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Team ball buries Celtics in Toronto

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In two wins against the Raptors, Kyrie Irving saved the day. Last night in Toronto, the Celtics tried to share the wealth and got blown out.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the second quarter when the Raptors were in the midst of an 18-0 run that would eventually bury the Celtics, Jaylen Brown came down in transition and barreled into the paint for an offensive foul.

You can see an open Marcus Morris trailing and in Brown’s peripheral, a more wide open Marcus Smart in the corner. After Kyle Lowry draws the charge, Smart lights into Brown.

Ironically, up to that point and really, throughout the game, the Celtics had been sharing the ball well. You could even argue maybe too much. Here’s the shot distribution through the first and third quarters and each player’s final usage rate:

Celtics Field Goal Attempts and Usage Rate vs. Raptors

Player 1st 2nd 3rd USG%
Player 1st 2nd 3rd USG%
Irving 5 2 3 16.2
Smart 0 1 3 17
Tatum 5 0 5 21.1
Morris 3 4 8 29
Horford 3 2 5 17.9
Rozier 1 1 1 21.2
Brown 2 1 1 25.5
Hayward 3 2 1 18.9

It’s more or less a fairly egalitarian approach to the game. It seemed like everybody had a chance to initiate the offense and guys were trying to make plays for their teammates. Boston assisted on 24-of-33 made field goals which is way over their 62.6% AST% for the season.

But then again, the Celtics did get blown out by 23 with the lead as high as 31 points. Sharing is caring, but in a measuring stick game where Boston came up extremely short, last night wasn’t a night to be deferential.

After the blowout loss in Chicago on Saturday, Kyrie Irving expressed surprising confidence in the team. When asked why, he replied, “because I’m here.” It was a terse response after another disappointing game and you would have thought that Kyrie would have come out swinging in Toronto, but we didn’t see that version of Uncle Drew tonight.

In the Celtics previous two home game against the Raptors, Irving took 45 field goal attempts combined. Both wins were proof positive why the Celtics (and really any contender) need a superstar talent like Kyrie. When you need a bucket and the game slows down, you need a closer.

And yet last night, there wasn’t that aggression from Kyrie or really anybody on the Celtics, but maybe that’s the identity of crisis that Boston still hasn’t figured out. After the game, Smart again chided the team for not playing together and putting up a fight:

As talented as it is, is this a team that needs to funnel its shots and playmaking opportunities to its best players? Are they better served turning promising young talent into role players while established vets take the reigns heading into the playoffs?

A dialogue has started on Twitter--thankfully, there isn’t a pitchfork emoji--over Brad Stevens and his handling of this roster. Without question, it’s over-promised and under-delivered. In the preseason, the Celtics were touted as one of the most talented and deep teams in the league, but after Game 61, they still haven’t figured it out. There have been times when the big stars have come up in big games (i.e. Irving in both wins over the Raptors) and there have been other games when the Celtics have drowned teams with every crashing wave of their first, second, and sometimes third units.

Tuesday’s drubbing by Toronto when the team seemed to try and share the ball was a striking difference to how they’ve beat the Raptors in the past. Historically, Stevens has always coached his teams to be greater than the sum of their parts and he probably still believes that for the Celtics to actualize their ceiling, everybody, including the inconsistent Terry Rozier and the improving Gordon Hayward, needs to be given room to reach their potential rather than marginalized as a role player. That was put on full display last year when the Hospital Celtics were one game away from The Finals.

However, the year before, they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals fueled by an MVP-caliber season and one of the greatest offensive years ever from Isaiah Thomas. IT galvanized a roster of spare parts and misfit toys. With twenty-one games to go, it’s still unclear how this will all shake out.