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It Could Be Worse*: C’s 115, Raps 104

 

ESPN Recap • Raptors RepublicRaptors HQ

Pace: 90 possessions (average)

Offensive Efficiency: 127.8 points/100 possessions (off the charts)

Defensive Efficiency: 115.6 points allowed/100 possessions (league worst)

Thumbnail: Game 78 of an NBA season is not the most compelling watch, even when both teams have something at stake. The Raptors play some of the most pathetic defense the league has seen since the hand check crack down, and the C’s are all of sudden the Phoenix Suns. The C’s hit 56 percent from the floor tonight and have shot a scorching 206-of-381 (54 percent) over their last 5 games, their best prolonged shooting stretch of the season. They are 2-3 in those games. 

Ray Allen and Michael Finley combined for 21 points in the 4th quarter to seal the game.

Recap: I don’t want to totally downplay this game, since it’s nice to win the second game of a back-to-back and this win keeps the C’s one game behind (successful jinx!) ties the C’s with the Hawks, putting Boston in the third spot in the East for now. But the Raptors were missing Chris Bosh (broken face), and the Raptors just cannot sustain things against a good team without Bosh. Antoine Wright and Sonny Weems combined for 38 points on 14-of-24 shooting, but you really don’t want Sonny Weems and Antoine Wright taking 24 shots. And sure enough, they scored just 9 of those 38 points after halftime. 

Also: The Raptors ran multiple screen/rolls early in which Reggie Evans tried to score on the roll. That is generally not a good thing.

And the Raptors defense…oh my. If anyone tells you the Raptors defense isn’t so bad, tell them to watch this sequence at the 1:47 mark of the 4th quarter, with the Raps down 108-99:

Rondo walks the ball up the left wing, guarded by Jarrett Jack. Sonny Weems, who has been guarding Rondo for most of the game, runs up from the foul line and takes Rondo. Jack has no clue what is happening, why Weems is there and what he is supposed to do. Weems waves at Jack to move away. He doesn’t point at a specific Celtic player Jack should guard. He just waves his arm at Jack like I imagine Lloyd Blankfein might wave off one of his servants. 

Jack turns toward the rim and shrugs—he actually shrugs—and ambles aimlessly around the foul line. The C’s swing the ball to Ray Allen on the right (opposite) wing, and DeMar DeRozan, whose name you could misspell at least 12 different ways, suddenly realizes that with Jack in the middle of nowhere he (DeRozan) is the only person near Ray and Mike Finley (in the right corner). He closes out on Ray, Ray makes the extra pass and Finley drains the three. Ballgame. 

The Raptors couldn’t have played the possession worse unless Andrea Bargnani paused to shave his Perpetual Euro-Beard in the middle of the court. 

So what I’m saying is: You might not want to stake too much importance on this win.

That said, there are some things worth noting:

• After hot-dogging and lolly-gagging his way to four turnovers in about 15 minutes of play, Rajon Rondo finished with a very solid 21-7-5 line—with just those four early turnovers. Toronto became the latest team to defend Rondo with a long wing player (Weems, mostly) instead of a point guard, and Rondo and the C’s handled that defense very well in the 2nd half. 

Rajon set up over and over at the left elbow and ran screen/rolls with the bigs from there, and he showed he can do damage from that set-up in several different ways. He turned the corner after the screen and hit a nice floater (4:47, 4th). When the Raps cut off the lane, he took his time, dissected the defense and made the proper pass. 

When that pass didn’t lead to a score, Rajon roved around the baseline and the rim to make himself an available target for an interior pass (see 7:49 of the 3rd, when Perk hits Rajon for a lay-up). 

It is essential that the C’s—especially Rondo—keep finding ways to score when teams play Rondo like this. Tonight was another step in the right direction.

• We saw another thing tonight that helps the C’s cope with any defense focused on packing the paint and removing the threat of Rajon’s penetration: Paul Pierce as a scoring threat in isolation. The Truth scored 20 points on just 11 shots, a vintage efficient Pierce performance. He scored 17 of those points in the 1st half, when Rajon was mediocre and the C’s turned the ball over 9 times. He beat guys off the dribble easily and got to the line 11 times. 

