AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese
Kevin Garnett, right, gets up close and personal with teammate Glen Davis in Toronto.Five observations from afar after the Toronto Raptors defeated the Boston Celtics 102-101 Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.
We saw a lot of this last season, with the Celtics losing to teams they should have beaten. It came back to bite them when they had to play Games 6 and 7 on the road in the NBA Finals. It’s something Doc Rivers said would be a top priority this season -- not taking the Torontos of the world for granted. Guess what? The Celtics lost to an undermanned Raptors team less than 48 hours after they lost at home to an Oklahoma City team without Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
Championship-driven teams (to borrow a phrase from the ML Carr era) don’t do this. Veteran teams, however, do have a tendency to do this. And the Celtics, unmistakably, are a veteran team. Two of the Celtics’ four defeats have come to sub-.500 teams and a third was to a team that would be sub-.500 if it had to play a whole year without Durant and Green. The Celtics had beaten Toronto 11 of the last 12 games and had won their last six in the Air Canada Centre. The Celtics also pride themselves on being a good road team. They are now 4-3 on the road with a tough game in Atlanta Monday night.
The Celtics are a different team without Rajon Rondo, who missed Sunday’s game with a sore left hamstring. But his absence was not the deal-breaker in this one. Nate Robinson started and acquitted himself quite well. He surpassed his season high in points (15) in the first quarter alone (16.) No, the Celtics weren’t the snappy ball-passers they can be when Rondo is in control. They had only 17 assists in the game, a little more than Rondo’s per-game average. But they also scored 101 points, which, under normal circumstances, is more than sufficient. They were 7-0 in games in which they had scored 100 points before Sunday.
Robinson ended up with a team high 22 points, but he did make a critical boo-boo late in the game, going for a loose ball when, had he stayed away, would have led to a backcourt violation against the Raptors. The one major downside with Rondo out was that it made the bench that much thinner -- and, on Sunday, that much less productive. Glen Davis was a minus-11 when he was on the floor while Semih Erden, Delonte West and Marquis Daniels were each minus-19.
BUT THERE’S DEPTH THERE NOW
The last game Rondo missed prior to Sunday was also against the Raptors and also due to a sore left hamstring. That was Jan. 2, 2010. On that day, the Celtics were also without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and still won, going with a starting backcourt of Tony Allen and JR Giddens. It was Giddens’ only start of the season.
To give you an idea of how things have changed, only two players who played Sunday for the Celtics also played in that Jan. 2 game in Boston: Ray Allen and Glen Davis. Rondo started three seasons without a designated backup until the Celtics moved to bring in Sam Cassell (2007-2008) and Stephon Marbury (2008-09). This year, there’s both Robinson and West available. Rivers elected to start Robinson and he was rewarded with a brilliant first quarter (16 points). Robinson may get another start in Atlanta, as Rivers said he doubted Rondo would play against the Hawks.
DEFENSE? YOU TALKING DEFENSE?
One word describes the Celtics’ defense Sunday: UGGHHHHH. It was awful, especially in the second quarter in which saw the Raptors scored 38 points. That’s six more points than any team had managed against the Celtics in any quarter this season. The Raptors also lapped the season high for first-half points, scoring 61. The previous high was 49. In that utterly forgettable first half, the Raptors made six conventional three-point plays (a basket and a free throw). Six! These were mostly off pick and rolls and slow-reacting help from the weak side. The Celtics did step it up defensively in the fourth quarter, but, as Doc Rivers noted afterward, “We’ve got to do a better job defensively. We’ve proven we can do it in spurts.”
And on a critical basket by Leandro Barbosa, which cut a three-point Boston lead to one in the final minute, the Celtics had a foul to give on the play and Rivers told them to use it. They didn’t. The Celtics entered the Toronto game allowing 94.17 points a game, fifth lowest in the NBA. That’s acceptable. But they were 13th in defensive field goal percentage at 44.8 percent, a generally more reliable statistic. The Raptors shot 44.7 percent on Sunday and that is a bit skewed in that they missed 10 straight shots in the fourth quarter.
THERE’S A REASON THEY’RE CALLED FREE THROWS
What does it say when your best free throw shooter in the game is Shaquille O’Neal? He made all four of his freebies, but the rest of his teammates were not so accurate. Entering the game, both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were ranked in the top five in free-throw shooting in the league, each making more than 92 percent of their free throws. But Pierce clanged four on Sunday (out of 13 attempts) and the normally dead-eye Allen missed two. Add two bricks for Glen Davis and another each from Delonte West and Nate Robinson and you have a rather lamentable 28-of-38 from the line. That’s worse than their average over 12 games of 75.1 percent, which was only good enough for 21st in the league. Allen, Pierce, Robinson, Davis and West shot 24-of-34 from the line, around 70 percent. Before the game, those four were shooting a collective 85 percent from the stripe.