Celtics-Raptors preview: C's face true test in Toronto

Celtics-Raptors preview: C's face true test in Toronto

As you glance across the NBA landscape, for those of us who deal with teams outside of Cleveland and the Bay Area, there’s usually an opponent on the schedule that’s going to cause problems regardless of how well or woeful a team might be playing is at that point in time.

For the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors (24-13) would indeed qualify as a team that has had their number in recent years.

Including last month’s 101-94 Toronto win, the Celtics are just 4-9 against the Raptors under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

And three of the four wins were by five points or less.

Stevens knows that throughout all levels of basketball, there are some matchups that pose a stiffer challenge than others regardless of where the respective teams are at that point in their growth.

“The end of the day, people struggle with them because they’re really good,” he said.

And the key to Toronto’s surge towards being an elite team, has been the backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Both are having impressive seasons for the Raptors, and should both be selected as all-stars.

“Lowry and DeRozan are outstanding players,” Stevens said. “Lowry has continued to make huge, game-changing plays deep in the game over and over and over. DeRozan is having a career year and that’s saying something because he was an all-star prior to this. You add on top of that the ability to go small with (Corey) Joseph and (Terrence) Ross, the way (DeMarre) Carroll is shooting the ball, bringing (Patrick) Patterson back, who I think is a huge key to their team. It’s a good team.”

And the same can be said for the Celtics (23-14) who come in having won four in a row and 10 of their last 12 games.

However, as a team with deep playoff-run expectations, Boston still has no true feel for what it will need to get over the hump and be among the last teams standing.

And games like tonight’s against the Raptors will go far in Boston’s quest to figure out where they fall in line with the handful of teams that are expected to be among the better clubs in the NBA this season.

We’ve seen the Celtics take a relatively low-key approach to games like this, trying their best not to give the game too much credence in comparison to others.

But tonight is different.

This is there first real shot since their core guys have been healthy, to play a Raptors team that will be in the mix as a power in the East.

“It’s important. We’re growing as a group,” Boston’s Al Horford told CSNNE.com. “We have a good chance to really go up there and see how much we’ve come along since the last time we played them.”

The Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season right now in terms of wins and losses, although the defense has a few areas in need of shoring up beginning tonight.

Meanwhile, the Raptors have hit a rough patch in their schedule that has resulted in them losing five of their last seven games.

While they may be traveling in opposite directions currently, these two teams seem destined to meet up not only in two more regular season meetings but also in the postseason.

Establishing any kind of potential edge from a mental standpoint, can be huge for the Celtics which is why tonight’s game is one that they take very serious.

“It’s a big one,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “We’re right where we want to be. We had a good last week; We look to have a good week this week, especially against Toronto.”

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

BOSTON – There are many factors you can point to in the regular season as indicators of what may happen when two NBA  teams meet in the playoffs.

You don't have to be inside the Chicago Bulls' locker room to know that when it comes to the Celtics, they were fully prepared to face a team that took a lot of 3's but wasn’t necessarily shooting them at a high percentage. 
 
That reality has certainly come into focus in Boston’s first-round series against the Chicago, one the C’s lead 3-2 as they continue to try and 3-point shoot their way on to the next round – without giving a damn how many long-range shots it takes to get the job done. 

In five playoff games, Boston is shooting 45.3 percent from the field, which puts them in the middle of the pack (eighth overall) among the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason.
 
But when it comes to the long ball, they are on the back-nine of playoff teams, ranking 10th while shooting 32.4 percent from 3-point range while leading all postseason clubs with 38.7 3-point attempts per game.

In the regular season, the Celtics ranked 16th in field-goal percentage (.454) and 14th in 3-point shooting (35.9 percent) while attempting 33.4 3's per game, which trailed only Houston (40.3) and Cleveland (33.9) this season.  

Boston's shooting from the field mirrors what it did in the regular season, but they know all too well that their shooting percentage in this series should be much higher due to the high number of open shots they have missed. 
 
Take a look at Game 5.
 
In the 108-97 win, the Celtics shot an impressive 53.1 percent when their shots were contested.
 
But let the Bulls have a defensive breakdown like a failed switch, or a guy gets beat for what turns into a great opportunity for Boston to score with no resistance, and instead of burying the open shot, the Celtics have  consistently blown those opportunities. That’s evident by the C’s connecting on just 30.8 percent (12-for-39) of their uncontested field-goal attempts in Game 5.
 
