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Post-game Reactions

The Celtics’ fairytale run continued as they held on to beat the Toronto Raptors 95-94. The Celtics surged to 12-2 by extending their win streak to an even dozen; the Raptors fell to 7-5. Here are four observations from an exciting afternoon in The Hub:

Possession by possession

Without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving it’s always going to be difficult to win an efficiency fight. The Celtics response through the win streak has been to make it a battle for possessions. This is a strategy that served them well two seasons ago when they paired a low turnover rate with, for much of the season, a historically high steal rate. This year they’re doing it with a more balanced approach.

Boston is currently top five in the league in limiting their own turnovers and their opponents offensive rebounds. They’re top ten in collecting their own offensive rebounds and forcing opponent turnovers. Against the Raptors they again won in both offensive rebounds and turnovers. The result was Boston taking 18 more field goal attempts than Toronto and only four fewer free throws. That’s 16 additional offensive possessions, which is how you win a game where you shoot 40%.

The Tao of Smart

Marcus Smart continues to be a fascinating NBA player. At some point we all just start repeating ourselves, but some things bear repeating. Since returning from his double ankle sprain ten games ago, which may still be bothering him, he’s shooting 28.6% from the field. The team is also +106 with him on the court.

He’s played with a wide variety of units and in different roles on both ends of the court. Tonight, with Kyrie sidelined, he dished out nine assists and got to the rim and free throw line more than he usually does. His defense continues to be exceptional, especially when paired with Terry (Tito, not T Ro) Rozier.

Box score stats drive a lot of the free agent market so NBA history is riddled with players who tailored their contract year seasons to what draws offers. Marcus continues to just be Marcus.

Young at Heart

Al Horford returned to the fold after suffering a concussion (or, concussion like symptoms at the very least) in his second straight year. Thankfully this one didn’t seem as severe as last season’s. He came back to a full workload; starting and logging over 30 minutes.

Al led Boston with 21 points but took only the fifth most field goal attempts on the squad. He was one of only two Celtics to shoot over 50% on the night, along with Jaylen Brown who went 8-15. Horford’s night was slightly more efficient, making 8-9 and 1-1 from three. The only moment he looked unsettled was shooting a technical free throw in the first quarter. He took a few extra dribbles after Brad Stevens instructed him to take the shot instead of Brown. I always think it must be weird to shoot FTs with no one on the lane if you’re not used to it.

After the game the C’s locker room was showering praise on their veteran leader. A few players mentioned that Al if playing like his younger self. He corrected the record, pointing out that the young Al Horford didn’t drain threes like this.

Pseudo-contenders?

At the start of this season both of these franchises were viewed as “fake contenders” who could make it to the Conference Finals, and maybe even sneak all the way the the NBA Finals, but had no real chance to dethrone Golden State.

If Toronto can’t come into Boston and win a game like this against the severely depleted Celtics you have to ask if they’re even on that level. The Raptors dropped to one game over .500 with an acceptable but unspectacular point differential. It’s early in the season, but right now they look like the same team we’ve seen for the past few seasons, only less dynamic. They look closer to a bottom-4 seed than a threat for a deep run?

Meanwhile, a twelve game winning streak and the best defense in the league, by a wide margin, is an eye opener even 17% of the way into the season. It’s hard to predict where this team will go, but if their young players show second half development instead of smacking into the rookie wall, there’s still a huge amount of room for growth. The Cavaliers have a pile of questions. Boston doesn’t have the talent to match the Warriors, but they do have the types of players (and the coach) to disrupt their game and in a seven game series, you never really know.

More importantly, before the season it looked like there was a gap between the Celtics and the primary contenders behind the Warriors. That meant that even if Golden State suffered a serious injury crisis it was more likely that another team would benefit instead of Boston. At the moment, it looks like the Celtics could go toe-to-toe with the other teams poised to grab that opportunity if it comes. As Toronto slides out of the ranks of the pseudo contenders, Boston is quickly outgrowing that group.

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Ryan Bernardoni

Ryan Bernardoni came to Celtics Hub following a bloody coup that ousted him from his previous position as overlord of Celtics Reddit. His blogging focuses on the salary cap and team planning but every once in a while he lets it slip that he actually freaks out during every game.
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  • Gregg Futch

    “(Tito, not T Ro)”

    Can’t tell if you’re joking or confused. Let’s get this right! https://twitter.com/i/web/status/929392231039012865

    • David Anthopoulos

      I think that Jay King gave him the Tito nickname on one of his podcasts with John Karalis. I don’t know what his teammates call him, but at this point fans and media guys on all the C’s sites seem to be using Tito more and more.

      • David Anthopoulos

        Supposedly Austin Ainge reached out electronically and asked them not to use “Tito” for Rozier, as they relayed to us this morning. They commented that, as is usually the case with such requests, it will only increase its usage…

      • Ryan Bernardoni

        Sam Packard starting calling him that sometime in early 2016. I didn’t know and started calling him that also, I think independent of Sam but maybe subconsciously because of him, in the offseason of 2016. At least that’s what twitter search says. It’s just playing around. His “real” nickname is T-Ro but that’s a terrible nickname and Tito is clearly much, much better.

      • David Anthopoulos

        Actually, to clarify, I heard this morning that Sam Packard, also on the podcast, was the originator of “Tito”, not Jay, and that Austin Ainge had asked them to use “T-Ro” instead, when he sent them that request of his.

