Celtics

Celtics suffer blowout loss to Raptors, 111-91

Celtics suffer blowout loss to Raptors, 111-91

It all seemed so familiar, except for the ending.

Boston fell behind early and faced a 21-point halftime deficit. 

The runs that we've come to expect from the Boston Celtics never came, and the end result was an emphatic 111-91 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto (37-16) moves to within one game of the Celtics (39-16) for the best record in the Eastern Conference, in addition to evening up the head-to-head series at one game apiece. 

Although Boston (39-16) has been one of the best road teams in the NBA this season,  Toronto's success this season has been in large part because of their play at home. 

In fact, Toronto came into the game with the best home record in the NBA (21-4). 

Kyle Lowry led all scorers with 23 points along with eight rebounds and four assists, with DeMar DeRozan chipping in 15 points and six assists. 

The Celtics were led by Terry Rozier’s 18 points to go with five rebounds and four assists. 

Kyrie Irving, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with a right quadriceps injury, had 17 points and three assists. 

The hole Boston found itself in only got deeper as the game wore on, with the Raptors getting strong contributions from just about every player who set foot on the court.

And there wasn’t any one particular area that set Toronto’s beat-down of Boston in motion. 

More than anything else, it was a matter of the Raptors making all right decisions on offense and proper reads defensively.

And while the Celtics' effort has often been a major factor in their losses, this pummeling had nothing to do with effort. 

Toronto played a better game, at both ends of the floor. 

It was that simple. 

A blowout did not seem to be on the horizon at the game’s outset, as both teams struggled to generate a ton of points. 

The first quarter was a low-scoring affair, the kind of game that played more to Boston’s defensive-minded strengths. 

Trailing Toronto 22-18 after the first, the Raptor’s second unit was what created the separation the Raptors needed in order to take control of the game. 

Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright had combined for 21 of the 30 points scored by Toronto’s bench which was indeed the difference in the first half which ended with the Raptors holding a commanding 58-37 lead. 

The third quarter was more of a stalemate by both teams, which was not good for the Celtics who failed to make up the kind of ground we’re so often used to seeing them cover quickly. 

Boston’s 21-point deficit at the half wound up being slightly deeper going into the fourth quarter as the Raptors had a commanding 83-60 lead.

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Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

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Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

BOSTON -- Brad Stevens is a genius.

Brad Stevens is overrated.

Brad Stevens gets the most out of the least amount of talent.

On the brightest of stages, Brad Stevens can't get it done.

MORE A. SHERROD BLAKELY

The views on Celtics coach Brad Stevens are all over the map right now, based on Boston being in a 2-2 series tie with Cleveland after the Cavs held serve at home with a pair of wins.

The Celts' losing at Cleveland didn't spark the questions about Stevens. It's how they lost those games.

Cleveland didn't do anything fancy or all that complicated in getting back in this series after the Celtics raced out to a 2-0 series lead.

The Cavs are targeting Terry Rozier -- similar, in many ways, to how they went after Isaiah Thomas last year -- and are forcing defensive switches that leaves Rozier in a bad spot.

Rozier is a solidly built point guard (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) but he's no physical match for LeBron James or Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson -- players the Cavs have tried their best to get Rozier to defend via switches. For the most part, they've have had success doing so.

"Hope they miss" seems to be Rozier's best-case scenario when this happens.

Watching Rozier get bounced into the paint by the James-Love-Thompson trio has left many Celtics fans wondering W.W.B.D. -- What Will Brad Do?

So far, not much.

He considered a lineup change before deciding to keep Marcus Morris with the first unit and Aron Baynes coming off the bench in Game 4.

In the first quarter of Game 4 Boston fell behind 34-18, similar to how their 30-point Game 3 shellacking started.

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But Boston got better as the game progressed, showing glimpses of the team that finished with the second-best record in the East and had the best road record of any team in the Eastern Conference.

And as Kyle Korver came off screens and knocked down shots, or George Hill finished at the rim, or Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love treated the offensive glass like property and they were the time share owners of it, Celtics fans waited for that moment, when Stevens would make a tweak/adjustment and -- bam! -- everything changed.

That moment, however, never came. And it's opened Stevens to a level of second-guessing he hasn't experienced since maybe his rookie season in the league.

Stevens is a wonderful coach, easily top-five in the NBA. The reason he's so widely regarded is his ability to recognize his own team's weaknesses and mask them.

That hasn't happened in this series and there are questions, legitimate questions, if it will happen at all.

Better team communication? More touches for Al Horford? Limiting the isolations on Rozier with a bigger scorer? Will any or all of these things happen?

The bottom line is clear: Boston has to be better than we what we saw in Cleveland. That not only applies to the players, but also to Stevens.

The one thing about Brad Stevens that you always have to respect is his willingness to take ownership when things aren't going right.

