Celtics-Raptors review: What we saw

659404.jpg

Celtics-Raptors review: What we saw

TORONTO When you look at the numbers, limiting a team to just 34.7 percent shooting should be more than enough to get a win. But when you shoot just a shade better than that, and you get clobbered on the glass, well it shouldn't come as too big a shock then if you lose.

Boston is jump-shooting team that can defend at a high level, but the C's came up short on both ends in losing 84-79 to the Raptors.

Although the Celtics statistically played good defense, they failed to make the necessary plays when they mattered most.

"We pride ourselves on being able to get stops down the stretch," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "And they scored. We made silly plays after silly play; bad fouls. Left open shooters, made up our defense and made some switches where we should not have that's not characteristic of how we play defense."

Although Toronto shot less than 35 percent for the game, they were at nearly 50 percent (48.5 to be exact) from the field in the second half, and they shot almost 44 percent in the fourth quarter. When you tack on the Raptors making all 11 of their fourth-quarter free throws, it adds up to a disappointing loss for a team that has visions of positioning itself with as high a seed as possible for the playoffs.

"That has to be the mindset," said Paul Pierce, referring to the C's chances of improving their playoff position. "Regardless of who steps on the court, with the possibility of moving up to three, keeping the fourth seed, end of the year these are must-win games for us."

Boston's inability to make the clutch defensive stop certainly played a role in their upset loss to the Raptors. Here we'll review other factors that may have contributed to the loss which snapped the Celtics' four-game winning streak.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR For all that has gone wrong for the Raptors this year, they have been a decent team defensively. Teams are averaging 94.9 points per game against them, which ranks 14th in the NBA. More impressive is that they are not allowing teams to get off a ton of shots against them. Opponents average 77.8 field goal attempts against them this season, which ranks No. 3 in fewest field goals allowed. But the problem is that often teams don't need to make a lot of shots, because the few shots they are taking do in fact go in. Boston takes the fewest number of shots (77) per game in the NBA, but they rank fifth in field goal percentage (46 percent).

WHAT WE SAW: Toronto's defense was among the factors contributing to Boston's loss. The Raptors limited the Celtics to just 37.5 percent shooting - almost 10 percentage points below their season average - which heavily factored into the loss that snapped a four-game winning streak. "We had a lot of good shots," said Paul Pierce. "I don't know if it's fatigue, going through a rough schedule, it being the end of the week, it's crazy because we got three games in a row so there's no time to be fatigued."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Brandon Bass vs. Amir Johnson: One of the most under-rated parts of the Celtics' run of late has been the defense and rebounding of Brandon Bass. The mid-range jumper is going to be there all the time, but it has been his ability to hold his own on the boards and not allow guys to score at will on him, that's helping the Celtics finish out the regular season strong. Johnson will start in place of Andrea Bargnani (calf), but has been with the first group for 37 games this year. He's more of an energy guy who feeds off of put-back baskets and tip-ins. Because so much of his game is about effort and not execution per se, Bass has to limit Johnson's ability to make multiple effort plays.

WHAT WE SAW: Bass going 5-for-11 with 10 points was not that big an issue. It was the three rebounds he grabbed that, for the Celtics, was a problem. His lack of production on the boards was indicative of the entire Celtics team, which was out-rebounded by 13.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Mickael Pietrus looked good on Wednesday with eight points and six rebounds in just under 29 minutes - a lot more productive than most would have thought considering he hadn't played since March 23 due to a concussion. After showing no post-concussion symptoms, the C's and Pietrus are hoping to just continue building off of that game and develop a nice rhythm heading into the playoffs later this month.

WHAT WE SAW: Pietrus' did a decent job defensively, and the Celtics certainly benefited from his six rebounds. But on this night, they needed him to make shots. And Pietrus, much like the rest of his teammates, failed to do so. He had just three points while missing six of his seven shot attempts.

STAT TO TRACK: Prepare to see the Boston Celtics spend a lot of time at the free throw line tonight. Attacking the basket off the dribble is always a goal of the Celtics, well aware that it generates more free throw attempts which for a good free throw shooting team like the C's, creates easy opportunities to score. But they'll likely get an assist or two in their effort tonight against Toronto, which averages an NBA-high 23.4 personal fouls committed per game. Not surprisingly, that has led to a plethora of free throw attempts by opponents. According to NBA.comstats, the Raptors are allowing opponents to shoot an NBA-high 27 free throw attempts per game.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's lack of aggressiveness from the start eventually caught up to them. But even before the Raptors picked up their play, Boston's inability to attack resulted in a limited number of free throw attempts. The C's were just 15-of-19 from the free throw line, compared to Toronto which was 27-for-31.

