Pace: 90 possessions (slightly below average)
Offensive Efficiency: 126.7 points/100 possessions (insanity)
Defensive Efficiency: 118.9 points allowed/100 possessions (beyond league worst)
Thumbnail: The C’s made the allegedly improved Toronto defense look awful behind a season-high 29-point (!) outburst from Rasheed Wallace and Rajon Rondo’s sixth career triple-double (including playoffs). That was enough to overcome a shaky defensive performance, which can happen on the road against a good offensive team in a 1 p.m. game.
The Celtics made their first four shots of the game—all off Rajon Rondo assists—and jumped out to a 10-0 lead they never relinquished. The Raptors defense may have put up something like league average numbers over the last dozen games or so against a sub-par schedule, but they have no answer for Boston’s combination of an elite point guard surrounded (at most times) by three knock-down long-range shooters. The C’s are 17-of-42 (40 percent) from deep in their last two games against Toronto, including 11-of-26 (42 percent) today.
Sheed led the way with a 5-of-7 mark from deep, and he was disciplined in his shot selection from three. These were open looks off of pick-and-pops or Rajon’s dribble penetration. Sheed mixed in a nifty little post game, all extended arms and unblockable shots; he was 4-of-5 from inside the foul line, and Andrea Bargnani, for all his improvement as a one-on-one post defender, just can’t guard Sheed.
And Rajon? The stat that jumps out to me amid his insane 22-13-10-4 (steals) line is this: He took 17 shots, more than anyone on the team. By my count, five of those shots came on isolation plays where Rondo beat Jose Calderon or Jarrett Jack off the dribble and took the ball to the rim. He was 2-of-5 on those shots, but I like that he is taking them. They represent the next step in his evolution to superstardom: The ability to punish lesser defenders with his scoring.
Rajon hasn’t figured out how to do this against the Hawks yet. But performances like today’s show he is making progress. Start with Toronto in January, be ready to do it against Cleveland (or Orlando or Atlanta) in May.
Really, that’s the story of the game: The Raptors couldn’t stop the C’s offense. Toronto, a top-five offensive team, would trim the deficit down to six or eight points in the 2nd half, but the C’s responded with 4-0 or 6-2 spurts every time they needed to. When the Raps got within 77-70 in the 3rd, for instance, Paul Pierce found Rondo wide-open under the hoop for an easy lay-in. (He was free because his man, Jarrett Jack, had to rotate over to Perk after the Raps trapped Pierce on a Pierce/Perk screen/roll on the right wing). Ray followed with a jumper, Perk hit a face-up 10-footer over Bosh on a broken play and then Ray found Perk for a dunk, and suddenly it was 86-75 again.
Rondo finished the 3rd with two unassisted driving lay-ups, and the C’s shot 12-of-18 from the floor in the 3rd. The Raps had no answer.
Same with the 4th quarter. The Raps got to within 95-87, and after two straight Celtic turnovers, the C’s went to Pierce in an isolation on the right wing against rookie DeMar DeRozan. Pierce realized DeMar was getting a little too handsy, rose up for a shot and drew contact with the rook. Two free throws, double-digit lead.
The Raps did rally to within 108-104 with 1:30 to go, but Perk pulled down a huge offensive rebound, drew a foul and made both foul shots (after having missed four straight) to seal the game.
The C’s needed to bring the offense tonight, because their defense was inconsistent. It wasn’t awful, but it was inconsistent, both in effort and strategy. What follows is a generalization, but it was mostly true: The Raptors had a lot of trouble when C’s defended the screen/roll by having Rondo chase his man over the pick while the screener’s guy (Perk or Sheed) slid over to cut off penetration—triggering a rotation from another defender to temporarily pick up the screener. When the C’s stuck to this and executed it cleanly, Toronto had a hard time getting a clean look at the basket.
When the ball-handler dished the ball inside to the roll guy (usually Bosh, sometimes Amir Johnson), that guy found himself surrounded by tall bodies and reaching hands. Bosh and Johnson committed seven of the Raps’ 15 turnovers between them (and six of the team’s first nine TOs), and most of them came on well-defended screen/rolls. The C’s also closed out well on Toronto’s three-point shooters—at least on screen/rolls.
Unfortunately, the C’s went away from this screen/roll strategy at times and botched it too often. Calderon made two jumpers when Rondo went under screens. He and Jack had four uncontested drives to the basket between them when the C’s big guys (Sheed and Perk twice each) didn’t position themselves well on their attempts to help Rajon. (One example: With 6:11 to go, Sheed jumped out to cut off Jack’s penetration on the screen/roll, except he didn’t jump out quite far enough and ended up in Rondo’s path. The two collided, Rondo tripped and Jack drove in for an easy score).
There were other mistakes here and there, but Toronto’s a good offensive team (#5 in the league in points per possession) and the C’s don’t have a good natural match-up for Bosh (31 points) with KG out.
All in all, a nice win, and the C’s come home to face Atlanta on the second end of a back-to-back tomorrow. (Atlanta will be playing its third game in four nights).
