The Celtics came up just short of beginning their preseason with a victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday night, falling to the Canadian-based squad by just eight points. While it would have been an added bonus to come away with the win, it was ultimately more important for Brad Stevens and this Celtics team to use their experience as a teaching tool.
Tonight, Stevens and Co. will be in Providence, Rhode Island for a meeting with the New York Knicks. Now, with just one day off between games one and two, there wasn't much time for film watching. However, you can bet the farm on the fact that Stevens made time to sit down and further dissect his group's inaugural performance.
For the sake of this article, I put myself in Stevens' shoes and found a few different key elements to Monday's exhibition game against the Raptors. There were a multitude of aspects, both good and bad, that I believe the Celtics need to either look to improve on or remain consistent in as far as this evening's game is concerned. Unfortunately, it will be tough to make any major changes on the fly so I wouldn't tell you to expect any drastic leaps forward, just minor improvements here and there.
Here are four areas that you should keep an eye on as the events unfold at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
The Raptors absolutely dominated the Celtics on the boards Monday night, out-rebounding them 46-26. To the casual fan that might seem like it was the result of a bad effort on the glass, but if you're a die-hard "green-teamer" this is nothing new to you.
According to NBA.com, the Celtics ranked 29th in team rebounding last year and it looks like they might be headed for another bottom two finish in that department. That doesn't necessarily have to be the case, though.
Believe it or not, there are a handful of capable glass-eaters on the current roster, including Kris Humphries, Jared Sullinger, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, and maybe even Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace. Given the youth and ability to get up and down the court this team has, there is no reason for the Celtics to continue to employ the Doc Rivers "just get back on defense" mentality. When a shot goes up, at least one of these guys has to be crashing the boards at all times.
The Celtics will surely have trouble keeping Tyson Chandler from grabbing double-digit rebounds tonight but look for the Cs to occasionally throw two bodies on him when a shot attempt is headed for the rim. Size is obviously a big element involved in successful rebounding but it also has a lot to do with who wants the basketball the most. Keep an eye on Sullinger. He may be just 6'9 but he never fails to put that wide base of his to use when he's in the paint. The rest of the team would be wise to follow his lead.
Who would've thought that the likes of Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford would be able to efficiently run an offense!? The two fill-in point guards combined for just three turnovers in about 54 minutes of play while Kyle Lowry turned the ball over three times on his own.
That's not to say that the tandem can be considered legitimate point guards at this juncture but it was certainly encouraging to see them hanging on to the ball.
Tonight could be a different story, though, as they'll be forced to run the show while being guarded by the likes of Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert. The Knicks back court is much more talented defensively than that of the Raptors so it will be interesting to see if Bradley and Crawford can once again be effective with the ball in their hands.
I'd also advise you to focus on Phil Pressey as well, assuming he gets some run that is. Pressey was a relatively efficient play maker during the Summer League but the level of competition he would see tonight is a whole different story.
Three Point Shooting
The Celtics manged to convert on a meager 29.2% of their three point attempts on Monday and that clip undoubtedly needs to improve.
Bradley, Crawford, and, surprisingly, Wallace knocked down two triples a piece, shooting a combined 6-11 from beyond the arc. The rest of the team? 1-13.
In a league where lay-ups and three pointers are at a premium, the Celtics need to be able to dial it in from long distance at a more consistent rate. Obviously one preseason game is a very, very small sample size but it's very hard to simulate the pressures of knocking down threes in practice. This is the time in which the guys still looking to find their stroke need to take the most advantage of.
Yes, I'm looking at you Courtney Lee and Jeff Green.
Expect the Celtics to put up at least 30 three point tries tonight. If they could achieve a conversion rate of about 35-36%, that would be a step in the right direction.
There were times during the Raptors game where the Celtics offense looked like a well-oiled machine. The ball was constantly moving from one guy to the next and everybody looked to make the extra pass in order to get their team the best shot possible.
There's a rarely used saying in basketball that I believe most franchises should give a little more consideration: "The ball moves faster than the defense."
It does. Defensively, it's both tiring and annoying when you have to chase the ball around the perimeter as the opponent's offense is swinging the rock in around-the-horn fashion. That's exactly what the Celtics did on Monday night and it resulted in 25 assists on 33 made field goals. That's an extremely impressive ratio and considering the fact that the Celtics only made 39.8% of their field goals (33-83), it's a number that can further improve with more consistent shooting.
Brad Stevens had his offense looking like the "hockey assist" driven Cleveland Cavaliers during the Lebron James era. If they can keep that up, they'll be realize a lot of success on the offensive end all while frustrating the heck out of opposing defenses.
Expect the same fluency in ball movement against the Knicks.