After losing two in a row on the road, the Toronto Raptors knows it must improve defensively when it returns home on Saturday to play the surging Boston Celtics.
The Raptors completed a three-game trip on Thursday with a 126-128 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves after leading by as many as 18 points.
Minnesota’s D’Angelo Russell made two free throws with 9.9 seconds to play, and Toronto’s OG Anunoby missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds.
“We struggled to stop them all night,” said Fred VanVleet, who had 25 points and 10 assists for Toronto. “We got a nice little string of stops when we were up 18 when we were making them miss, and then they made plays down the stretch. (They) got hot and we got kind of stalled out a little bit in the last couple minutes.”
The Raptors still led by 14 with 9:46 left in the game.
“We had three really good looks down the stretch and didn’t make any of them,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Got to make one of those, probably, and you’re in good shape.”
Scottie Barnes scored a season-best 29 points and added eight rebounds, five assists and two steals for Toronto.
The Raptors, which won the opener of their trip in overtime against the New York Knicks on Monday, lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 130-122 on Tuesday.
The Celtics won their eighth in a row Thursday when they overcame a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the visiting Golden State Warriors 121-118 in overtime.
“It just felt like a high-level basketball game with two really, really good teams throwing haymakers at each other,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “And I think once you get into that situation, your situation is like, ‘All right, well, we might as well, might as well do it.’”
The Warriors defeated the Celtics in the NBA Finals last season and on Dec. 10 this season in San Francisco.
The Celtics did not play their best on Thursday and made some turnovers down the stretch before Jaylen Brown tied the score on a 3-pointer with 18.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime.
Boston shot 39.8 percent (43 for 108) from the field for the game.
“This was a great win of just figuring it out,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 34 points and 19 rebounds. “Doing whatever it takes to win, and those are the most rewarding.”
Boston’s Al Horford, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds and made some big plays late in the game, said the team showed maturity.
“I feel like it’s our mindset,” he said. “I really feel like this year we’ve taken a step as a group being a little more mature handling situations good or bad, just continuing to play through, and it showed (Thursday). We had some huge mistakes down the stretch, and to be able to overcome that and stay the course, not getting down on ourselves and just thinking about the next play, that’s what we did.
“I was encouraged to see that from our group, but I feel like we’ve been much better at that this year.”
The Celtics defeated the Raptors 116-110 on Dec. 5 at Toronto. Tatum had 31 points for Boston and Pascal Siakam scored 29 for Toronto.