“Defensively we were pretty good,” point guard Jerryd Bayless said. “We held Boston to 76 points. Obviously they didn’t play their starters the whole game, but from the way the game was going, we were playing pretty good defence. We’re not great defensively but I think we’re getting better.”
New head coach Dwane Casey came into the game knowing his offence wasn’t quite ready for prime time or even exhibition time, but that wasn’t the mission. The mission was to show improvement on the defensive end and on that count he was happy.
“I liked our effort, and I liked our toughness when we needed it,” Casey said. “We needed a couple of more at the end to crack in and get some offensive boards at the end but overall I was pleased with that. Now we just have to get some work in on our offence and not turn the ball over so much. We will work more offensively this week.”
Always the competitor, Casey was referring to what turned out to be winning basket when someone named Greg Stiemsma was allowed not one but two putback attempts after an initial miss from under the Raptors basket. If everything had gone according to plan Stiemsma misses the first and then is rudely pushed away from the basket with an effective box out. The plan though hasn’t been perfected just yet.
For the game the Celtics shot just 39% and even without Paul Pierce in the lineup — he stayed back in Boston nursing a heel ailment — that is a number the Raptors can at least hang their hats on as they prepare for the back end of the home and home pre-season series with the Celts which wraps up Wednesday in Beantown.
“Coming into this game we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Casey said. “We stepped up our play defensively and had that competitive spirit on the defensive end. Now we have to turn around and have an offensive spirit too which I know will be easier for us than the other way around.”
The most apparent change defensively for the Raptors was that help would arrive once the first line of defence had been beaten. On numerous occasions throughout the game, a member of the Celtics would beat his man but then face a blanket of bodies between himself and the basket as the Raptors switched off to close down any opportunity for an easy basket. A year ago the Raptors’ first collective instinct was to stay with their man. You can see that has already been altered.
Those looking for more improvement didn’t have to look further than the seven-footer at power forward. Andrea Bargnani, by his account, didn’t have a great day shooting the ball, even though he did wind up with a team-high 16 points.
Bargnani finished with a team-high 16 points. Much more importantly, he grabbed nine rebounds, only one short of his new coach’s quota.
A few of them were even taken with other vaguely Bargnani-sized humans in the vicinity. Bargnani seemed engaged, aggressive even, on the defensive end of things for the first time in a long time. Maybe ever.
The start of an athlete’s sixth professional season is a little late to be talking about “blossoming.” Also, it is very early days yet, but perhaps new coach Dwane Casey has finally found a way to focus his mercurial star’s attention on something more than open shots.
“Overall, I was pleased with his effort,” Casey said. “He got out and impacted the ball on his pick-and-roll coverages. He came back and got some in-traffic rebounds, which we’ve been on him about.”
Sure, it’s only pre-season. It was hard to miss the fact that Bargnani blew a layup to win the game. Casey certainly noticed. He made special mention of it when appraising the forward’s effort.
Casey sounded far more excited about the performance of Bargnani’s understudy, Ed Davis, though the youngster looked deeply perplexed at times.
So it felt like the coach was damning his biggest star with faint praise. He wasn’t. He’s done nothing but talk up Bargnani from the outset. However, it appears that now that Casey’s gotten some positive feedback from the player, he’s increasing his expectations.
“Offensively, it was a really bad game,” Bargnani conceded, echoing his coach. Neither seemed to care and nor should anyone else.
The first clue to a change in Bargnani’s approach was his hands. He was holding them up over his head. Where they can do some good.
A few times, while sauntering through the defensive end like a guy looking for his seat, he felt his coach burning a hole in his back and reflexively threw his hands up in the air. Then he would look over hopefully, seeking an acknowledgement of his effort.
“That’s what the coach told me,” Bargnani said. “(W)hen you come back, you’ve gotta have your hands up.”
“We had to come from so far behind defensively, believe me, I was really pleased, I was happy, about today’s performance,” Casey said after a surprisingly large and vociferous crowd of 16,721 took in the game.
“I thought we did a good job executing defensively but we have a ways to go offensively. Coming into this game we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish which was to step up our effort defensively and have a competitive spirit on the defensive end.”
And that spirit is one of help, which could make everyone a better individual defender and team better overall. Instead of having big men and wings try to deny their man the ball, and moving further away from the basket to do it, the Raptors are packing the paint and crowding the rim. It meant Rajon Rondo didn’t easily go past Jose Calderon or Jerryd Bayless because there were big men waiting to help; it meant the Celtics had to operate from outside rather than venture to the rim with impunity.
