Celtics Returning to Old Form

Celtics 116, Raptors 103. Finally. Finally we have a game with a scoring difference of more than 5 points. Finally we have a game where the Celtics blew out another team, allowing them to rest some of their starters towards the end. Most importantly, finally we have a game where Boston showed some energy and rhythm in its offense and some intensity in its defense. This was a game in which the Celtics played like the Celtics of old, be it from two years ago or maybe just a month ago.

Offensively, there were two factors that showed that maybe Boston was finding its talent and swagger again:

1) Scoring. 6 players scored in double digits against Toronto: all five starters, plus Rasheed Wallace. The low scorers, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo (12 apiece), cannot be said to have not contributed though. Garnett was perfect from the field, nailing all six shots he took. He also chipped in with seven rebounds, which led the team. Rondo, meanwhile, achieved yet another double-double, adding 11 assists to his 12 points. He also played great defense, but we’ll get to that later. Boston also shot 41.7% from the three-point line, nailing 7 out of 17 from beyond the arc. Rasheed and Ray Allen were the big scorers in this respect, both nailing three 3-pointers and shooting 50% or better (Allen was 3-4, Wallace 3-6). Seeing both of these guys shooting from the perimeter so well, not to mention KG draining his 17-footer with relative ease, makes me think this team is starting to heat up offensively.

2) Unselfishness. I already mentioned Rondo’s 11 assists. Overall, the Celtics had 33 assists, as compared to Toronto’s meager 15. The Celtics moved the ball around the court far better than their opponents did, consistently finding the open man, be he in the paint (where Boston more than doubled Toronto) or along the perimeter. When the C’s are passing well, defenses break down and people get open. As long as the shooting doesn’t go cold (as it had for the past week and a half), this means trouble for any opposition.

Defensively, there were also two signs that the old Celtics are back:

1) Turnovers. Boston forced 25 Toronto turnovers while limiting their own turnovers to just 16. The defense stepped up in a big way, clamping down and tightening up, forcing steals, blocks, and errant passes from a Toronto team not expecting a defensive performance of this caliber from Boston, especially in the second half. Wallace and Rondo were the defensive stars of the night, each one stealing the ball four times. Rasheed also chipped in with a block, the only one the Celtics recorded all night.

2) Three-pointers. Allowing the three-point shot was a consistent problem for Boston in its last few games and especially in all of its losses. No matter how well they played, the C’s just couldn’t seem to defend the trey with any real success. They were consistently allowing double digit three-point shots, often because they were getting crossed up on defense, leaving shooters open on the perimeter. When teams play Boston, they tend to step it up, shooting-wise. Up until this game, Boston was not stepping up in response. But against Toronto Boston played better, allowing only 7 3-point shots on 14 attempts, the same number of successes and 3 fewer attempts than Boston had. And most of the treys came by way of Hedo Turkoglu, who is an incredibly shooter no matter who he plays.

Overall, Boston held a team that averages 108 points a game to just 103 and scored 116 against a team that allows 111. So there was a 10 point difference between the real score and the average score for the Raptors. This meant they played better offensively and defensively. Hopefully Boston can keep this going as they hit the road next week. They have some tough opponents coming, and they will have to play this well or better if they want to be successful.

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