1. Let’s not overreact. It’s one loss. Yes, the Raptors are banged up and missing three key rotation players. But this is still the NBA. Every year, even the best team has a bad loss or two on their ledger. It happens. And most win streaks (the Celtics were on a five-game streak) end with a bad loss and/or blowout. This was just a bad night against a good, if depleted, team. That said, there were some good and bad things from the Boston side.
2. Let’s highlight the good plays before talking about the multitude of things that went wrong. First, Gordon Hayward is the Celtics best playmaker. This looks like a simple play, but instead of forcing the layup, Hayward drops it off to Daniel Theis for the easy jumper:
Later in the first half, he makes a similar play with Enes Kanter:
It was a rough night for Hayward shooting the ball, but his passing was, and almost always is, on point.
3. If these two teams meet again in the playoffs, keep an eye on whoever Fred VanVleet is guarding. Boston went to that player with regularity in the first half. Here, Hayward seals VanVleet with ease for the layup off a very nice, quick find from Theis:
Later in the first half and in the second half, when playing VanVleet with Kyle Lowry, Nick Nurse switched his coverages up. He put VanVleet on Kemba Walker and the more-stout Lowry guarded the bigger players. Walker got free a few times against VanVleet, so it will be interesting to see what Brad Stevens’ counter is next time these two meet.
4. Speaking of Stevens, he’s still got that ATO magic working. Boston loves to run these plays where they curl a wing into the lane off the screen from the big, with a shooter flaring out to the elbow. Here it’s Tatum catching on the move into the lane off the screen from Theis. If Patrick McCaw doesn’t drop off Jaylen Brown to take away Theis’ roll, it’s a layup. That opens Brown for the three-pointer:
It’s just a beautiful play design out of a timeout, which is something we’ve come to expect from the Celtics.
5. Enes Kanter talked about extending his range to help expand his game and make him a better fit in Boston’s offense. We’ve seen him make a few mid-range jumpers, and against Toronto he knocked down his first three-pointer. Serge Ibaka drops a mile off him and Kanter catches and shoots all in rhythm:
This is a good shot and something we’ll probably see a little more of as the season goes along.
6. He was a little off his game and tried to do too much, but it was really nice to see Marcus Smart back on the court doing his thing:
7. Alright, enough of the good stuff. Let’s talk about why Boston lost. First, Toronto dominated inside. Throughout the game, it was like a layup line for the Raptors. You can blame this on Boston’s bigs if you want, but the perimeter players weren’t keeping players in front of them very well either. Toronto scored 52 points in the paint, which is simply too many for a team without elite finishers or an elite inside presence.
The Raptors shot 52.4% for the game, largely as a result of so many layups. Making things worse, when the perimeter defense broke down, it caused the Celtics to scramble to try and help at the rim. That left Toronto open for a bunch of good looks at three-pointers, where they knocked down 14-of-34. And to top it all off, the help defense left the backside uncovered and the Raptors grabbed a whopping 15 offensive rebounds.
Think about that for a second: Toronto rebounded 15 of their 40 missed shots on the night. That led to a 23-5 advantage on second-chance points. Blame the Celtics big men if you want, but the perimeter defense caused the initial breakdowns.
Finally, a lot of this seemed like it was related to effort. The Celtics kicked the Raptors tails on national TV on Christmas Day in Toronto. The Raps were bound to come out with better energy and effort and boy did they. Toronto, who is a middle of the pack team in pace, was flying up and down the court. They pushed off makes, misses and everything in between. On defense, they committed a million fouls, but it was because the Raptors were aggressively challenging everything. It was a reminder that they’re still defending their title. It was some real “heart of a champion” stuff from Toronto that Boston simply didn’t match the intensity.
8. Brad Stevens went to his “Best 5” lineup with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum playing together. The results were a little mixed. This was in part due to this lineup not playing much together because of all the injuries to Smart and Hayward. The lack of cohesion showed up on this play where Smart and Tatum blew communication on the switch and VanVleet got a wide-open three:
9. No play was maybe more emblematic of the Celtics being off their game than this one. Boston is still fighting to stay in it and hustles for the offensive board. Then Smart throws a lob to…Enes Kanter? Grant Williams? Whoever gets there first? It results in a turnover and basically game-over for the Celtics.
10. Let’s end with the struggles of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. After the Cleveland game, these two got all the praise and it was well-deserved. In this game, neither of them really showed up. At least when it mattered. Brown got it going late and finished fairly strong, but Tatum was mostly invisible all night. It wasn’t even one of those nights for Tatum where his shot wasn’t falling. He just wasn’t really involved. He finished with only seven field goal attempts (he did get to the line eight times, which was nice to see!) and had twice as many turnovers as baskets (six to three).
It’s worth remembering that Tatum’s still a 21 year old kid and that young players have bouts of inconsistency. But it’s that consistency that is currently keeping Tatum from being a surefire All-Star. He’ll figure it out eventually, but until then, there’ll be nights like this mixed in.