• Kevin Garnett had one rebound in 27:35 of playing time. This marks the 10th time in KG’s career that he has grabbed either 1 or 0 rebounds in a game, according to Basketball-Reference. He played more than 27:35 in just one of those other nine games, a Jan. 21, 1997 loss to the Raptors in which KG did not grab a single rebound in 35 minutes of playing time. I sort of don’t believe this happened, but here’s the box score. Dean Garrett picked up KG with 13 boards. Remember Dean Garrett? 

In any case: This is not a good sign. 

• The Celtics defense as we know it has ceased to exist over the last two weeks. John Schuhmann beat me to the punch on this topic today on NBA.com (damn you, Schuhmann!), and I’ll add my two cents tomorrow, but the Celtics defense has been inconsistent at best and awful at worst over the last half-dozen games. 

Cross your fingers this is just late-season malaise. 

• I’ll say this: I thought the C’s general defensive game plan tonight was pretty sound. They kept Jack and Jose Calderon out of the lane in the half court offense, mostly by having Rondo go over screens while the bigs jumped out aggressively to prevent the guards from turning the corner too quickly. That left Calderon and Jack to do a lot of dribbling around the elbows while the C’s recovered. 

The C’s also had Rondo (or Tony Allen, if he was guarding the Raps PG) jump the screen and force the ball-handler to go in the other direction, the same strategy the C’s used against Manu Ginobili last week. Since Jack/Calderon are not Manu, it worked tonight. 

• That said, the Raps put up 116 points per 100 possessions and shot 48 percent from the floor. The C’s forced only 9 Toronto turnovers, and there were way, way too many bits of sloppiness we can only assume will not appear in the playoffs. Bits like: 

(0:15, 2nd): The Raps milk the clock and set up for an obvious Calderon/Bargnani screen/roll to end the half. As Jose dribbles on the right wing, the C’s scream and yell for Perk and KG to switch assignments so KG can defend Bargs. They complete the switch long before Bargs goes to set the screen. Everything is set. And yet the C’s defend the play by switching KG onto Calderon and Rondo onto Bargs, who rolls into the lane. 

This forces Perk to help off of Antoine Wright, who takes a pass from Calderon and hits a three to end the half. 

(6:45, 2nd): Sheed, playing a truly uninspired game, needlessly helps off of Bargnani as Jack dribbles right to left through the lane. The C’s have Jack pretty well covered, but Sheed helps anyway. Jack drives thorugh the paint toward the left corner and flips a pass back to Bargs in the paint. Sheed makes no effort to recover, and Pierce, guarding Weems at the top of the key, manages only a half-hearted reach. Bargs sinks an easy one.

(4:30, 3rd): Rondo guards Jose at the top of the key and waits for Bargnani to set a screen to Jose’s right, turning his body to face that way. Except Bargs doesn’t set the screen. Rasho Nesterovic comes from Rajon’s blind side and nails him in the back with a solid screen. Jose dribbles around the pick and makes an easy, uncontested jumper. Did Rasho’s man (Perk) just forget to call out the screen? 

(4:07, 3rd): Ray misses a lay-up in transition, and Bargnani beats every Celtic back in transition for a lay-up. 

There are others. Little mistakes that would be magnified in the playoffs. This team knows better, and we should expect better in two weeks. 

• One interesting thing I noticed at the 7:30 mark of the 2nd: Remember all that talk about how Sheed’s shooting range creates spacing even if he’s not hitting threes? Seventy-eight games into the season, that’s no longer true. Watch this possession and you’ll see Bargnani completely ignore Sheed spotting up at the top of the three-point arc. Instead, Bargs parks himself at the foul line to help Sonny Weems on Paul Pierce. Something to keep an eye on.

• Kendrick Perkins leads the league in Totally Unnecessary Traveling Calls That Abort Dunks.

