Celtics-Raptors preview: Getting Pierce to the line

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Celtics-Raptors preview: Getting Pierce to the line

BOSTON It has truly been a search-and-discovery mission for Paul Pierce in figuring out his role in the Boston Celtics' revamped offense.

"I'm starting to get a better rhythm, starting to understand where my shots are going to come from in the offense," Pierce said. "We changed a lot of things in the offense this year."

One of the changes thus far has been Pierce spending a lot more time at the free throw line.

He comes into today's game against Toronto averaging 10.6 free throw attempts per game which ranks fifth in the NBA.

Since Kevin Garnett arrived prior to the 2007-2008 championship season, Pierce has finished no better than 14th in the league in that category.

The year before Garnett arrived, Pierce ranked eighth in the league with 8.6 per game. In 2005 and 2006, Pierce ranked 10th and fourth, respectively.

"We all know what the Captain can do," C's guard Jason Terry told CSNNE.com. "When he's attacking, being aggressive out there, it only makes us a better team. And if you can get him to the free throw line, that's easy points for both him and our team."

A career 80.8 percent free throw shooter, Pierce is connecting on 82 percent of his free throws this season.

Getting Pierce to the free throw line as much as possible will indeed be an important factor in Boston's chances of beating Toronto. Here are some other keys to keep an eye on as the C's try to run their dominance at home over the Raptors to nine in a row.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics have not exactly lit up the scoreboard to start games, ranking 20th in first-quarter points with 23.2 per game. But that could change today against a Raptors team that tends to dig itself an early ditch by giving up 26.4 points in the first quarter which ranks 28th in the league.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs Andrea Bargnani: Garnett and Brandon Bass will likely switch off at times on Bargnani whose length and perimeter-shooting skills make him a scoring threat whenever you play the Raptors.

PLAYER TO WATCH: To the surprise of many, DeMar DeRozan landed an unusually large multi-year extension worth 40 million over four years last month. To his credit, he has put up some decent numbers this season - 20 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

STAT TO TRACK: The C's have been a decent 3-point shooting team this season, ranking 11th in the league at 36.8 percent per game. That number will likely see a spike today against a Raptors team that has had problems defending perimeter shots all season. Opponents are shooting 41.3 percent on 3s against Toronto, the second-worst 3-point percentage defense in the NBA.

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

BOSTON – Many times this season Tuukka Rask has bailed out the Bruins when the team was at less than their best.

Monday afternoon was not one of those times as the Bruins goaltender was knocked out of the game after two periods on the way to a listless 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders. Rask allowed three goals on 15 shots in the game’s opening 40 minutes, and was responsible for a very soft goal during the Isles’ three-score barrage in the second period.

After the game Rask wasn’t ducking responsibility for the subpar performance, and admitted he was simply beaten to the short side post on a bad angle shot from Islanders forward Josh Bailey for the soft-serve special.

“I was just late. I picked the wrong seal. It’s one of those [goals] that I should have stopped,” said Rask. “Claude [Julien] mentioned [not taking the Isles lightly] before the game, and the last game we played here they got us. It was a bit of a flat game again last time, and we just woke up too late today. We didn’t want to underestimate them. Any team in this league is good even though the standings might show otherwise. We just never got it going.”

Rask was being kind because the Bruins never actually woke up at all in the first B's shutout loss to the Islanders on home ice in franchise history, and that includes when the Finnish netminder was yanked after the second intermission.

Julien’s act of pulling Rask from a 3-0 game was clearly designed to spark the struggling hockey club, but it did nothing to breathe life into a dead hockey club that simply allowed another goal playing out the string in the third period.

“There are two things that can happen. No. 1, you hope you can spark your team because of the performance in front of him,” said Julien. “If it doesn’t spark your team, [at least] you’re not wasting your number one goaltender’s energy.”

One would expect that Rask will be back between the pipes on Wednesday night against the Red Wings in Detroit, and in hindsight perhaps this Monday matinee might have been a good time to see what Zane McIntyre has to offer as the backup. Instead it will go down as an “off” game for Rask and another inexcusable no-show on home ice for the Black and Gold. 

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics get a boost from their bench

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics get a boost from their bench

BOSTON –  Questions about Boston’s second unit have lingered all season.

But in the first half of Monday’s game against Charlotte, the Celtics got a major boost from the second unit which paved the way for Boston’s 59-53 lead at the half.

They outscored their Charlotte brethren 21-10 which was instrumental in them fending off an always-tough Charlotte team despite the Hornets (20-20) coming in having lost four in a row – all on the road.

Boston opened with a 10-2 run, the kind of spurt that you knew would likely be followed at some point by a comparable run by the Hornets.

On cue, Charlotte began to chip away at Boston’s lead and eventually went ahead following a pair of Kemba Walker free throws with 3:39 to play.

The teams went back and forth until Boston’s Jaylen Brown, who delivered a moving pre-game speech in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, took over the game with less than a minute to play in the first.

Trailing 30-29, Brown scored the quarter’s final five points to lift Boston to a 34-30 lead going into the second quarter.

In the second quarter, it was Kelly Olynyk – another Celtics reserve - taking over with a slew of baskets and hustle plays including saving a ball from going out of bounds in front of the Charlotte bench and tossing it up court with the Celtics ultimately getting a lay-up from Brown.

With 7:24 to play in the half, Charlotte called a time-out with the Celtics leading 45-40.

The Hornets responded with an 8-3 spurt to tie the game at 48 following a dunk by Spencer Hawes which led to Brad Stevens looking for answers during a Celtics time-out with 5:18 to play in the half.

Boston’s starters eventually returned to the floor in the second quarter and seemingly picked up where their backups left off.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of Monday’s game.

 

STARS

Kemba Walker

There was a definite sense of urgency on Walker’s part to do what he could to lead the Hornets out of their four-game funk. He did his part in the first half, scoring 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field.

Al Horford

This was one of the better first halves offensively we’ve seen from Al Horford this season. He led the Celtics with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field.

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas

With what looked like an increased emphasis to get the ball to Horford, Thomas played the role of the other scorer and didn’t disappoint. He had 13 points in the first half along with three assists.

Kelly Olynyk

For the second time in as many games, Olynyk was assertive both on the perimeter and around the basket. And the results by and large, were positive. At the half, he had nine points off the bench to go with five rebounds and three assists.

Jaylen Brown

He provided a major lift at the end of the first quarter, which is when he scored five of his seven first-half points.

Marvin Williams

He gave Boston problems both inside the paint as well as on the perimeter as he tallied 12 points which included a pair of 3-pointers.

 

DUDS

Cody Zeller

His job is to roll to the rim, defend and rebound. He seemed to struggle in all three phases in the first half. He had three points and three rebounds, but when he was on the floor the Hornets had a plus/minus of -7.