He'll be the first to tell you that everyone needs to improve . . . himself included. And while that acknowledgment may not seem like that big a deal, it's huge.

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Because his willingness to take some of the blame for what we've seen of late trickles down to the rest of his players, who know they too have a role in Boston losing its last two games.

With that ownership comes an understanding that for this series to shift back in their favor, it's going to take the entire group to step their games up.

And as we've seen with this group, they have seemingly been at their best when adversity strikes. They've shown an ability to thrive under pressure, rather than be totally thrown off course.

Which is why despite losing two straight to the Cavs, the Celtics return home feeling pretty good about themselves.

They lost Game 4 but did a number of positive things that I imagine they'll look to do more of on Wednesday.

Boston managed to get Horford defended by Love more in Game 4 and had a good bit of success with that matchup. Rozier was better at handling screens and switches in the second half than we saw in the first, which allowed Boston's defense to collectively play better.

The Celtics were doing more of the things that fans have come to expect. The kind of plays that reflect positively on the players as well as their leader, Brad Stevens.

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Five takeaways: When Celtics fall, they can't get up

Five takeaways: When Celtics fall, they can't get up

BOSTON -- All season the Celtics have seemingly been digging basketball graves for themselves, only to rise up and bury their foes.

It worked in the regular season.

In the playoffs?

Not so much.

Those huge deficits early in games have been a big problem for Boston, to the point where it has to be among the chief concerns for the Celtics heading into a pivotal Game 5 matchup on Wednesday.

Cleveland’s 111-102 Game 4 win, which evened the series at two games apiece, was due in large part to the Celtics falling 19 points behind in the first half.

To get down big early provides plenty of time for a comeback, of course. But it also requires a significant amount of energy, effort and timely breaks. And on the road? Against a LeBron James-led team?

That’s not likely to happen.

“We just dug ourselves in a hole in the first half,” said Jaylen Brown. “We came back from 15 and I think the closest we got it to was maybe seven or six. We fought. We played a better game than last time.”

Brown, who had a team-high 25 points in the Game 4 loss, was referring to Boston’s 116-86 beatdown in Game 3.

Certainly disappointed they didn’t get one or both games in Cleveland, coach Brad Stevens anticipated this series would be filled with ups and downs for both teams.

“Anybody that didn’t think this was going to be tough . . . I mean, everything is tough,” Stevens said. “In this deal, it’s a blast to have to grit your teeth, get up off the mat and go after it again. That’s part of it. That’s what makes these guys on both sides special.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 111-102 Game 4 loss.

FIRST QUARTER ROAD WOES

Game 4 was the latest example in the Celtics-get-off-to-bad-starts-on-the-road narrative. They scored just 18 points on 7-for-26 shooting (26.9 percent) in the first quarter, when they missed six of their seven 3-point attemots. Getting off to a better start will go far in Boston’s attempts at regaining the series lead on Wednesday.

TERRY ROZIER

He seems to have exorcised some basketball road demons with a 16-point, 11-assist, 0-turnover performance in Game 4. But Cleveland’s ability to get him switched out on guarding a bigger frontcourt player is a problem. The Celtics has to become more creative scheme-wise to avoid their smallest starter (Rozier) consistently being paired with players several inches taller and several pounds heavier. Part of the problem is Rozier who hasn’t been fighting through those screens as hard he is capable of. It may result in an extra foul or two for Rozier, but two games away from a trip to the NBA Finals? Whatever sacrifice is required, you make it.

JAYSON TATUM

While his numbers in the Eastern Conference Finals have been decent, Tatum hasn't had anything close to the impact against the Cavs that he had in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The biggest missing ingredient is his 3-point shooting. He's averaging 2.5 attempts from 3-point range in this series, but only took two attempts total in Games 3 and 4 -- and missed them both. The Cavs have done a better job defensively, but there are seemingly more possessions in which he’s passing up a good 3-point look to instead attack a team defense whose strength lies in ability to contest shots at the rim. Don’t be surprised to see Tatum freed up more for 3’s in Game 5.

REBOUNDING

The Celtics aren’t expected to win the rebounding fight, but they at least have to keep it closer than they did in Games 3 and 4. In Game 4, Cleveland was a plus-10 (47-37) on the boards, which heavily factored into their decisive 16-7 advantage in second-chance points. Closing this gap will pivotal to Boston’s chances at success on Wednesday.

CELTICS OFFENSE

There’s a lot of talk about Boston’s defense and how it needs to improve going forward. But the Celtics have to do a better job offensively as well; specifically, they need to create more open or lightly contested shot attempts. Cleveland has contested more than 75 percent of Boston’s shot attempts in each of the last two games, compared to contesting less than 70 percent in the first two. Figuring out how to free up more shooters has to be a priority for the Celtics heading into Game 5.

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