Celtics Loss an Early Wake-Up Call
BOSTON – It was widely projected entering the season that the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors would be the top threats in the fight for the 2015-16 Atlantic Division title.
Through the opening half of their first meeting Friday night, that’s exactly how it played out in the box score. Both squads tallied 26 points during the first quarter, then 28 in the second. The contest had the making of one that would keep fans on the edges of their seats till the final possession of the game.
But something just did not feel right. The Raptors were only shooting 32.5 percent from the field, yet they had 54 points at the break.
The problem was, Toronto was getting to the free throw line too often, and converted 21 of its 24 first-half free throws.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game that numbers like those, “usually doesn’t bode well.”
He was right.
Boston limited Toronto to only 11 free throw attempts for the remainder of the game, but the Raptors came out flying in the second half and found their shooting stroke. They shot 44 percent from the field during the third and then a whopping 70.6 percent during the final frame, including a 6-of-7 fourth quarter from Terrence Ross.
Meanwhile, Boston couldn’t find a consistent shot and its first half field goal percentage mark dropped from 40.9 percent to 34.1 percent in the second half. Toronto had essentially found its spark, while Boston’s slipped away, leading to a 113-103 defeat.
Avery Bradley said the ball just stopped moving for the Celtics in the second half.
“That’s hard on our team, the ball has to move,” Bradley said after the game. “I feel like the best basketball for the Celtics is when the ball is moving and everyone is touching it.”
They had no problem moving the ball out at the beginning of the game, impressing Stevens with an early 10-4 lead.
“We had some energy, we had some juice,” Stevens said of the hot start.
But that flame was dimmed by Toronto when it canned back-to-back 3s to tie the game, and then eventually doused once the Raptors went on their second half run.
C’s forward Amir Johnson is familiar with those runs with his former Toronto squad, and emphasized its tendency to go on late-game tears.
“Toronto’s a team that, always for some reason, we used to just turn up in the third quarter,” said Johnson. “For us we have to get every quarter, get those first and second quarters and play through the rest of the game. So I think it’s just a test for us to get better as a team.”
In other words that energy that we saw out of the gate needs to remain strong throughout if the C’s want a shot at chasing Toronto from the Atlantic Division seat.
That ability to remain upbeat till the final buzzer is the difference between playoff teams and lottery teams.
But finding that consistency will take time. This is a Celtics group that is still fresh, still somewhat unfamiliar with each other’s playing styles. They just need to correct their early issues – such as foul trouble, turnovers, inconsistent shooting – and find a rhythm.
Bradley says one problem is that the team has just been moving too quick. They need to slow down and simplify things.
“We’re all trying to figure each other out still with the groups that we’re playing with,” said Bradley. “I feel like we will continue to get better, but the main thing is just slowing down and playing free.”
If they begin to take that approach, success should follow. However, they must have patience. It will take time to establish a cohesive group like Toronto has.
“We’re not as good as these guys right now,” admitted Stevens. “I think that was pretty evident and clear for everyone to see, and so we’ll see if we can improve.”
The coach also issued a simple, but meaningful post-game message.
“It’s Game Two,” said Stevens.
It’s just the second game of a very long season, and there’s plenty of time to iron out the kinks and discover that rhythm.