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.