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The Read & React: Celtics crumble (again) vs. Raptors

P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka could have been Celtics. Instead, they’re Raptors and they keyed a comeback to give Toronto a 3-1 in the regular season series.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics paid the price for doing nothing (Bobby Manning): When I learned that Indiana wanted the whole boat for Paul George and the Bulls weren't interested in moving Butler all that much, I excused Danny Ainge for not unboxing the fireworks now. My fury didn't falter for the C's not making some move to improve. Especially as chief rival in the Atlanta, the Raptors, made two crucial moves to patch up their defensive issues in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker; two players the C's inquired on. The Celts watched as their competition got better and did nothing about it, so of course they play that team one day later the Toronto beat their faces in. They swarmed Isaiah Thomas, guarding him as well as any team has. Ibaka set an intense tone from the jump with his intense rim protection, when the crowd lit up after he stuffed Thomas early and he raised his arms it was a legitimate moment and turning point for a Raptors team that has been stagnant. The fact that the Celtics blew another 16+ point lead to the Raptors was symbolic of how they sat around and folded to their competition on deadline day.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

This is an overreaction to one game, I'll admit it, but if it's not also a wakeup call I don't know what is. Danny Ainge said he believes in this team, it's time for him to show it with a move that patches the team's issues around the paint. The Celts trailed by just three, 97-94, when Tucker snuck in the paint and got an easy offensive board to shut the C's down for good. That's an embarrassment. With Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger (yes, I said it) and presumably Andrew Bogut available they still have time to make this right. It's fine that the Celts didn't want to mortgage the future for this team. But it'll be a disgrace if they punt on this season to their opponents in the east.

Counterpoint (Bill Sy): Bobby and I have been arguing about the trade deadline and what the Celtics should/did do all week on Twitter, interCelticsBlog e-mails, and now here in The Read & React. I get his frustration. Tucker and Ibaka were both players that were rumored targets for the Celtics and then to see them flourish in the first game back after the All Star break is tough, but there are a lot of points I disagree with him on.

First, on Tucker, the price would have been Jonas Jerebko (and the second rounders) to match salaries. The 6’6 Tucker has been advertised as the guy that’s going to defend LeBron in a playoff series. Let that sink in for a second. For the Celtics, that wasn’t something they needed. With Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown, they have their LeBron “stoppers.” Jerebko hasn’t been the same since he broke his nose and been force to play with a mask, but at 6’10, he’s still a versatile defensive big that can stretch the floor on offense. I love Tucker’s toughness, but this is a team not short of that despite the way they folded last night.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Second, in regards to Ainge “believing in this team” and looking for a buyout candidate, I just don’t know where guys like Sully and Jones are going to find minutes. It’s not like they can be subbed in situationally to grab a rebound. I’m pro-Bogut, but if he’s added to the roster, who gets cut? Gerald Green? Well, he’s shown that can light it up from time to time and could win us a playoff game down the road. James Young? The kid has actually shown us something since Avery Bradley’s Achilles strain.

If Ainge truly does “believe in this team,” maybe the move is to just let it ride and trust his players, Norman Dale-style.

Pick-and-roll defense (Bill Sy): In Boston’s now lone win against the Raptors over three weeks ago, Toronto killed them in the mid-range. They’re one of the best long-2 shooting teams in the league and on that night, they were 16-of-24 between the restricted area and the three point line. Amazingly, that was without Mr. Mid Range, DeMar DeRozan.

Last night, it seemed like Brad Stevens experimented a little with their defensive PnR coverage. Instead of ICEing picks and having bigs back up and invite the open 15-footer, the Celtics switched everything. That cut down on Toronto’s efficiency from the mid-range (17-for-35), but it gave them more looks at the rim (31 vs. 23 FGA’s) as wings attacked the slower footed bigs and bigs pounded away on smaller guards. And like that game in early February, the Raptors were missing one of their key players: Kyle Lowry. The bowling ball point guard would have had a field day driving downhill.

Boston has lived and died by daring teams to shoot fifteen footers. If the Celtics do eventually meet the Raptors (or the Wizards) in the playoffs, they’re going to have to figure out how they want to defend the pick-and-roll. For most of the season, they’ve ICE’d, but as Isaiah Thomas found out against a very aggressive Toronto defense last night, putting more pressure on the ball can discombobulate a guard-centric offense.

Jaylen’s jumper (Bill Sy): This is a small thing, but we need to talk about how much smoother Brown’s jumper has been since the start of the season. His shooting was one of the knocks on his game coming into the NBA, but the rookie has really put some work into it.

Now, his guide hand stays square and his motion is very consistent. He gets his legs underneath him and doesn’t float as much as he did at Cal. Maybe after 50+ games, he’s got more confidence, but fundamentally, he’s a lot better, too.

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