After two convincing wins in their first two preseason games, the Celtics suffered their first defeat on Friday night, a 116-109 loss to the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. The game featured plenty of offense and little defense from either team, as well as a first half scoring explosion from Avery Bradley, who went for 20 of his game-high 22 before the break. There were some things to like about the Celts’ effort as well as some familiar problems that reared their ugly heads. Here are three things we learned from Friday night’s game.
1. Same old fourth quarter blues
As was the case so often last season, the Celts went to pieces in the fourth quarter, getting run off the court to the tune of a 24-5 Toronto stretch that wiped away a six-point Boston lead after three. For all of their roster movement, the Celts still simply don’t have a go-to guy and until someone assumes that role, even out of default, this team will be at a distinct disadvantage in the fourth quarter of close games. Boston shot the ball extremely well from the perimeter in this one, connecting on 14-of-28 three point attempts. But while superior outside shooting is always a plus, the lack of an aggressive scorer who can create his own shot and get to the rim consistently doesn’t bode well for the Celts getting over their fourth quarter issues.
2. The Celts have too many players
10 guys played double digit minutes for the Celtics and none of them were named Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green or James Young. It’s fair to assume that Phil Pressey will return to third string duties behind Rondo (once he’s healthy) and Marcus Smart. And the team can afford to bring the rookie Young back slowly from his hamstring injury as he has the feel of a project at this point.
But who sits in favor of Green? Will it be Gerald Wallace? Will Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller’s minutes get shortened and divvied up for Green? Will Brandon Bass, as deserving of a regular role on this roster as anyone, see his court time slashed? The Celts’ eight and 10-man rotations once everyone is healthy and in playing shape will be very interesting. There’s a chance a trade could be coming between now and opening night.
3. Sharing the ball is clearly a point of emphasis
The Celts made 37 of their field goal attempts and had assists on 29 of them. That’s an eye-popping number, especially considering Rondo didn’t participate. Sullinger and Bass, neither of whom have ever had more than five assists in a regular season NBA game, each would have a new career high in that category if this game had counted (Sullinger had seven while Bass added five), a great sign considering they’re both frontcourt players.
Smart also had seven dimes, again showing that as long as he’s not depended on to shoot (2-of-8 from the floor, 1-of-7 from long range, 2-of-4 from the line), he has the makings of a productive, play making point guard. When Rondo comes back, he will have the ball in his hands more than anyone else which means that this team wide ball sharing probably won’t be as pronounced. But it was nice to see the ball moving as much as it did against the Raptors.