In his pregame media availability, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse joked that he was going to do his "damndest" to not build a double digit lead early against the Boston Celtics to see if that would get the team to the finish line.
The Raptors didn't follow suit with that gameplan, getting out to a blistering start to take an early 23-10 lead, looking like all of their missed shots from the first five games of the season were finally going to fall all at once.
Leading by nine points at the end of the first frame while shooting 7-for-14 (50.0%) from 3-point range, the Raptors threw the first punch and had the worn down Celtics, who were on the second half of a back-to-back, right where they wanted them.
The problem? When Boston counterpunched, Toronto had no answer.
All-Star forward Jayson Tatum went off for 21 points in the second quarter alone and completely flipped the game on its head. The Celtics never looked back to take a 126-114 victory as Toronto fell to 1-5, the second-worst record in the NBA.
MORE: Takeaways from the Raptors loss to the Celtics | VanVleet: Raptors in need of 'soul searching'
"Tonight I didn't learn anything other than we've got to compete harder," Nurse told the media postgame. "Hopefully this is not who we're going to be."
Competing hard has never been Toronto's issue during Nurse's two seasons as head coach. His team is in uncharted territory, as they've struggled to defend - another attribute that couldn't describe either of Nurse's first two teams in Toronto.
"I think it was mostly just an inability to make them take tough shots," Nurse said of the Raptors defence. "For whatever reason we're not guarding the ball very well. It's on everybody, myself included. We're not guarding. ... It seems to be spreading."
The one play that stuck out from Monday's loss was this helter-skelter, late defensive rotation in the second quarter where Toronto's 2-3 zone somehow lost a red-hot Tatum wide open in the corner in a lineup that included Grant Williams, Tremont Waters, Aaron Nesmith and Tristan Thompson.
The Raptors early-season defensive struggles on display here, losing Tatum with this supporting cast around him.- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_) January 5, 2021
Good ball movement for sure, but Toronto is usually the standard for defensive rotations. Hasn't been the case so far this year... https://t.co/YHSjtaQDmW
It was good ball movement by the Celtics, but the Raptors are usually the gold standard for the shell drill. As I've already noted once this season after an earlier loss to the San Antonio Spurs, that couldn't be said for them so far.
In a way that only Nurse can do, he held several of his players accountable.
"He was OK," Nurse said of rookie Malachi Flynn, who saw more than three minutes of playing time for the first time in his young NBA career. "I think my bigger thing is that, if you wanna be honest about it, he didn't really do much out there. And if you wanna be honest about it, Norm (Powell) hasn't played very well this year, TD (Terence Davis) hasn't played well, Matt (Thomas) hasn't played well.
"We've gotta play better, man," he continued out of frustration. "We've gotta get these guys playing to their capabilities. I think they're better players than that. So we as coaches have got to get them playing better."
The Raptors' next opportunity to get things back on track comes on Wednesday when they travel to take on the Phoenix Suns, kicking off a tough four-game road stretch out West.
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