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.

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics hoping to sign Horford, bring him to Durant meeting

Report: Celtics hoping to sign Horford, bring him to Durant meeting

The Celtics met with Al Horford Friday and it appears they’re trying to get him to sign before their meeting on Saturday with Kevin Durant.

Multiple outlets have already suggested that theory, but Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy tweeted late Friday that’s actually what the Celtics are attempting to do. It's similar to what the Suns tried last summer by signing Tyson Chandler and then bringing him to their meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge. They almost did have Aldridge signed, but he changed his mind over the 48 hours between his meeting and his decision.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, it sounds like Horford wants to take the weekend before deciding, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

If the Celtics are able to get Horford agree to a max contract Friday, it’d likely be a huge boost to their chances of signing Durant. But they might have to wait a bit.

OFFSEASON

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are poised to do the seemingly unthinkable: acquire an elite free agent in their prime. 

The Celtics are meeting with four-time all-star Al Horford tonight and as one league executive told CSNNE.com, Boston has emerged as a front-runner for his services after the Atlanta Hawks came to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard. 

And the Celtics will come armed with a four-year, $113 million max-salary offer for the 30-year-old Horford as well.   

In addition to the Celtics, Horford is also reportedly considering signing with the Houston Rockets.

Acquiring Horford would bolster the Celtics’ franchise on multiple levels. For starters, he would provide an upgrade roster-wise to a team whose progress has leveled out the last couple of seasons with first-round playoff exits.

Adding Horford greatly enhances the Celtics’ chances at making a playoff run that extends beyond just the first round. Adding Horford also provides the first real tangible sign that the days of Boston being perceived as no man’s land when it comes to free agents are in the past.

In addition, Horford’s leadership on the floor and inside the locker room can only strengthen a culture that’s deeply rooted in accountability.

But as the Celtics approach their recruitment of Horford with cautious optimism, they know all too well that they can’t afford to take anything involved in wooing him for granted.

While the Rockets may appear to be a team that Boston doesn’t have to worry too much about when it comes to Horford, there is one wild card franchise out there: Oklahoma City.

They’re the odds-on favorite to re-sign Kevin Durant, and adding a player like Horford to the roster could only strengthen their chances of keeping him long-term.

Oklahoma City has explored possible trade opportunities centered around Enes Kanter, which could go far in freeing up space to pursue Horford.

And as one of the six teams that Durant will meet with this weekend, the Celtics are well aware of the minefield that awaits them in trying to secure Horford as well as their top target, Durant.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the top two free agents out there (Durant and Horford), speaks volumes as to how far this franchise has come from a perception standpoint in the eyes of the league’s best players.

Both Horford and Durant have talked in glowing terms about the Celtics franchise, head coach Brad Stevens and the players.

And the Celtics have made no secret about wanting both to eventually become Celtics, something that now stands as a legit possibility with Boston well in the mix for both players.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

The Bruins made a number of signings official on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday along with the big prize in hard-hitting, productive center David Backes.

Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million per season to return as a goaltending tandem with Tuukka Rask as they were back in a highly successful 2012-13 NHL season.

Hustling, grinding fourth line forward Riley Nash was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bruins as well, and had nine goals and 22 points in 64 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season in an energy forward role. In his five-year NHL career, Nash has played in 242 games, amassing 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points with 69 penalty minutes, including a career-high 10 goals a couple of years ago with the Hurricanes.

The 36-year-old John-Michael Liles signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins after arriving from Carolina at the NHL trade deadline last spring. Liles appeared in 17 games and notched six assists along with a minus-6 rating for the Bruins in 2015-16 after being acquired for Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 29, 2016. Prior to joining up with Boston, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles played in all 64 games for Carolina, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points with 16 penalty minutes.

“We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop.

“He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity.”

Tommy Cross, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller all signed one-year, two-way deals with the Bruins for an NHL value of $600,000, but are all expected to play the bulk of the season at the AHL level barring anything unexpected. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs