Celtics drop preseason opener to Raptors, 97-89

Celtics drop preseason opener to Raptors, 97-89
October 7, 2013, 9:45 pm
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BOSTON — The Boston Celtics played a scrappy, hustling brand of basketball that on most nights will be good enough to be competitive, as was the case on Monday night against Toronto.

But being scrappy and successful are not synonymous, a point driven home by the Raptors handing the Celtics a 97-89 preseason loss despite Boston's best efforts.

Yes, this is a new team with a new coach.

But Monday's loss exposed an Achilles heel - rebounding - that has hurt the Celtics in recent years.

Toronto spent most of the game getting easy shot after easy shot which allowed them to shoot an impressive 52.1 percent from the field.

But even more disturbing for the Celtics was how the Raptors dominated the boards, 46-26 which led to the Raptors outscoring the Celtics 22-11 in second-chance points.

Last season, Boston grabbed 39.3 rebounds per game which ranked next-to-last in the NBA.

Even more telling about the Celtics' rebounding woes was their minus-4.3 rebounding differential which was dead-last in the league last season.

As badly as the Celtics were getting manhandled on the boards, they would not go away quietly.

After trailing by as many as nine points in the third quarter, they rallied to tie the game at 73 on a Gerald Wallace jumper with about 10 seconds remaining.

The comeback was short-lived as the C's allowed Terrence Ross a lightly contested baseline jumper with 1.5 seconds to play that gave Toronto a 75-73 lead.

Boston had its share of runs in the fourth, but the Raptors countered each Celtics spurt with one of their own and ultimately put the game away.

A victory would have certainly been a great way for Stevens to kick off his coaching career with the Celtics, especially with Monday being his wife Tracy's birthday.

But more important at this point for him is to figure out which combinations work best for the Celtics as they continue to gear up for the regular season.

Monday's loss didn't exactly add any clarity to the situation as the Celtics starters and backups each played well in spurts.

In the first quarter, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 12 points only to rally behind the play of the bench trio of Gerald Wallace, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.

Wallace finished with a team-high 16 points. Sullinger had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists while Olynyk had four points and a team-high five assists.

It was that trio that Stevens singled out prior to the game as a combination that had been working really well together in practice.

"Those guys have been terrific," said Celtics forward Jeff Green. "The challenge of playing against Gerald (Wallace) has made me a better player; to me one of the top defensive players in the league. Sully has been working hard to get back. And Kelly for a rookie, he's very talented, very mature for a rookie. They've been looking good together."

Still, the Raptors have their own talented threesome headlined by Rudy Gay who had 13 points at the half on 5-for-8 shooting. He finished with a game-high 17 points.

"I just want to win," Gay told CSNNE.com. "That's what this season is about for me; winning. It's the next level for me, honestly."

In addition to Gay, Toronto also got solid performances from Jonas Valanciunas (10 points, 10 rebounds) and point guard Kyle Lowry (seven points, five rebounds, five assists) who told CSNNE.com that he was looking forward to matching up with C's point guard Avery Bradley.

"Bradley is such a good defender, you have to be on top of your game when he's guarding you," Lowry said. "He's a good player for them."

The Celtics have a number of solid NBA players on their roster. But whether they can eventually become a good team remains to be seen.