“It’s easy for us because we’re not getting back-doored at all, that’s not going to happen,” said Toronto’s Ed Davis, who had 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. “We’re not getting beat off the dribble that much because we’re playing a lot more help defence so it’s helping a lot.”
There were, of course, blips; this is not going to be an overnight process. Stiemsma got his hands on a miss twice before tipping in the winner and the Raptors botched their final possession a bit.
But to Casey, the good out-weighed the bad significantly, even if there were a ghastly 21 turnovers committed by Toronto.
“I said (Saturday) we may throw it up in the stands and we did, 21 times,” he said. “Again, I like our effort I like our toughness. We needed a couple more (defensive stops) at the end to crack it and get some bodies on the boards but overall I was pleased with our effort.
“It’s the focus and concentration down the stretch. We can’t have mental breakdowns offensively or defensively down the stretch. That’s building that mental toughness that we’ve got to have to be a playoff team and build our program.”
Casey said don’t read anything into the makeup of the starting lineup, that it is still very much a work in progress and could change totally when Toronto plays its second, and final, preseason contest in Boston on Wednesday.
Canadian newcomer Jamaal Magloire started at centre with Bargnani at power forward and James Johnson on the wing. DeRozan was at shooting guard with Jose Calderon at the point.
Anthony Carter, one of general manager Bryan Colangelo’s free-agent signings, was unavailable, still bothered by a sore right shoulder that caused him to miss a couple of practices last week.
Offensively, DeRozan showed that the hard work he put in during the off-season on his three-point shooting is paying off, knocking down both of his long-distance attempts against Boston.
DeRozan only made five three-point shots all of last season.
Casey is excited the prospect of DeRozan turning into a more accomplished shooter but was clearly displeased how he handled the final play of Sunday’s game.
“That’s what we need from DeMar, we need that type of approach,” Casey said when asked about his three-point shooting.
“Again, it’s the focus on concentration down the stretch. We can’t have mental breakdowns, offensively or defensively.”
In the meantime, welcome back to the NBA. Enjoy that the Raptors are the easiest team to read in this city and their season will be blessedly straightforward. There’s no Brian Burke or Ron Wilson or Yu Darvish or suspiciously acquired quarterback or payroll issues to mull over. No Twitter bullying or lose two games and fall to 10th place from sixth. Raptors games will be an angst-free zone this winter. Just lose, baby, and draft well. Who isn’t down with that?
The dramatic finish in Sunday’s 76-75 loss to the Boston Celtics – Andrea Bargnani’s tip-in was a twitch too late – came with a Celtics lineup of Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twain Moore, Gilbert Brown and Greg Stiemsma that won’t ever be seen at the end of any game that means anything at any time. End of analysis, folks.
The good was DeMar DeRozan doing a better job at times of not forcing shots, of driving to the hoop; Bargnani discovering there is no trap-door leading to some netherworld under the basket at either end; the shot-changing physical play of Gary Forbes and James Johnson; Ed Davis’s double-double in 21 minutes off the bench. The Raptors had seven multiple stops, which according to head coach Dwane Casey is the per-game goal. That’s good, too.
Truth is, Casey forecast this kind of sloppy offensive performance – 21 Raptors turnovers leading to 26 Celtics points, a 38.4-per-cent shooting performance and a measly 13 trips to the free-throw line. By his own guess, the Raptors only have 50 per cent of their offence in place.
“I’ll take the hit for that,” Casey said of the turnovers. His bigger concern was the spacing of his players in the offensive zone; the offensive specifics will come later.
Honestly, the closest thing to controversy you’ll find with the Raptors is the point-guard picture. But here’s the thing: only good teams have point-guard controversies. The Raptors can get where they need to go with either Jerryd Bayless or Jose Calderon, even when all the plays are in place.
Calderon started and finished the game yet played fewer minutes, going 2-for-8 with six assists and one turnover in 23 minutes. His contract is off the books at the end of next season, and there’s a chance his $10.56-million contract will be tradable before it expires. Bayless is cheaper and might be of interest over the longer haul, because he can play an energetic defensive game off the bench that will be in vogue as long as Casey is the coach. Bayless was 4-for-10 from the field with three assists and four turnovers in 24 minutes 17 seconds, and said that even though the Raptors were short of plays, Casey’s overriding philosophy with the ball is apparent.
“We’re going to get out and run,” Bayless said. “That’s our first option.”
The Raptors, however, managed to hold Boston to just 39% shooting. Boston did not have Paul Pierce because of a heel injury, but that still has to be encouraging for Casey, who has called changing the team’s defensive culture job No. 1.
