Yes, they had enough turnovers to kill any chance of getting back to .500, but when this game hung in the balance, they couldn't get stops. Dwane Casey decided to attack Boston's glaring weakness in paint protection and turn one of the Celtics' strength--ball pressure--against them.
It's an old story that's repeated itself since Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green: the Celtics need a rim protector. After last night, it's hard to argue about our bigs' production. Sullinger and Olynyk were very efficient on offense and were a big reason why Boston outrebounded Toronto 55 to 24. However, they're a weak threat at the rim and against a team that spreads you out and attacks the paint with guys like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Terrence Ross, they're virtually ineffective. If this were hockey or football, maybe it wouldn't matter. You could line change in the middle of a possession or rely on your defense to get a stop, but this is basketball and you need to play both ways.
And as good as the trio of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart have been on the offensive and defensive end, sometimes their aggression can hurt them. Brad Stevens has talked about minimizing their collective time on the floor because you can't press for 48 minutes straight and from what we learned last night, it may not be that reliable a strategy anyway.
After KO hit a three to draw Boston to within one possession at the 2:57 mark, Toronto simplified the game.. In the preseason, a mini-rivalry budded between Lowry and Smart and last night, the 8-year vet schooled the rook. It's the third game that the two have gone head-to-head and Lowry had gotten the best out of their exhibition match-ups. Smart picked up Lowry just after crossing the half court line and Lowry used Smart's aggression against him.
Dustin mentioned it in the recap last night: the high pick and roll killed the Celtics. Here, there isn't even a pick set, but my guess is Smart expected one. He's playing Lowry to go left so hard that Lowry promptly just goes left anyway and hits the lay up between Olynyk and Sullinger. It's rare to see Marcus get burned so easily off the dribble like that, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that a help defender (possibly Olynyk) was supposed to step up sooner, but still, there's no reason to be guarding KL so closely so far away from the rim.
On the next play, they run a dribble hand off to a double pick for DeRozan to penetrate and find Patterson in the corner for an open three. Sullinger doesn't hedge hard enough and DeRozan easily gets around him and dishes the ball. If there's a shot blocker in the game, maybe Sully doesn't have to go out as far and leave Kelly virtually guarding the driver and his own cover.
Here, Sully successfully ices the pick and Lowry has to pass out of the trap to Chuck Hayes. With Sullinger now effectively out of the play, it's 3-on-2 on the strong side again but fortunately, Patterson misses that corner ball this time.
Another high pick and roll here with Lowry and expert illegal pick setter Tyler Hansbrough. Sullinger puts up a decent contest, Green's in decent position for the kick out, and Lowry misses the shot, but it's a good look for Toronto. It's another example of how the Raptors are able to use Boston's aggressiveness and lack of length and quickness in the paint against them. With the pick set between half court and three point line, there's no reason to go over Hansbrough's pick but Smart does it anyway. Lowry isn't going to shoot a 30-footer. Boston has invited dribble drives with their bigs backpedaling to cover penetration, but with quick guards like Lowry getting a full head of steam and Smart trailing behind him, it's a tough cover for Sully. He's neither fleet of foot or long enough to make up that ground.
Stevens subs Avery in for Smart for the Raptors' final possession, but Lowry's still able to hit the dagger. It's the fifth time in succession that Toronto runs high pick and roll and Sullinger and Bradley successfully keep Lowry out of the paint. Avery goes underneath the pick this time and Jared keeps himself in front of Lowry, but Lowry hits a difficult fade away anyway. It's just the way last night's game went; when Boston finally played perfect D, Toronto hits a tough, inefficient mid-range shot.
The Celtics will see this kind of tactic a lot this year. Lowry might be the best of the bowling ball point guards that can bully even the best defenders, but expect the conference's elite like Derek Rose, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall to put similar pressure on Boston's defense. Flannery talks about how Boston has turned games into "controlled chaos," but last night, Lowry and the Raptors were methodical in gutting of the C's.