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

BOSTON – Facing Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook with a fully healthy squad is tough. 
 
Doing so without your leading scorer makes the challenge all that much greater. 
 
That is where the Celtics find themselves heading into Sunday night’s game against the Thunder without Isaiah Thomas, who did not travel with the team when they left for Oklahoma City today. 
 
Boston’s leading scorer this season with 26 points per game, Thomas suffered a right groin injury against Houston on Dec. 5 and has missed the Celtics’ past two games because of it. 
 
He was hoping to convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to let him travel with the team, but Thomas acknowledged convincing Ainge was a long shot. 
 
“He’s not really in favor of me going,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to convince them to let me go. If I’m there, they know I’m going to try and play. I’m shooting for Wednesday [at San Antonio] for the most part. That’s more realistic than Sunday. Hopefully I can play on Wednesday.”
 
Boston has split the two games with Thomas out, beating the you-know-what out of Orlando 117-87 on the road, but dropping one at home 101-94 to Toronto on Friday night. 
 
As disappointed as Thomas is with not being able to play – it’s the first games he has missed since the 2014-2015 season – he understands the potential problems that could surface with an injury like this if he and the Celtics aren’t careful. 
 
“They keep wanting to be very patient with this,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to re-injure it. It is an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season. I don’t want that. On top of that, it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”
 
Among the other injuries Thomas was referring to, is a still-swollen finger on his left (shooting) hand. 
 
The injury was believed to have happened on Nov. 12 against Indiana. 
 
While it was painfully sore, it didn’t seem to be an issue in Boston’s next game against New Orleans when he scored a season-high 37 points. He followed that up with a 30-point performance in a 90-83 win over Dallas.
 

Heinen looking to show his offense in his shot on Krejci line

Heinen looking to show his offense in his shot on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins mixed things up with their roster a bit on Saturday after dropping a couple of games in a row to Washington and Colorado. 

Fourth-line energy winger Noel Acciari and playmaking forward Danton Heinen were called up from Providence and will be in the lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Saturday night. 
Acciari went to Providence the past couple of days to get some game action in after missing the past month with a lower body injury, but clearly showed he’s ready to go. 

So, Acciari is back to provide the same hard-hitting and energy he showed before he was hurt and Heinen is looking to show off a little more offense than in his first stint with the Black and Gold this season. He’ll be featured in a top role as left wing with David Krejci and David Backes and with marching orders to shoot the puck like he never shot it in his previous stint in Boston. 

For the Bruins, it’s about getting another look at a candidate to play left wing beside Krejci with both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller, with limitations to their respective games, unable to fully grasp that same opportunity. 

“My hope is that Heinen can come in and give us some good hockey. He’s a skill player and he’s been down there for a while, and he’s back up again because he’s been playing well,” said Claude Julien of the Bruins rookie, who had four goals and seven points in his past five games with Providence. “Hopefully he can play well here also. It’s about getting some confidence. When he went down to [the AHL] the pace of his game had to get a little bit better, and in the battles coming up with the puck along the walls. Those are the kinds of things we thought he could work on down in Providence.”

Heinen knows he needs to shoot the puck a bit more to show off his offense after a seven-game stint with the Bruins where he went scoreless, was a minus-2 and had just six shots on net.

“Being hard on the walls, playing fast and shooting the puck, those were all things I was working on [in Providence],” said Heinen, who has seven goals and 13 points in 13 games for the P-Bruins after being assigned to Providence. “I was doing what they told me to do [in Providence] and that’s shoot the puck. They were going in, and I was getting some good opportunities on the power play. It’s seriously tough to get chances [at the NHL level], so you can’t pass them up when you have chances. That was kind of my focus down there.”

Fellow fourth-line energy winger Anton Blidh has been shipped to Providence after three solid games with the Black and Gold. 

Julien said Blidh goes back to Providence having adequately shown that he can play in the NHL. He clearly showed the Bruins that he understands his role as a player that stirs things up a bit and gets his nose dirty on a regular basis.

“[Blidh] was fine. No issues there. He does his job. He plays with lots of energy and obviously he’s getting more experience. He’s a lot better at understanding his positioning within the game and what he has to do,” said Julien. “I thought he helped us out for the time that he was here.”

With Heinen and Acciari both in the lineup and Blidh back in Providence, that means Jimmy Hayes will be scratched after dressing for three of the past four games for Boston.