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New beginnings: Boston Celtics fall to Toronto Raptors 97-89 (full recap)

Avery Bradley played solid defense, but his offense wasn't ready against Toronto.

I have prepared myself for this, or so I keep telling myself.

I’m prepared for an entire season of laughing at/with the Celtics at most turns. I’m prepared to support the young players while accepting the fact that they will lose a lot. And with tonight’s 97-89 preseason loss to the Toronto Raptors, we seem to be off to a good start.

There certainly were things to be excited about, and — unexpectedly — we will begin that list with Jordan Crawford. While Avery Bradley looked lost in the point guard role, Steez actually played quite well. Much will be made of the fact that he only took three shots (and he made two of them, both 3-pointers), but more should be made of the way he ducked around pick-and-rolls and threw competent entry passes. More should be made of the way the Celtics, Crawford included, slung the ball around the perimeter, keeping the defense off-balance and passing up shots for better ones in the corner. It was a nice surprise from someone who, thus far, has correctly been labeled a gunner.

In the second quarter, the Celtics went through an extended stretch where the goal was pretty clearly to push the ball hard after every missed shot. Unsurprisingly, this was Boston’s best stretch, as fast breaks led to tired legs on the other end for the Raptors. It was our first glance into the fast break system Brad Stevens has hinted at several times, and it made for a very fun stretch of basketball.

More positives/negatives to weigh: Kelly Olynyk looked rusty? nervous? just a little off? as a shooter in his debut. He was 1-5 and missed his only 3-point attempt badly, clanking it hard off the rim. He also passed up a couple of open 3-pointers. Most seemed to be within the flow of the offense, moving the ball along the perimeter, but one resulted in a bad mid-range shot with a hand in his face. It’s also worth noting, on the negative side, that he may not have set a legitimate pick all evening.

Criticizing his shooting and screening, however, is a little nitpicky since he looked so impressive as a passer. Olynyk made a lot of very smart passes, finding cutters and firing nice outlets to kickstart the transition game in the second. If we assume that Olynyk’s shot will come in time, tonight was very encouraging.

One interesting play Boston ran a couple of teams was a horns set (both bigs on opposite elbows allowing the offense to run through them). This worked nicely with Olynyk and Jared Sullinger operating from the elbows and dishing to cutters. With big passers like those two and cutters like Bradley and Wallace, horns sets might get revisited several times this year.

It’s also worth noting that Gerald Wallace looked much better than we could have anticipated. Not only did he grab a couple of rebounds and look competent on the defensive end, his jumper was working from the outset. He was 2-for-5 from 3-point range, which is very acceptable, and he shot 6-for-10 overall.

As you might imagine, it wasn’t all good news. Avery Bradley shot very poorly (5-for-16 from the field) and continued to look much more like a shooting guard than a point guard (he was 2-for-3 from 3-point range, both spot-up jumpers). His pick-and-rolls may have improved with a few screeners, as he even managed a couple of serviceable pocket passes. But with Brandon Bass, Bradley’s pick-and-rolls are completely ineffectual, and Bass and Bradley shared a lot of court time tonight.

Predictably, the interior defense was less than stellar. Jonas Valanciunas looked good before fouling out in the fourth quarter, but he was aided and abetted by a defense that struggled with his size. The Celtics had two things going for them defending the interior. First, Vitor Faverani was decent against guards slashing into the lane. His presence made things difficult. Second, what Olynyk and Sullinger lack in rim protection they make up for in the ability to take a charge. That’s not a sustainable defensive asset, but it’s nice in spurts.

The DNP-CD that disappointed me most tonight was Phil Pressey. I’ve been riding the Pressey bandwagon pretty hard ever since Summer League, and although Crawford was serviceable at point guard, it was disappointing to me that the player best suited to play point guard on Boston’s roster didn’t get a chance to showcase himself.

To be sure, there are a lot of preseason games left, and more than likely, there are a lot of relatively meaningless regular season games to follow, so there will be plenty of time for Pressey to prove himself. But it’s the first game back, and I want to overreact. Sue me.

The overall flow of the game was sloppy and disorganized (because preseason), and the results should be judged accordingly. These Celtics will probably lose a lot of games, but if tonight was any indicator, it might be a lot of fun anyway.

If nothing else, at least I feel like I’m ready. How about you guys?

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

  • skeeds

    It's too early to tell but I think Bradley running point will prove a disaster. I anticipated Stevens to catch this since he's a stats guy and the difference in performance from AB when he's playing on vs off the ball is well documented.
    I know it's just temporary, since Rondo's out, but I honestly think that out of all our guards Bradley's the least suitable to carry the point. I guess my hope is that Crawford continues to grow into this role, takes it personally and gives the coach a reason not to play Bradley at the 1.

  • CelticsBIG3

    I didn't think Bradley looked as bad as Tom thought. Marshon Brooks looked bad; like probably not going to play a lot bad. And I thought Jordan Crawford played too much one-on-one ball.

  • Banner18

    Does it make me a bad person that I am praying for Humphries to fail miserably?

    Seriously though, he looked AWFUL last night. This guy has a lot of potential if he can stay consistent with his elbow jumpers but he needs to make smarter decisions on both sides of the ball. Very depressing that this is our highest paid player. Putting that in perspective, is that it is four times the amount of Hansbrough's salary.

  • CG12

    I am a very big Avery Bradley fan, but the guy is incapable of running the offense. You can use him to bring the ball up the floor sometimes, but he isn't going to get the team into its sets and break down the D off the dribble. They are going to have to figure out something else.

    The team mostly looked pretty good. They missed quite a few very makeable shots that will go in most of the time in the regular season. Sullinger looked very good. Olynyk didn't shoot well, but showed that he really knows how to play team basketball. I liked to see them pushing the basketball, and was a little disappointed that they didn't do it more.

    Jeff Green needs to expand his offense from iso basketball. He is so obviously going to be the focal point of the C's offense, that a guy with his skills should be able to use that to set up his teammates. That isn't something we have seen a lot of. This is going to be an interesting year.

  • old knees 54

    Bradley remains an undersized two. Marshawn looked lost which is fixable. Lee is thinking defense and I don't know if he has the confidence to make shots. Bogans may not be quick enough to play the two. If Crawford continues to focus on the point and show that effort on defense all season he is the back-up. Green continues to show no understanding of basketball. He doesn't anticipate on either end of the court. It appears that unless he is made the constant focus of the offensive sets he will languish and making him the focus will make the team languish so i say get rid of him! Trade him back for Perkins. Wallace is a pro and should get long back-up minutes but who starts at the three? Bogans is short but could guard that spot. Bass maybe but Green is not a basketball player. C's have tons of fours including ,for now Faverani.They need an enforcer a la Perkens in the middle. Hansbrough was beating them up. Bass looks like he worked on his game but he is still short for the four, is slow to recognize whats happening and gets pushed around. Bradley, Bass and Green are gonna disappoint. Prove me wrong.

  • Joe

    When i think of Avery Bradley running the point, i think of the 07-08 season playing against detroit in the playoffs.. between Rodney Stuckey and Lindsey (40 and still lockin up) Hunter we could not bring the ball up the floor. Rondo couldn't, Ray couldn't, Eddie definitely couldn't. I said it months ago.. let the Jordan Crawford show begin… and this is coming from somebody who believes that if the bucks can make the 8th seed with a record that is under.500 than so will the celtics.

  • buh scti

    0-90 record here we come