  • David Anthopoulos

    Love the term “pseudo-contender”. Glad to see that we have officially drifted into a different category!
    As we move closer and closer towards midseason, which way will Cleveland be drifting?…

  • leitskev

    Hard for me to see Toronto as a contender after watching last year’s playoffs. It wasn’t just that they got crushed by Cleveland, it was that they quit. The hung their heads and moped and missed every shot. I couldn’t help thinking they completely lacked the character needed to contend. That could change if they added a David Ortiz-type personality to build around, but that didn’t happen.

    As far as the Celtics being contenders, it obviously comes down to just how much their young players can grow in one season, and I would boil it down to Brown and Tatum. Not that there aren’t other young players that can grow and contribute, there are several. But to go the distance, you need some big time elite scorers, players you can go to reliably in crunch time. Can Brown or Tatum evolve that much that fast? Maybe.

    Tatum is the most impressive rookie since Pierce, and really the most impressive since Bird(perhaps McHale). Pierce was 2 years older than Tatum, but also was very immature. What Tatum is doing is beyond impressive. We’re watching a player that is destined for greatness. Yeah, sometimes we want to pump the breaks, but not this time…trust your eyes. Don’t look to analytics. This is already a kid who they can look to as a first option late in the 4th. And he comes through, both with outside shots and clutch drives. There’s nothing fluky about it. It’s not out of control, like Brown or Smart. It’s elite, and the kid’s only 19. Trust your eyes.

    With Brown, where he ends up on the scale is harder to estimate. Excellent defender, aggressive and determined to be be great, confident…those are great intangible qualities. But offense does not come as naturally to him as it does to Hall of Fame type scorers. Quickness and athleticism allow him to win one on ones, but he lacks the instinct to operate in a tight space and get off a clean shot. If he learns how to do those things, he will becomes a great player. The most likely scenario is that he will continue to gradually improve at those things, and 3 years from now he’ll be a very good player. However, there is the chance that the light really goes on by the end of this year. If that happens, the Celtics could have the guns to match up with anyone.

    • David Anthopoulos

      Nice analysis. I “believe my eyes”, as you say with Tatum, even though for 19 (my daughter’s age, so I see how kids act at that age), it’s unbelievable.
      Agree on Brown, but would add that Brown has determination, high intelligence, eagerness to improve, and high athleticism. These qualities should mean he solves his weaknesses—consistent shooting, foul shooting, and dribbling (handle)—sooner rather than later, I hope. Moreover, Kyrie is there to help him with his handle…

      • leitskev

        Yup. With Hall of Fame players, you start to see signs at an early age. And much of this is just God-given talent. Watch some video of Tatum doing drills on youtube with Brown. The ball dribbling sounds different with Tatum. It has an almost musical rhythm to it. Great offensive players have that. Everything they do is smooth and rhythmic. Carmelo Anthony was like that…is like that. He just lacks other qualities that make one a champion. Tatum is the real deal, and I am not one of those Celtic fans who thought, for example, that Zizic was the next Gasol! I am in my 50s, I keep a sober view of players…and Tatum is a once in a generation player.

        Brown has the intangibles to go along with great athleticism. I just don’t think he has the natural rhythm of a great offensive player. It won’t come as easy. He’ll never be Kobi…but he might be Butler. That’s pretty good.

        • David Anthopoulos

          Good observation from a relative youngster. I will not say my age, even though that logo picture with my daughter, who is exactly Tatum’s age, is from earlier this year. I will say however that when I was in High School, we would all get together before class and whisper things like, “He did it again! Did you see what Russell did to Chamberlain last night!!”
          Tatum has that ‘touch’, and Brown doesn’t. But Brown’s other intangibles, I think, are higher than Butler’s, and I still think his ceiling is very high. Offensively, maybe not as high as Tatum’s, but higher than Butler’s. I’m very happy to have both, and I think we can ride both for a while. But of course, if an Anthony Davis becomes available, and we have to pay a steep price, we trade Brown in that package, not Tatum.

          • leitskev

            Agreed. But I don’t think they’ll be trading anyone, unless the Laker pick conveys. Let’s say the Laker pick conveys. For example, we get lottery love and land number 2. The starters next year would be Kyrie, Brown, Tatum, Al, and Hayward…with a number 2 pick coming off the bench and struggling for playing time. Considering the bench would already include Smart, Rozier, Theis, Yabu and Semi, it’s not ideal. So you might package the pick with a player for an AD.

            But that Laker pick is unlikely to convey. So I think we’re looking at our starting lineup above for the foreseeable future. Whether or not we content would depend on what ceiling Brown and Tatum do reach.

            Let’s say the Laker pick does not convey, and we get the 5th pick in the draft in 2019 through Sac. Unless that pick is a fast riser like Tatum, odds are he doesn’t become major contributor…if he does…until around 2022.

            So in all likelihood, we are looking at trying to win a title with Brown, Kyrie, Tatum, Haywood and Big Al. The bench is young and improving, that could be a factor, but the big thing is Brown and Tatum…and since I think we know what Tatum will be, it all hinges on what Brown’s ceiling is. So I’m glad they’re feeding him the ball a lot!

  • atlantic 11561

    Expect the Celtics, who tortured the Brooklyn Nets all of last year with lopsided wins, to continue the merciless demolition on Tuesday night.