• The Raptors used their zone defense very sparingly tonight; I noticed it on just one possession early in the 4th. The C’s essentially turned it into a man-to-man by running a screen/roll and then posting up Big Baby. 

• TA put up 7 points in 15:51 off the bench but was a team-worst -6 for the game. The 0:2 assist-to-turnover ratio did not help. 

• For those keeping score, Marquis Daniels played 26 seconds tonight and Nate Robinson rode the bench after getting the charity minutes last night. The Celtics will need both of these guys to contribute at some point in the playoffs. Benching them now is curious. 

That’s it for tonight. More tomorrow, as always.

* We could be Raptors fans.

  • NickFaldo

    I disagree with the title It Could be Worse. I think that was a nice win and one of the smarter coached games by Doc. In the forum part of CelticsHub, I’ve been one of two guys all over his back. I have asked that a slice of humble pie be cooked up just in case, because I actually like what Doc is starting to round this team into.

  • I love Green

    We’ve kind of stopped playing defense latley. Having a good offense and bad defense is worse than having a good defense and bad offense.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Faldo: I’ll explain the title shortly.

  • I love Green

    Atlanta lost again so now we’re tied for the 3 seed. Should be 1 game ahead right now, but nope, we had to lose to the Knicks.

  • rondoislove

    If this was Twitter, I would retweet I love Green’s comment, hahah. I was just about to write pretty much the same thing!

  • Allen

    ^ Chilllll. I’ve rather the Celtics face Bucks without Bogut that Miami(?) I believe

  • rondoislove

    @Allen:

    Well.. the Celtics would need to get third seed to get the Bogut-less Bucks in the first round because Miami just won its 9th game in a row and are currently holding the 4 spot.

    On paper it’d probably be better to face the Bogut-less Bucks but I kind of have some doubts considering we haven’t seen what they could do to the Celtics without Bogut. =\

  • rondoislove

    ^ OOPS, just kidding!

    Bucks are the 4th seed right now.

  • rondoislove

    ******* 5th seed… correction for both comments!

  • I love Green

    Hahah rondoislove you need to take a break

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Totally agree with I Love Green. Much rather have a top notch defense & a mediocre offense. They’ve defended very well at times this year. I know they are capable. Would love to see the uber D before the po’s. Maybe they will ratchet it up with each game…

    Thank you Cs for this win. Thanks Doc for leaving the hot Fin in the game. He was on fire. Thanks Ray for that 2nd half run of goodness on offense. One of those Ray layup steals was from a bad pass because TA was really pressuring the ball (otherwise known as defense). Love to see that pressure on the ball, especially when they pick up their dribble. Wish we had the #1 seed & we could play the Raps.

  • Dan

    Did you guys watching the CSN feed get to see the Nate robot dancing or was that a special treat for the LP crowd?

  • I love Green

    Hahahaha Zach I love the explanation for the *

  • NickFaldo

    I think Zach was waiting to see if KG got injured. Otherwise, he would have put that footnote in when he made the original post. In one of his video breakdown entries, he titled one as Perk Walk. But Perkins hadn’t traveled. Zach then came back explaining he knew that, he just thought it was a clever turn of phrase on perp walk. Ok.

  • Jason

    “we should expect better in two weeks”

    Why is this exactly? 3 months in, 4 months in, 5 months in they all keep saying the right things, but more nights than not, they don’t back up their promises to play better. And month after month, we all keep giving them a pass and expecting them to “really mean it” when the playoffs start. Look, I’m certainly hoping they do flip a switch, but expecting it? How can you honestly *expect* it?

    If anything, this season hasn’t shown us that they are pacing themselves for the playoffs, but instead that they can’t back up their claims of pending improvement with actual results. Plus, at the end here, the D, which was first all season despite the injuries, has suddenly disappeared. Months of very inconsistent O and a sudden impotence on D. With trends like that, where is this expectation of success coming from?

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  • Ray Leighton

    I have a question for everyone:

    First, in a post several weeks ago, I noted that if you started out 23-5 and then decided to just “turn it off”, how well would you have to play to get home-court in the first round? I figured 50 wins would be enough in the East, and to do that, you just need to play .500 ball for the season after the 23-5 start. And that seems to be what the Cs have done, whether it was deliberate or not.