Even the usually reliable Isaiah Thomas had issues making uncontested shots in Game 5 and this series as a whole.
 
He had 24 points and shared game-high scoring honors with Avery Bradley on Wednesday night, but Thomas probably should have led everyone outright in scoring when you consider he had five open shots and wound up missing four of them.
 
That’s why when it comes to Boston’s offense, the last thing Thomas or any of his teammates complains about is getting the shots they want.
 
“I’ve been getting good open looks,” he said. “My teammates have been getting me open. We just got to knock down the shots. Coach [Stevens] keeps saying one day soon we’re going to knock down the open shots that we are missing and it might be [Game 6].”
 

 

Even the Bulls’ star agrees, the Bradley-Butler matchup goes Celtics’ way

Even the Bulls’ star agrees, the Bradley-Butler matchup goes Celtics’ way

CHICAGO – Jimmy Butler was outplayed by Avery Bradley.
 
It’s a bold statement, one co-authored by both Bradley and Butler after the Celtics’ 108-97 Game 5 win over the Chicago Bulls.
 
Only time will tell if we’ll see another chapter added to what was one of the more surprising narratives to develop in this series.
 
“I didn’t win the matchup,” Butler, visibly dejected, said after the Bulls’ loss.
 
Bradley confirmed his individual victory when asked about it after the game, and then added, “I’m trying to make it hard on him. Butler is a very good player and my job for our team is to go out there and defend, try not to foul, and make [Butler] work for every shot and make him work on both ends of the floor. That’s what I tried to do [in Game 5].”
 
The 6-foot-2 Bradley will have a similar game plan on Friday as the Celtics try and close out the series with a win and move on to Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012.
 
While Butler isn’t one to make excuses in good or bad times, there was a report in CSNChicago.com that raised the possibility that Butler might be dealing with some kind of knee injury.

http://www.csnchicago.com/chicago-bulls/bulls-could-knee-injury-have-slowed-jimmy-butler-fourth-quarter-against-celtics
 
In Game 5, Butler had 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting while taking just two shots from the field in the decisive fourth quarter after drilling a last-second 3-pointer that put the Bulls ahead 81-79 going into the fourth.
 
“"I'm good,” Butler told reporters after the loss. “Everyone's a little nicked up; I'll be all right."
 
Healthy or not, there was no getting around the job Bradley did against Butler at both ends of the floor.
 
In addition to doing a better-than-average job defensively, Bradley also had a career playoff-high 24 points on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting.
 
The job that Bradley did in Game 5 speaks to why Stevens has reiterated time and time again just how valuable he has been to the Celtics’ success in recent years.
 
“Avery’s really important to our team; we’ve said that all year,” Stevens said. “He’s played great the last couple of games and I think that Jimmy Butler’s a hard guy to guard, Dwyane Wade’s hard to guard – you’re not going to stop those guys but you just try to make it as hard as possible, and I thought all our guys did a pretty good job when they switched on to Butler [in Game 5]. But certainly Avery is the guy that starts the game on him, and has played a lot of minutes on him, and has done a really good job.”
 
Butler took 15 shots from the field, 12 of which were contested (most by Bradley) with only four of those makes.
 
Meanwhile, 13 of Bradley’s 19 field goal attempts in Game 5 were contested. But that didn’t stop him from knocking down eight of them, which was more made contested shots than any other player in Game 5.
 
But in the end it was Bradley’s defense that ultimately led to him winning the head-to-head battle with Butler and even more important, the game.
 
The importance of Bradley in matching up with Butler can be seen in a number of statistical areas, none of which is more telling than the minutes played by both players.
 
Butler logged a team-high 39 minutes, 17 seconds, while Bradley was on the floor for 39 minutes, 44 seconds.
 
Stevens acknowledged part of Boston’s game plan was to try and keep Bradley on the floor with Butler as much as possible, but still be flexible enough to switch when needed.
 
“As long as Wade and Butler were on the floor, yes, I felt that way,” Stevens said. “But I trust our other guys to guard [Butler].”
 
And they trust Bradley, a first team All-NBA defender last season who has shown himself to be up to the challenge of not just holding his own against Butler but also displaying the ability to outplay him on any given night – like Game 5.