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).

WATCH: Celtics vs. Pistons

WATCH: Celtics vs. Pistons

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics play the Raptors in Toronto. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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- Talk about the game via social media on CSN's Pulse, presented by Ford

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- On Friday night, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan absolutely torched the Boston Celtics. The game before that, it was Chicago’s Jimmy Butler giving the Celtics major fits with a barrage of baskets. 

Both were All-Star starters this year, the kind of lofty status that helps explain how the Celtics were so defensively-challenged in their efforts in limiting them.

Detroit doesn’t have a bona fide high-scoring perimeter star like those other teams, but don’t think for a minute that tonight’s game will be a breeze for the Celtics. Boston (37-21) comes in having lost two in a row to Chicago and Toronto, respectively. The Raptors loss was especially painful because it assured the Raptors would get the higher seed in the playoffs if these two teams finished with an identical record. 

Boston hopes to secure an edge over the Pistons tonight with a victory that will give them the season series, three games to one. While it may seem a bit early to get too caught up in tie-breakers and their importance, the last thing Boston wants is to finish the regular season tied with one or more teams, and wind up with the lower seed because they lost the head-to-head series. 

“You hear people say every game counts; it’s true,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We need to win as many games as we can because you never know which game could be the difference between having home court or not.”

If Boston continues to find ways to win and finish with a tie-free, top-four finish in the East, they will begin the playoffs at the TD Garden for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Meanwhile the Pistons are currently eighth in the East and, like the Celtics, they too opted to stand pat at the trade deadline. And like Boston, they are looking for growth from within as they try to make their way up the Eastern Conference standings. 

“We’re not real happy with how we’ve played up to this point overall,” said Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations and head coach. “But we still have a young group. As much as you would like the progress to be steadily uphill, it’s not always. That doesn’t mean you lose faith in your guys. At the end of the day, we ended up standing pat, which is pretty much what we expected to do.”

One of Boston’s biggest concerns coming into the game will be rebounding. It was among the many factors contributing to Boston’s loss on Friday. But as much as execution at both ends of the floor will be a factor, effort will be just as vital if not more, to the success of the Celtics in the playoffs. There were plenty of reasons as to why Boston lost on Friday night, with effort being near the top of the list. 

“They played harder than us,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. 

And that was surprising when you consider what was at stake – a chance to push their lead over Toronto to five games with a couple dozen to go.

Rookie forward Jaylen Brown has heard all the reasons and explanations as to why the Celtics have hit a mini-hiccup following back-to-back losses. And he has also heard how Boston blew a golden opportunity to beat Toronto with Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry still out. 

“We didn’t have one of our key guys, either,” said Brown, referring to Avery Bradley still being out with a foot injury. So it’s basketball at the end of the day. It doesn’t’ matter who is on the floor. You have to do your job; we just have to do our job.”