Before tipoff Friday night, the Celtics announced a handful of special guests that were in town for the home opener to the NBA’s 75th season. Brian Scalabrine and Cedric Maxwell, members of the TV and radio broadcast team, were obviously at TD Garden. Leon Powe works as a Community Ambassador and was in attendance, too. Eight-time champ Satch Sanders blessed the parquet with his presence. Danny Ainge and Paul Pierce, fresh off of his Hall of Fame induction this summer and election on to the 75th Anniversary Team, were also in the house.
All six former players raised a banner in Boston and know all about the sacrifice and hard work it took to do it, wisdom that they’d certainly love to impart to the current team after getting throttled by the visiting Raptors 115-83, because after the Celtics faithful showered their legends with praise and applause, an echo of boos filled The Garden shortly after.
The first half was promising. Boston’s “switch everything” defense held Toronto to 35% shooting. Al Horford returned after a 10-day quarantine and looked fresh and bouncy with three blocks. Jayson Tatum scored 16 points after two quarters after a dismal showing in New York two night before. And yet, the Celtics trailed by four at halftime.
After cutting the deficit to 2 five minutes into the third quarter, the wheels came off. In totality, the game was marred by poor effort and mental errors. Toronto grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, good for 23 second chance points, and generated 25 Boston turnovers for 27 points. The Raptors went to the free throw line nearly twice as many times and had 18 more field goal attempts the Celtics, dooming them to an 0-2 record.
“It is an effort thing. We stressed it. (The Raptors) had nineteen (offensive rebounds) in their first game. That’s who Toronto is. They play hard, so we really stressed that if we don’t bring the intensity against these guys, it could get ugly,” Udoka said of the Raptors’ relentless size and motor that wore down his team into submission.
To be fair, the Celtics were coming off a double-overtime loss in New York on Wednesday where four starters played nearly 45 minutes against a physical Knicks team. Both Jaylen Brown and Horford were coming off of COVID quarantines and Boston didn’t benefit having them consistently at training camp heading into the regular season.
“Honestly, it looked like we could have been tired after the double-overtime game (against the Knicks), but no excuses,” Udoka said. “You gotta play through it. We got a good day of rest yesterday. To be honest, New York went and beat Orlando, so it’s no excuse on our part.”
“We were right there. ‘We’re going to break through offensively,’ but we just never did and I think that started to affect our defense,” Horford said of his team’s lack of response in the third quarter.
Big picture, it is just one game and Udoka stressed that the team had previously played hard throughout the preseason and in New York. The loss to Toronto is just an early dud of an 82-game season. On the other hand, the Celtics recognize their accountable for last night’s lack of intensity if it wasn’t painfully obvious from the reaction of their hometown fans.
“They know it’s a passionate crowd. You take that, embrace it, and use it as fuel. We deserved it by the way we played,” Udoka acknowledged. “I think our guys all know that and that’s what we appreciate about the fan base. They’re going to be honest about our effort.”
“Obviously, first game at home, we didn’t want it to be like that,” Tatum said. “I think we were too relaxed. We didn’t play hard enough. They just lost on their home court. We should have expected much more of a punch from them. That’s on myself. That’s on everybody.”
The Celtics depart today on a two-game, back-to-back set in Houston and Charlotte before a home-and-home series with Washington. It’s the start of a challenging stretch where the plays on the road in ten of their first fifteen games, but after last night’s debacle at TD Garden, hitting the road might be just what they need.
“That’s as ugly as it’s going to get. One thing I can’t stand as a coach is to get punked out there and I thought they basically came out and punked us, outplayed us, played harder than us,” Udoka said. “You don’t want to overreact and panic. We’ll stay together and keep our head up, but we’ll use these boos as motivation.”
On to Houston.