Previewreview: Raptors 86, Celtics 74

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Previewreview: Raptors 86, Celtics 74

TORONTO "Awful. We were awful."

Yes, those were the words of Doc Rivers.

But after the Celtics' last two performances, you would be hard-pressed to know which game he was speaking about.

Many of the problems that plagued Boston against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night were once again major issues for the C's on Friday. And the result was a second straight loss, this time to the lowly Toronto Raptors, 86-74.

Poor execution, untimely turnovers and a slew of late-reacting rotations all weighed in on the loss.

But as we identified prior to the game, there were other factors came into play.

Here's a look at how those issues played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics' ball movement has actually been pretty good all season. More than 65 percent of their made baskets come via an assist, which is tops in the NBA. In the loss to the Lakers, 22 of their 38 made baskets, or 57.9 percent, came by way of an assist. When you talk about ball movement and assists with the Celtics, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce are the keys. Injuries have limited them to playing in just 14 games together this season, with Boston going 8-6 with them both in the lineup. In those eight wins, they combine to average 16.9 assists. In the six losses, that number drops to 12.3.
WHAT WE SAW: Ball movement and overall execution on Friday were about as bad as we've seen with this core group. The entire team had a hand in the problems, obviously. But Pierce and Rondo are the two main cogs who can make the C's passing game hum along smoothly, or come to screeching halt. The latter was in effect on Friday, as they combined for just 12 assists - their combined assists average in the seven games both have played in that resulted in a Celtics loss.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. DeMar DeRozan: The two best scorers for their respective teams, this is a matchup Pierce should win all day. But the thing about DeRozan is he, like a lot of young players, plays better at home. On the road, he averages 14 points per game. At home, that number jumps to 16.2. The biggest factor? He shoots the ball better. On the road, he connects on 36.5 percent of his shots. At home, he shoots 43 percent.
WHAT WE SAW: Toronto went with a bigger lineup because of injuries, so this matchup never materialized as expected. Still, DeRozan came out overly aggressive offensively, which worked out well for him and the Raptors. He led all scorers with 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting. As for Pierce, he had an atypical performance in finishing with 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: We all know Kevin Garnett shot the ball poorly Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, and research afterward showed that it was historically bad by KG standards. In going 6-for-23 from the field, KG missed his last nine shots - the first time he missed that many consecutive shots as a member of the Boston Celtics. In addition, it was only the second time in his NBA career (at Cleveland, Jan. 29, 2002, then with Minnesota) that he missed his final nine shots of a game. Look for the C's to try and establish him down on the post early, just to get him into a better rhythm shooting the ball.
WHAT WE SAW: It's a shame that Garnett's really strong game offensively (17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, along with eight rebounds) goes to waste. While the numbers were certainly good to see, Garnett - like most of the Celtics - had far too few moments in which their shots or defensive stops, could propel the team to victory.

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics have been one of the NBA's worst teams at getting to the free-throw line, which is another indictment of how they have a team that relies heavily - arguably, too heavily - on jump shots. Boston averages 19.6 free-throw attempts per game, which ranks 27th in the NBA. They don't necessarily have to get more attempts than that to beat Toronto, but another five free-throw-attempt night, like the one we saw against the Lakers, will make for yet another game in which the Celtics made harder than it needed to be.
WHAT WE SAW: Free-throw shooting wasn't nearly as big an issue on Friday as it was in the loss to the Lakers on Thursday night. Boston was 13-for-18 from the line, which isn't too far off what it usually averages in terms of free-throw attempts (19.6) or free throws made (15.1).

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan didn't get a chance to answer one question in his postgame interview before being interrupted by Kyle Lowry, Jared Sullinger, and LeGarrette Blount.

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

BOSTON – The trip to the TD Garden is one that Jared Sullinger has made many times but never like this. 

The former Celtic was back in town with his new team, the Toronto Raptors who signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal after the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer to him and thus made him an unrestricted free agent. 

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“I had a feeling it was going to go that way once they signed big Al (Horford), that they were going to let me go,” Sullinger said prior to Friday’s game.  “We were prepared for it. It is what it is. I’m happy these guys are doing well.”

And he hopes to say the same for himself sometime in the future after undergoing surgery to have a screw inserted in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot – the same foot he had season-ending surgery on during the 2014-2015 season with the Celtics. 

There’s no specific timetable as to when he’ll be back on the floor, and Sullinger is cool with that plan. 

“I don’t know. They’re hiding the protocol from me so I won’t rush; we’ll see,” said Sullinger who is still in a walking boot. 

The 6-foot-9 forward played well in the preseason and solidified himself as the team’s starting power forward. 

Now that he’s out with another injury, he’ll have to once again try and prove himself either later this season when he returns, or this summer when he becomes a free agent again.

For now, Sullinger is happy to be back in town, seeing lots of familiar faces, friends and ex-teammates that he says he still keeps in close contact with. 

“Some of these guys I considered like brothers to me,” Sullinger said. “IT (Isaiah Thomas), Jae Crowder to name a few. So I watch from a distance, I support from a distance. They’re playing well.”

In addition to his former teammates, the lines of communication remained open between him and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens as well. 

Stevens said the two exchanged text messages right before he had foot surgery, and afterwards. 

“Obviously, everyone here wishes a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back on the court soon,” Stevens said. 

Sullinger has been an effective player during his time in the NBA, with career averages of 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. 

But this will be the third time in his five NBA seasons that he will miss a significant amount of time on the court due to an injury or recovering from an injury. 

Stevens acknowledged that he feels for Sullinger who once again has to go through rehabilitation in order to get back on the floor.

“I like Jared a lot,” Stevens said. “He’s a heck of a player, he’s a really smart guy. Got a lot of respect for him and it stinks that he’s got to go through that but he’ll come back strong I’m sure.”