For whatever reason, the Raps didn’t have the jump or, to steal a Casey-ism, ‘pep in their step’ that has been relatively consistent throughout the past month or so. Casey put it much more plainly after the game. “It’s the first stinker we’ve had,” Casey said. “It started on the boards. Anytime you give up 25 points on second-chance points you’re not going to beat too many people in this league. I was disappointed in our rebounding, we just got whipped in every way in the paint. Some of it we had to go small because we needed to score, we couldn’t make a bucket so that was a part of it and then you miss 13 free throws, that’s the ball game right there.”
That was ugly. I’m seeing a torrent of tweets pouring out expressing hope that this was just “one of those games.” Look, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I feel like I aged 25 years watching that horrid basketball game. When your team makes you want to punch yourself in the face for being a fan, that’s never a good sign. Full credit to the Celtics for banding together after their starting PG got traded earlier today.
Jared Sullinger went completely nuts, dropping 25 points and pulling down a staggering 20 rebounds, including eight offensive boards that helped keep the Cs alive. The Kevin Love comparisons are overenthusiastic at best and wildly unfair at worst, but games like tonight aren’t likely to dull the chatter much in the coming weeks. Avery Bradley posted a solid line as well, finishing with 20 points and five boards. Naysayers will point to Bradley’s inefficient line (8-for-21 from the floor, 0-for-2 from 3), but he — like the rest of the Celtics — went cold during the fourth quarter. Before that, Bradley was having another nice game — he had 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting at halftime.
It was Sullinger himself who shined the brightest. He let the competitive juices flow all night, playing 39 big minutes and refusing to back down even when Jonas Valanciunas started beating the daylights out of him on the low block. By topping 20 points and 20 boards, he became the first Celtic to do so since Kevin Garnett in 2007. That’ll turn some heads. “He’s obviously got that ability, but those numbers are hard to come by, no matter if you have that ability or not,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I’m proud of him because we’ve been on a tough stretch, he got taken out of the lineup, he got put back into the lineup, and he got better. He responded the right way.
Yes, it was a stinker and they dusted off Steve Novak in the fourth quarter when Amir was banged up but I hope no one gets too bent out of shape about it and starts messing up what was working. I remember a couple of weeks ago, we were talking to Dwane about his tight nine-man rotation and he was adamant that it would stay that way because people were accepting roles and, most important, producing in them. Well, they didn’t particularly produce well last night – no one really played all that well – but I can’t see any reason to deviate from what had been working so well. One game does not a season make, nor should it be cause for major concern; I would expect the same nine guys in the same starter-backup roles would be the order of business on Friday night against Minnesota (and I can’t wait to see my boy Schved play).
“No,” Kyle Lowry said straight-faced when asked if he saw it coming. “We don’t expect to have any letdowns.” It’s just one game, one night, one of 82. In and of itself, the loss – however disappointing – shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Even the best of the best get caught taking their foot off the gas but that doesn’t provide solace to a team that’s learning to demand more of themselves. “They out-worked us tonight, which is rare for us,” Lowry said, his team giving up 19 offensive boards to the Celtics, who had lost nine straight coming into the contest. “It sucks but we’ve got to learn from this. Everyone’s pissed off right now, guys are mad and we should be.”
It was a brick-fest in Boston between 2 teams that didn’t deserve to win, but Jared Sullinger had 25 points and a career best 20 rebounds as the Celtics defeated the Raptors 88-83. Sullinger was the first Celtic since Kevin Garnett in 2007 to record a 20-20 game. To put it mildly, this game was ugly. The Raptors held Boston to the lowest field goal percentage of any team they had faced this season at 34.5 percent. The Celtics even managed to miss 10 free throws, but as Boston won, the Raptors had their own problems. Toronto shot just 38.5 percent from the field and missed 13 free throws of their own as they set their season low for free throw shooting of 48 percent. The referees called 51 personal fouls and sent the teams to the free throw line a combined 61 times helping to eliminate any flow this game might have developed, an ugly game indeed.
The arrival of John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, along with the addition of a Terrence Ross to the starting five and the removal of Rudy Gay, have all added up to a team that thinks defence first like it’s head coach. “They bring a defensive focus to the team that we need, not just that I need, but I think you need to win in this league,” Casey said of the four former Sacramento Kings. “Every successful team I have been with has been a defence-first team. I don’t care what sport it is. I think we added that to our team and that was a good fit for us.” And a very good fit for Casey. The Raptors are now sixth in defensive efficiency in the NBA trailing only Indiana, Chicago, OKC, Golden State and San Antonio. That’s a stat even Casey will get behind.
Perhaps it’s because he feels more responsibility in the offense. Perhaps it’s because he knows that he can pass the ball without worrying about never touching it again during the possession. Perhaps Dwane Casey has finally realized that he should design plays, something that often didn’t happen when Gay was functioning as an ineffective bail-out option. Regardless of the reason, DeRozan is playing the right kind of basketball. But he’s not the only wing player who has broken out since Gay was moved to the Kings. Ross has as well.
The Raptors went from Rudy Gay running the team with DeRozan trying to keep pace, to Lowry running the team, with everyone else, including DeRozan, just trying to make things more cohesive and efficient for each other. We have to assume that is a manifestation of putting the ball in Lowry’s hands and letting him go. He is still a scoring guard, but one who has embraced the responsibility of a normal point guard, which he couldn’t do sharing the floor with Gay. The results have been obvious, both to Lowry and the rest of the league. He may be a more difficult re-sign now, but the fact that Ujiri has seemingly pulled him off the market may be an indication that he feels confident in getting Lowry to sign an extension.
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