1. No clips today. It’s a good bet that no one really wants to relive that game, even in small snippets. Well, minus possibly Ime Udoka when he shows the team everything that went wrong.
This was the kind of home opener you have nightmares about. The Celtics looked soft, disinterested and the Raptors took it out on them in a major way.
Yes, it’s only been two games. The first was a back-and-forth classic. But this second one, especially at home, brought back all the disappointing memories of last season. There are still 80 games to go to get right, but it’s fair for Boston fans to have some worries.
2. After coughing the ball up 19 times in the opener, we called out turnovers as something to keep an eye on before the game. Toronto was sloppy in their opener as well, but got things under control with just 11 giveaways. Boston…did not.
The Celtics threw the ball away 25 times. By count, at least 12 of those turnovers were unforced errors. In part, the turnovers led to the Raptors having a 22-9 advantage in fastbreak points. The giveaways, along with another major factor we’ll talk about next, were part of Toronto taking 18 more shots than Boston for the game.
3. The second item to watch for pregame was the big rotation. Al Horford made his return, and he started alongside Robert Williams. For the competitive portion of the game, Grant Williams was the third big. Enes Kanter only got into the game during garbage time.
Playing a three-big rotation is generally fine. A lot of teams only go with three bigs nowadays. However, the rough moments in the first two games have come when Grant Williams has been left on the floor as the lone big. Williams is a fine positional defender, but he’s not a rim protector and the rebounding is very weak when he’s out there by himself up front.
Overall, which probably speaks to the effort level as much as anything tactically, Boston’s rebounding was terrible. Toronto had a whopping 21 offensive boards. That’s an unacceptable number.
4. Al Horford’s play was a bright spot. He showed the same all-around abilities that brought him to Boston the first time around. Horford was also a lot spryer than expected, as evidenced by his four blocks.
5. One other bright spot was Jayson Tatum finding his jumper, following his brutal opening night. As Tatum himself said, he’s good for one terrible shooting game per season and he hoped he got it out of the way on Wednesday.
6. Now we resume our scheduled negative programming…Ime Udoka is learning how to be a head coach. As such, he deserves a fair adjustment period. That said, going to an all-bench unit was a really bad idea. Boston’s depth is better this year, but it’s not that much better. And that all-reserve group was anchored by Grant Williams on the backline. Udoka will eventually figure out his rotations, but that’s one to scrap moving forward.
7. One other valid complaint has to do with the Celtics offense. To be fair, there were a lot of complaints about the ISO-heavy looks Boston played with the past two seasons. Many clamored for more ball and player movement. That was something Udoka hit on himself when he poked fun at lack of assists under Brad Stevens.
It feels like things have gone a little far in the opposite direction though. It’s great to see Jayson Tatum getting the ball in different spots, including cross-cuts to the elbow or on the block. It’s good to see Jaylen Brown getting shots coming off screens. But part of what makes Tatum and Brown special is their ability to clear the floor and beat defenders 1-on-1. We’ve seen very little of that in the first two games.
It’s a delicate balance, to be sure. But it would be nice to see some offensive looks that play to the strengths of the best players. It doesn’t have to be the predominant part of the offense, but for stretches, especially when the team is struggling to find offense, it would be nice to see some Tatum/Brown focused sets return.
8. In the lead up to the season, Udoka stressed that the Celtics had to stop complaining to the officials so much. He said he made it clear to the team that they had to play through bad calls, and had developed a reputation around the league as complainers. In a preseason game, after Grant Williams barked at the referee and allowed Bam Adebayo to get an easy transition layup, Udoka pulled him out. The coach said postgame that those sorts of lapses wouldn’t stand for him.
True to his word, Udoka took a similar action with Jayson Tatum. After a drive where Tatum was clearly fouled, he went after the official as opposed to running back. The Raptors got an easy layup the other way. Udoka called timeout and immediately went to Tatum on the floor and appeared to give him a dressing-down. After the timeout, Tatum was on the bench. It was likely time for Tatum’s regular rest, but it was also clear Udoka wasn’t happy with the complaining.
9. Beyond all of the above, easily the most troubling part of this game was the Celtics lack of intensity. To a man, each player owned that the team started flat. They also each owned that the team never got going after halftime. For his part, Udoka removed any hangover from the double-overtime game as an excuse.
Udoka also used strong language by saying the Celtics got “punked” on their home floor. Udoka said, “I told the group that was as ugly as it could get. I told them one thing I can’t stand is to get punked. We got punked out there. They played harder than us.”
Quite regularly last season, a lack of effort was called out. The players and coaches generally recognized it and all promised to be better. That never really materialized. Now, we’re two games in and hearing the same promises. We can only hope they are upheld this time around.
10. Boston now travels to Houston to take on the Rockets on Sunday night. Houston is coming off a blowout victory over Oklahoma City. This is the first game of a back-to-back with travel, as the Celtics will fly to play the Hornets in Charlotte on Monday.
Despite the travel and back-to-back logistics, Houston is a young, rebuilding team. This is a perfect opportunity for Boston to get things moving in the right direction with a victory.