• Rajon Rondo played a shade over 44 minutes tonight. Doc is really leaning on the kid. He’s young, I know, but he exerts a lot of energy. I’ll have more on this tomorrow.
• I am confident in saying this: The C’s will go undefeated in games in which they turn over the ball 12 or fewer times and Sheed produces 2.5 points per shot attempt. Maybe the Sheed section of that guarantee needs a minimum number of shots attempts—let’s say seven.
• Tony Allen played just 7:44 tonight and I’m not sure why.
• If I were a Raps fan, the last five minutes of this game would frustrate me. The Raps clearly turned up the intensity on defense and began trapping Boston ball-handlers on screen/rolls. It gave the C’s some problems. Pierce got stuck in a trap and had to call a timeout with 2:17 to go. The C’s followed that by committing a shot clock violation after another Toronto trap disrupted a called play.
I understand that trapping on screen/rolls creates holes in the defense, and that you can’t do it for 48 minutes. But the Raps needed to try something different defensively before the 44 minute mark of the game.
• Perk’s improved footwork is really a marvel. One result: The classic play in which Ray Allen runs around a couple of baseline screens and curls toward the foul line is becoming one of the best plays in the league. Here’s why: Perk is often the guy setting the second baseline screen, so he’s on the same side of the court as Allen when Ray receives the pass near the elbow. If the screens have freed Ray, Perk’s guy has to jump out and help, and Ray in turn can dish the ball to Perk on the block.
Two years ago—maybe even last season—the idea of passing the ball to Perk and asking him to do something with it on the move was not an appealing one. Now? It’s resulting in up-and-under lay-ins and monster dunks.
• Let’s balance the Perk talk out: Four turnovers is too many for a center. The bad habits are still there. I’m willing to live with the occasional illegal screens, because a) no play in the NBA is officiated so haphazardly, so you it’s hard to anticipate such calls; and b) the little extra oomph Perk gives his screens—sticking out his hip an extra inch, whatever—helps the C’s in the long run.
But he needs to cut down on the traveling calls and the loose ball fouls.
• The C’s allowed the Raps to grab 11 offensive boards in 38 chances—about 29 percent—and that’s too much. Two caveats, though: The Raps had five offensive rebounds after the 1st quarter, meaning the C’s cleaned things up from there. Also: Two of those ORBs were off of air balls, which can be hard to gauge.
Several others—maybe three or four, including a spectacular Bosh tip-in in the 1st—came as the result of switches on screen/rolls that left Boston guards checking Toronto big guys.
The C’s get themselves into more trouble than most teams when they switch.
• That said, an outstanding switch iced the game for Boston. With about about 1:10 left, Chris Bosh (guarded by Perk) set a screen for Andrea Bargnani (guarded by Sheed) on the left side of the court behind the three-point line. Sheed and Perk saw the play developing and switched immediately; Perk was in Bargnani’s jersey after Bargs dribbled around the screen and looked to shoot. That forced Bargs to throw a tough entry pass to Bosh on the left wing, and Sheed, who was denying the ball, swiped it to seal the win.
• The C’s transition defense was bad. They were back-pedaling all game, allowing DeRozan and Jack to make easy transition lay-ins. Stop the ball!
• Boston’s 14 offensive rebounds ties for the their 2nd-highest total of the season. The highlight: Big Baby with five off the bench. This is one way Big Baby can really help the team, since no one else (among the regulars) is a very good offensive rebounder.
Finding a balance between crashing the boards and re-learning his 17-footer jump shot is going to be an interesting challenge for Davis.
In his brief time on the floor this season, Baby is grabbing 22 percent of all available offensive boards, according to Basketball Reference. That is insane. To put that in perspective, Leon Powe and Kevin Love tied for the league lead last season by rebounding 15.1 percent of all available offensive boards.
Keep it up, Glen.
• Not a good 9:02 for Shelden today, though he did make a nice-looking fadeaway J. One thing that concerns me about Shelden: He’s indecisive with the ball on the perimeter at times, and he can be a bit of a ball-stopper as a result.
Also: Bosh’s dunk in his face was one of the angriest dunks I’ve ever seen. Bosh really doesn’t like the Celtics, which means he has something in common with every Raptors fan I know.
• Lots of whining from the Raps fans and coaching staff (and, at times, the players) despite the fact that the fouls were almost exactly even until the Raps committed two meaningless ones in garbage time. (The final count: 25 fouls on Toronto, 21 on Boston).
• We need to come up with a name for those steals when Rajon sneaks up on some unsuspecting big guy left holding the ball on the perimeter and takes it away. The victim was Amir Johnson today. Poor Amir was holding the ball above his head just inside the three-point line with his back to the basket. Rajon ran up from behind, jumped and knocked it away.
I nominate “the Jaws steal” as a nickname candidate. It really does remind me of Jaws sneaking up on those poor kids riding the banana boat at the beach.
That’s it for today. Hopefully the C’s can bring it tomorrow against the Hawks.