Winning cures all, right?
Well, the Boston Celtics have won plenty this season, but the eight losses they’ve suffered have allowed for some actual perspective-taking on the flaws that this team has.
In Saturday’s 113-97 loss to the Toronto Raptors, it was defense.
Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw and the Raptors as a whole flew past the Celtics in transition, and in doing so really exposed one of Boston’s big flaws. But as a whole, the Celtics really did look listless on defense, especially in a first quarter that saw them allow 36 points.
The only injuries right now for Boston are to Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier, so little of the defensive shortcomings can be attributed to players being out. And following the game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, though quick to tip his cap to how the Raptors played, wasn’t afraid to call out his team’s defensive effort, both Saturday and prior.
“We haven’t been very good at (transition defense) recently, but we’ve been winning so we’re not talking about it a lot,” Stevens said, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “I think the bottom line is that we have to be better on that end of the floor generally. We’ve had some moments, as we’ve talked about, and we certainly had some possessions tonight, but we’ve got to get back to being a better defensive team. And we’ve got to find the right mix of guys that will defend well together and that compliment our best players to defend well and just get back to that.”
The Celtics’ schedule is fairly soft the next few games, which should allow them to try and get into a grove defensively. They’ve been able to skate by with sound offense on nights that their defense is troubling, but hanging their hat on that happening time and time again is dangerous, as they learned Saturday.
Here are some other notes from Saturday’s Celtics-Raptors game:
— It has been a while since the Celtics had all their top dogs available.
Over month and a half, to be more specific.
But that injury-riddled run ended Saturday with Marcus Smart’s return. Smart had been out since leaving a Dec. 6 game with what ultimately became an eye infection, forcing him to miss a total of eight games.
Smart coming back meant for the first time since Nov. 9, the Celtics had Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Smart all available.
Stevens had committed to keeping Smart in the 20-25 minute range, and he made sure to see that plan through. Despite defensive missteps from the Celtics pretty much wire to wire, Smart played just 23:24, posting seven points with three rebounds, as many steals and two assists.
— Between Smart’s return and the Celtics only dealing with injuries to frontcourt players, Stevens had some decisions to make with how he managed his rotation.Typically, he doesn’t go bigger than a nine-man rotation, and he stuck with that Saturday when re-inserting Smart.
As a result, Romeo Langford saw his minutes decrease significantly. The Celtics’ top pick in the 2019 draft played in six of the eight games Smart was gone, and averaged over 16 minutes in those contests. In the loss to the Raptors, Langford played just 3:41.
How Langford finds his way back to having regular minutes (outside of an injury to a teammate) remains to be seen, but such is life for a rookie on a successful team.
— The Celtics were absolutely manipulated on the boards, and they paid the price.
Chalk some of it up to unlucky bounces, but Boston was outdone 53-31 on the glass, and the Raptors’ 15 offensive boards resulted in 23 second-chance points.
That just can’t happen if the Celtics want to compete with the league’s best, so that must not be sitting too well with the coaching staff.
— Though the Celtics lost by 16, they can take solace in the fact that not only have they eluded losses often this season, but lopsided losses, as well.
Saturday’s setback against the Raptors was the first time since opening night that the C’s fell by over six.
— Saturday was the first time since Dec. 9, 2016 that the Raptors beat the Celtics in Boston.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images