Game 4 of 82, Wednesday, November 4, 430 PST
Raptors @ Celtics
Being an adult is not easy. It means working. It means planning. It means finding ways to spend time with old friends that involve planning. I am planning to watch the Celtics with an old friend tonight. It is Wednesday, which means I have a long day. Not an especially burdensome day today, but a long day. I will be tired. I will want to relax and sit down somewhere comfortable, but instead, I will be in motion. Driving. Testing in the morning class and testing in the evening class. A mid-day appointment to step back from the busy and think about things. A tutoring session before the night class. Wednesday means being in the car. After starting with a particularly long stop-and-go commute because I chose to sleep for another half an hour.
Going back to 1996, Eric and I have seen many Celtics games together. In recent years, on my annual winter pilgrimage to Boston, we attended Celtics games at the Garden with Jared. The three of us used to watch the Celtics in high school. Those Celtics didn’t win many games. Kind of like these Celtics, but with less optimism about the future, except for a few months of Tim Duncan-related lottery dreaming. Now Eric lives in San Francisco with his girlfriend Nichole and their three cats. They headed west a few months ago, just after we moved to the other side of the bay. Seeing old friends on a regular basis makes being an adult a bit easier.
Eric and I watched the game hours after it ended in Boston.
The Celtics hosted the Raptors. Toronto is an interesting team. The young nucleus of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan complement each other well. Both are tenacious penetrators who finish incredibly well. Lowry has always been a favorite of mine. Feisty. A nose for the ball, as they say. Physical defender. Passionate. DeRozan is smooth. Fade-away jumpers and constant slashing from the wing. He’s averaging over 10 free-throws per game in the early season.
Before we’d settled in, only seven minutes into the game, the Celtics bolted to a 25-9 lead. Every game this season has started like a sprint. If the game plan was to zoom out of the gates and move the ball, the Celtics succeeded. In retrospect, those seven minutes may as well have been their own mini-game, a trend that continues over the first four games of the season. Great in stretches, and then back to reality. Rondo was the engine as usual. 4 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds in 7 minutes. Insane. However, the Raptors collectively took a deep breath and pretended none of it happened.
Instead of breaking down how the lead slowly crumbled, what went agonizingly wrong, and what we should take away from it, I’ll leave you with these main ideas:
- Boston out-rebounded the short-handed Raptors (no Valanciunas, no Amir Johnson) by a ridiculous margin (55-24)* [note: I can’t remember a team collecting fewer than 30 rebounds in a game]
- The Raptors didn’t have a chance to rebound because the Celtics were busy turning the ball over a whopping 27 times.* [note: I can’t remember watching a team turning the ball over more in a single game]
TurnoverTurner played 12 minutes as the back-up point guard. He contributed 5 turnovers and zero assists.
- Five Celtics had 4 or more turnovers (Turner, Rondo, Smart, Green, Bradley)
- Toronto has been great at forcing turnovers (18.6 per game on the very young season)
- Boston shot 51.3% and lost the game
- Rondo had another dazzling triple-double (13 pts, 15 ast, 10 reb)
- Subtract Rondo and the Celtics had 7 assists and 22 turnovers
- Kelly Olynyk had his best game of the season (18 pts on 11 shots, 13 reb)
- Kelly Olynyk is not a center
- Kelly Olynyk may be worse than David Lee at protecting the rim
- Kyle Lowry absolutely torched the Celtics at the rim (35 points on 12 of 17 shooting, mostly twisting pull-ups and scoop shots
- When will Brad Stevens give Tyler Zeller a chance to show that he is a decent (not great) interior defender? (5 min for Zeller, 3 fouls)
In all, the 110-107 loss was painful. After that 25-9 opening, the lead just kept slipping away until it was down to 3 at halftime (57-54). With 1:33 left in the 3rd Quarter, the C’s had regained control, building the lead back to 7, at 84-77. Then things fell apart again. Kyle Lowry terrorized the paint and tossed in 7 straight points, getting to the line for 4 free-throws. Olynyk and Turner took turns handing the ball directly to the opposing team. At the buzzer, Lou Williams made a running three-pointer. Lead gone. Momentum absolutely gone.
The fourth quarter was slow-motion agony. No more free-and-easy ball movement as the Raptors played playoff defense. The Celtics managed 21 points in the quarter. The didn’t produce a hoop until a Rondo-to-Sullinger look with 7:52 left. They took Toronto to the wire, thanks to late threes by Olynyk and Green, but DeMar DeRozan let them know what’s what, carving up the Celtics attempts at defense and leading to four 4th quarter assists.
Watching with Eric gave us a chance to debrief on the early season impressions. I griped about Olynyk’s foul-prone no-shot-altering defense. Eric presciently wondered if Evan Turner knows what he’s doing with ball (the answer two hours later: a definitive “no.”). We reminisced on how lucky we were to watch the KG-Celtics dominate teams defensively and how helpless it feels to watch a team that cannot get stops. The Celtics had moments. One win and three losses. The first few games of the season always feel more important. Objectively, each is 1 out of 82. But realistically, the first half of the season is about 3x as important as the last half for young teams that are looking for signs of growth. Losing by 3 is better than losing by 9. In that way, this is progress.
There will be many more Wednesdays in the season. My long day, but also the day I’m in San Francisco. We’ll watch some wins this year. We’ll have to savor those. We’ll see about Evan Turnover and wait for Brad Stevens to give Marcus Smart a chance to run point with the reserves.