Casey started Jamaal Magloire at centre, as the coach is trying to keep Andrea Bargnani out of the centre spot. Casey said the centre spot would likely be filled on a rotating basis by Magloire, Aaron Gray and Amir Johnson. With nearly 20 minutes, Johnson logged the most minutes out of those three. The signs on defence were encouraging. Casey called the results “fantastic.”
“We had to come [from] so far behind defensively,” Casey said. “I was really pleased. I was happy about today’s performance.”
And, in an overwhelmingly positive season debut, Andrea Bargnani had 16 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes. Boston power forward and bully Kevin Garnett clapped his hands in the sixth-year big man’s face, and Bargnani snapped back at the future Hall of Famer.
Bargnani said he did not even notice Garnett, long an agitator of the Raptors, saying anything to him. It is hard to know if that was honesty or Bargnani playing coy.
Ed Davis was finally able to participate in his first training camp this season, and with the extra work, Davis can be a real stud coming off the bench for the Raptors. In only 20 minutes, Davis got the only double double of the game, scoring ten points and grabbing ten boards. If he can continuously put up numbers like that off the bench, that will be great for the team.
DeRozan was mocked for his inability to shoot the ball from mid and long range last season. Against the Celtics, he shot two for two from beyond the arc, and took more jumpers compared to driving in. He still needs to polish his shot a little bit more, but it has improved greatly from two seasons ago.
One final comment in terms of a player is James Johnson. He had limited minutes, seeing the court for only about ten minutes, but in those ten minutes Johnson amassed a total of four blocks! That is amazing for the amount of time he was on the court.
No one is going to expect these numbers in those minutes again, but if he can play like that, Johnson has a chance to win defensive player of the year.
In terms of team play, the team played amazing on defense. They held the Celtics to only 39.4 percent shooting and held them to only 76 points. This is great, as last season, the team allowed 105 points per game.
Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who had been bothered by a sore right ankle, started for the Celtics and finished with a team-high eight assists in 28 minutes.
The Raptors trailed 61-51 to start the fourth but rallied after Allen and Garnett headed to the bench. Jose Calderon‘s 3-pointer made it 70-67 with 4:30 left and, after a missed shot by Brandon Bass, DeRozan’s layup cut it to one at 70-69.
Consecutive jump shots by Celtics rookie E’Twaun Moore gave Boston a 74-71 lead with 1:19 remaining, but a jumper by Bargnani and a tip-in by Amir Johnson with 26 seconds left made it 75-74 in favor of Toronto.
Stiemsma rebounded Moore’s miss and, after failing to score his first attempt, tipped in the go-ahead basket on his second chance.
Bargnani tried to put back DeRozan’s miss at the buzzer, but his shot didn’t fall.
Allen scored seven points in the second as the Celtics took a 40-33 lead at the half.
Toronto outrebounded Boston 39 to 35.
Boston was without forward Paul Pierce, sidelined by a bruised right heel, while Toronto guard Anthony Carter was absent with a sore right shoulder.
* MY ROOKIES AGAINST YOUR VETS: Doc Rivers went with a lineup of JaJuan Johnson, Moore, Steimsma, Gilbert Brown and Avery Bradley down the stretch while Toronto went with its starters. Rivers downplayed the situation, saying he would have done the same thing had he been Dwane Casey, who was making his Toronto debut as head coach. What was fun to see was the reactions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett when Bargnani’s game-winner bounced away. They went crazy.
* OH YEAH, THEM: The Big Three on this day — Pierce was home with a heel injury — seemed to be in mid-season form. While Rajon Rondo did miss 7-of-9 shots, he had 8 assists and 4 steals in 27 minutes. Allen led the team in scoring with 12 points, making two of three three-pointers, logging 28 minutes. Garnett played 24 minutes and had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Another encouraging sign: Jermaine O’Neal. He had 8 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in 17 minutes.
* TIDBITS: Sasha Pavlovic, who has a sore left wrist, also did not make the trip north. He is expected to play on Wednesday when the teams meet again, in Boston, to close out their two-game exhibition season . . . Jamal Sampson did not make the trip due to what the team said was personal reasons . . . The Celtics had a 39-35 rebounding advantage, forced 21 turnovers and held Toronto to 34.8 shooting. Boston shot 39.4 percent thanks mainly to a horrible fourth-quarter (15 points) . . . Tommy Heinsohn was in midseason form. When Garnett dished off a feed leading to an O’Neal dunk, Heinsohn gushed, “He just mesmerized three of the Raptors!” And, it wouldn’t be a Celtics’ game without Tommy ripping the officials and, true to form, he did not take kindly to an offensive foul on rookie Johnson. “That is terrible!” Heinsohn fumed.
