Strong Start Powers Celtics to Second Preseason Win Over Raptors

Rajon Rondo shoots against the Toronto Raptors during Wednesday's preseason game at the TD Garden in Boston. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Doc Rivers gave his starters the first half of Wednesday’s home game against the Toronto Raptors, then turned it over to the bench.

The Boston Celtics bench played virtually the entire second half, maintaining a large first-half lead to beat the Raptors, 81-73.

A two-game preseason might not say much, but the Celtics finished theirs undefeated.

Rondo Runs the Offense, O’Neal the Defense

Missing Paul Pierce due to a heel injury, Rajon Rondo took over as the Celtics’ primary scoring threat. He set the offensive pace immediately, knocking down an 18-foot jumper to open the scoring, then doing it again from almost the same spot three minutes later to cap an 8-0 Celtics run to start the game.

Rondo’s second basket followed a block from Jermaine O’Neal – O’Neal’s second in the game’s opening four minutes. O’Neal may be the Celtics’ only center, but Wednesday night he showed he might have what it takes. The Raptors could never get an interior game going with O’Neal on the court, having to settle for long-range jumpers and three-pointers they couldn’t sink with much better than 30 percent accuracy.

Rondo and O’Neal hooked up again later in the first, with Rondo driving through the paint before kicking it out to O’Neal in the low post. O’Neal caught the pass, then in one motion fed it back to Rondo, whom the Raptors left under the basket. Rondo easily laid it in, putting the Celtics up 14-7.

Rondo finished the game with 17 points in 23 minutes. O’Neal didn’t score, but he blocked four shots and pulled down two rebounds in just 12 minutes.

Bench Relies on Defense to Maintain Lead

Given the age of their starters, the Celtics will rely more and more on their bench as this abbreviated-but-concentrated (16 fewer games, but 30 fewer days off) NBA season goes on. Rivers cares way more about getting his bench experience than winning a preseason game.

The Celtics’ starters built a 16-point lead heading into halftime, and Rivers entrusted it to the bench in the second half. With Toronto’s starters playing over 60 percent of the game, Boston’s reserves got plenty of practice with real competition. The results were mixed.

The Celtics got 23 points from Brandon Bass and E’Twaun Moore, but only Bass shot well, draining four of five shots. Moore shot 2-for-5 – third-most-accurate on the bench behind Bass and Chris Wilcox‘s 1-for-2 night.

Bass showed plenty of muscle and length Wednesday night. On one third-quarter play, he made a terrific fake, then drove to the basket and forcefully dunked it.

The basket capped an 8-0 run that lengthened Boston’s lead 57-52 to 65-52. The Raptors couldn’t get the score that close again.

Beyond Bass and Moore, however, the bench struggled to score points or even run an offense. Too many drives ended in turnovers, shots in traffic with the clock running down, or easy defensive rebounds. The bench outscored the starters 46-35, but they also took 12 more free throws, going 18-for-23 at the line.

To their credit, the bench did not allow their confused, stagnant offense to corrupt their defense. The pesky, frustrating Celtics defense stole nine and blocked nine Wednesday, with six steals and four blocks coming from the bench.

Avery Bradley led the bench with three steals, using his lightning-quick reactions to disrupt Toronto passes and create fast-break opportunities. When Bradley robbed Andrea Bargnani (20 points) late in the third, Bradley dished the ball to Moore, who then drew a shooting foul. Moore sank both free throws to put the Celtics up 72-55.

Celtics Still Weak Under the Basket

Despite O’Neal’s success stopping layups, the Celtics still struggled mightily on the boards. The Raptors out-rebounded the Celtics 48-38, including grabbing 17 offensive boards.

The Raptors extended too many drives in the second half with offensive rebounds. The exhausted Celtics bench had to slow their offense to a crawl just to get a few seconds of rest.

Ray Allen led the Celtics Wednesday with six rebounds, including four offensive. Though developmental league-star Greg Stiemsma contributed five more (all defensive), as did Marquis Daniels, no defense run through Allen’s rebounding can consistently win.

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