played a game in Toronto in over a year after Turkey, his home country, issued an international warrant for his arrest. He received the green light for Christmas with help from the Canadian government, and arrived at the game wearing a black T-shirt with the words “Freedom for All.”

Lowry’s three-pointer just 1:53 into the game gave the Raptors a 10-0 lead and forced the Celtics to call a timeout. Boston replied with a 9-0 run and then kept the pressure on, forcing seven Toronto turnovers. The Celtics led 28-19 to start the second.

A Kanter layup 44 seconds into the second quarter put Boston up by 11. The Raptors responded with an 11-3 run to pull to within three points but couldn’t sustain any momentum, and the Celtics went into the halftime break up 55-47.

Brown led the way with 16 Celtics points in the third and a Jayson Tatum finger roll had the visitors up by 19 with a minute to play in the frame.

These two teams meet again in Boston on Saturday. The Raptors are back home to host Oklahoma City on Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on New Years Eve.