    Let’s pretend for a moment that the Cs really can turn it back on, become that 23-5 team again, and they beat the hell out of the rest of the East on their way to the Finals. If they do that, will we all still be angry as hell about what they put us through for the season? Will the whole strategy have been worth it if it kept the team healthy and rested? I’ve been watching this team for 40 years and I’m not sure that I ever remember being as frustrated by a Celtics team as this one. I’m trying to decide if another banner really would make it all better or if nothing is worth this kind of frustration. What do you guys think?

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    Ah, Nick Faldo, blissfully unaware that my girlfriend is from Toronto (York Mills, actually), that her sister has season tickets to the Raptors (tix I’ve been lucky enough to use several times), and that many Raptors fans I know through them read this blog, and that I enjoy tweaking them, because Raptors fans are the most sensitive of fans.

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  • heeey!

    we raptor fans aren’t sensitive. we just hate our #$*%^ team. or the players on the team. or the coaches. or the GM. something like that. but no, not sensitive…

    question: do c**tic fans ever get, i dunno, embarrassed by the constant whining your boys do after EVERY call that goes against them (not that many do…)?

    i do like that someone out there notices perk walking around with the ball, it’s actually kinda funny. there was one possession early in the game where he caught it at the top of the key, and as he was looking around for someone to pass to, moved forward about 18 inches by shuffling his feet – little baby steps…left – right – left – right.

    and yes, it could be worse. it will be worse (for the raps). so much worse. must be nice to know that unless the knicks completely & successfully revamp their roster over the summer (unlikely), the c**tics will continue to ride atop the atlantic.

  • joaquim

    Lousy team,

    Lucky you beat the depleted Raptors. All this game points to is that this lousy old men’s pick-up team will lose to any of the top 3 teams in the east.

    Keep on sucking !!

  • http://CelticsHub.com Zach Lowe

    @heeey: Every team whines. It’s tough to watch any game at this point without seeing complaining after every call.

  • http://CelticsHub.com Zach Lowe

    and PS: I love Toronto and Raptors fans.

  • Jay P

    @Ray

    Yes, Banner 18 will make us forget everything, no doubt about it.

  • CG

    I have been semi-defending Sheed recently as many rip him, but my patience is worn out. After reading the Simmons article yesterday, I watched Sheed even more carefully than usual. What a dog. It is astounding.

    On one possession that sums it all up, Rasheed was under the defensive glass and the Cs rebounded a Raps miss. Rasheed very slowly turned up court, starting to walk towards the offensive end, and quickly vanishing off. The other four guys got into the half court pretty quickly and moved it around the perimeter, looking for an angle. I think the possession ended when the Raps called a TO. With 11 seconds left on the shot clock, Rasheed was still NOT IN THE PICTURE. 8:33 remaining in Q2. See for yourself.

    There was one great sequence last night where Calderon took 4 steps to get a fast break lay-up, immediately followed by Perk doing his patented pivot foot-change shuffle for a lay-in – no call on either blatant travel.

  • matthew

    how bout ray-ray with that wrap-around lay up in the fourth!! oh my god i almost spilled my beer in the sofa watching as he glided to the hoop! whoo! sorta reminds me of vintage clyde drexler. :o)

  • http://celticshub.com Stephen

    Jason !!! –Well put–even after months of both inconsistent Offense and defense that comes and goes, I think that maybe i’ts other areas we should be most worried about,particularly rebounding and careless turnovers. The Celtics clean up these areas I think they go deep into the playoffs.Do they have the commitment to limiting the opponent to one shot? Wil the second unit rebound?—The C’s have the ability but do they have the desire?

  • jeryl

    comment for doc rivers please play shelden williams warm him up instead of uno uno hes way better play scal instead of sheed ta is better than marquis dainiels hes to laid back on the court i see no focus ta energy scal, nate and finely where is lowry

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