Although Stiemsma’s tip-in ultimately decided the game’s outcome, it was the play of fellow rookie E’Twaun Moore that stood out. Drafted in the second round of last June’s NBA draft, Moore came up with a couple of clutch baskets in the game’s final 1:51 — his only two baskets of the game.
"You can see why we like E’Twaun," Rivers said. "He wanted the ball, and he took it and made big shots."
The more you see him play, the more he plays at a pace that’s atypical for most rookie guards. Moore credits his comfort level to being in college for four years and spending some time in Italy during the NBA lockout.
"Basketball is basketball, no matter where it’s played," he said. "That’s how I feel when I’m out there on the court."
It was the first game for the Celtics since the team announced that Jeff Green would be out for the entire 2011-2012 NBA season. Green will have surgery to repair an aeortic anureism on Jan. 9.
"Jeff is just . . . it hits home because it is your little brother, it is your guy," said Boston’s Kevin Garnett, who had nine points and seven rebounds while playing just over 24 minutes. "I’m just glad that it was fortunate to be caught early, and he can go ahead with his life and make some adjustments to that. I just hope everything works out for him."
Boston was led by Ray Allen’s 12 points and Marquis Daniels who chipped in with 11. Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox were active off the bench, scoring nine and seven points, respectively. Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani led all scorers with 14 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
Centre Kevin Garnett has previously barked at Raptors’ Jose Calderon — as well as Jerryd Bayless when the latter was on Portland.
But on Sunday at the ACC, he decided to pick on someone closer to his own size. The focus of the Celtic’s attention was Andrea Bargnani who tangled with the lanky Boston big man all afternoon.
At one point in the game, Garnett seemed to be doing what looked like his own version of a Bargnani imitation. As the Raptors forward was helped to his feet by a couple of teammates, Garnett was waiting — his eyes all bugged out and his mouth open — staring past the helping Raptors and directly at Bargnani. He even held the stare a few moments just to make sure Bargnani caught it.
If it had any effect on the Raptors ‘seven-footer, he certainly wasn’t saying. And if Garnett was trying to intimidate Bargnani, it wasn’t very effective because it barely registered with him.
“I don’t even think about that,” Bargnani said when asked if he thought Garnett was trying to get inside his head or intimidate him with his antics. “I just think about the game. How can I score on him because he’s a really good defender.”
In fact, Bargnani was complimentary of Garnett despite what appeared to be a direct insult.
But Bargnani wasn’t the only one who didn’t view the facial contortions (or whatever they were) as an insult or an attempt to intimidate.
Sophomore centre Ed Davis said it’s just part of the Garnett act everyone has come to expect.
“That’s just KG,” Davis said. “He plays hard. That’s just who he is. That’s what he does.
“I don’t think it’s really intimidation,” Davis said. “He’s just trying to get under Drea’s skin doing little things like that. You can’t blame him for that. That’s just what he is known for. It’s no different than him getting down on the floor and barking like a dog at (Jerryd, then with the Portland Trail Blazers) that one game.”
What appeared like it would be an easy Boston win suddenly turned tense late. The Raptors, undergoing yet another rebuilding project with new coach Dwane Casey, were gaining momentum, trying to steal one from the mighty Celtics.
The Raptors will have to be satisfied with a moral victory, though, because four rookies and a barely second-year veteran helped the Celtics seal a 76-75 triumph. E’Twaun Moore, a second-round pick who may prove the steal of the 2011 draft, drained two jumpers down the stretch, and Greg Stiemsma, fresh from Sioux Falls of the NBADL, tipped in his own miss for the winning basket.
Rivers smiled all the while, and Kevin Garnett pumped his fists after the Raptors failed to score in the final seconds.
“You couldn’t ask for a better situation,’’ said Rivers, who used 13 players. “I could see the game getting closer with about seven minutes left. You could see they were making a run and I thought, ‘Well, this is a great time to call the young guys in to see if they could hold the lead and withstand their rush.’ You can see why we like E’Twaun.’’
The Celtics lineup at game’s end was Moore, JaJuan Johnson, free agent rookies Gilbert Brown and Stiemsma, and second-year guard Avery Bradley. Toronto was playing its regulars.
Moore drained a 19-footer with 1:51 left to give the Celtics a 72-71 lead and added a 20-footer 32 seconds later to produce a 3-point lead. Toronto responded with two baskets, setting up Stiemsma’s tip with 12.6 seconds left. The youngsters stifled Toronto on the final play, with Bradley forcing Jose Calderon to pass to a covered DeMar DeRozan, who missed a 10-footer. Andrea Bargnani missed the putback as the buzzer sounded.
“I was definitely confident,’’ Moore said. “I’m just telling myself I can come and play with these guys each and every day and just trying to stay humble and stay hungry.’’