Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
On Tuesday, a surging Boston team had a chance to shuffle into a tie for the No. 2 spot in the East with a Toronto squad that has been stumbling a bit. But despite the Celtics’ owning a 16-point lead with a little more than 17 minutes to play, the Raptors rallied for a 114-106 triumph at the Air Canada Centre.
The Celtics couldn’t cool off DeMar DeRozan in the second half, and he put up a season-best 41 points to go with a career-best 13 rebounds. Toronto big man Jonas Valanciunas scored 18 points and grabbed 23 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive glass, which reminded Boston that its size and rebounding deficiencies are still major concerns against top competition.
A Celtics team that has routinely taken care of business against lesser foes this season — Boston is 0-4 against the Raptors and Cavaliers but 13-3 versus the rest of the East — looked a bit disheveled after the Raptors rallied Tuesday. It seems fair to wonder if there’s a bit of a mental hurdle that these Celtics must overcome to truly compete with the Raptors.
ESPN Boston – Celtics are still chasing the Raptors in the East
The Celtics had won 10 of their last 12 games before their meeting with the Toronto Raptors, but like any good coach Stevens looks at more than just results. He has noticed all the defensive slippage this season, especially over the last month. He has seen his team need a last-minute 3-pointer to escape the Philadelphia 76ers and every bit of a 52-point outburst from Isaiah Thomas to hold off the injury-depleted Miami Heat. When the playoffs arrive, Stevens knows, the Celtics will need to reach a higher standard of play.
“We have a lot more things to get better at,” he said. “We haven’t played as well as we need to play to be good – to be at our best. And I think that’s the most important thing as a team that you can do. I think sometimes you can get caught up in taking tough losses too hard and taking wins that maybe could have gone either way as a sigh of relief instead of just focusing on what you need to do to get better. And we’ve won some games here recently where we’ve played really well. And we’ve won some games where we haven’t. So we’ve got to play better throughout the course of the season. If we’re the same in April as we are now, we’re in trouble.”
Well, that was frustrating.
The Celtics had a chance to make a statement, to show the upper echelon that they’re a team to be reckoned with. Instead, they not only lost to their chief divisional rival, but they did it in the worst way possible, by collapsing in the last six minutes under a 23-6 Toronto beatdown. We should probably now put aside all thoughts of Brad coaching in the All-Star game.
This is how the NBA works for an improving team. First, you become good enough to get out of the lottery and sneak into the playoffs, probably getting swept by an elite opponent. Next, you start to consistently beat the lesser teams, and move up to a mid-level playoff berth. Then you separate yourself from the lesser playoff teams, but can’t yet get past the teams at the 50- to 60-win level.
Sound familiar? Because that’s exactly where we find the Celtics now. Before the season began, many of us thought the Cs would break through against Toronto this year. But obviously they just aren’t ready, and won’t be until they add more talent.
This reminds me of the Pistons in the ‘80s – the team with Isiah (not Isaiah) Thomas. In 1987, they came excruciatingly close to beating the Celtics in the playoffs, but lost in an epic seven-game series that featured the Larry Bird Steal. The next year, they got past Boston but blew a 3-2 lead in the Finals to the Lakers. Then they finally broke through against L.A. and won two consecutive titles.
That is the, ahem, process for growth in the NBA. Winning is never easy. You have to suffer through disappointment and hope that you’ll stay good enough for long enough so you’ll finally hang a banner.
Ironically, the exception to this rule was the 2008 Celtics, where all the talent came together, with perfect timing, for the team to go from an 18-game losing streak in one season to the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the next. Perhaps that experience is coloring our expectations, but it shouldn’t if we’re being real.
It’s difficult – and no one wants to hear this in our instant gratification, hot take world – but all we can do is remain patient and hope that Brad and Danny can make something happen. The next potential statement game, against an elite team, is January 25 versus Houston. The trade deadline is February 23.
Other game links: Ottawa Sun – Raptors praise Celtics’ Thomas | CSNNE – Stars, Studs And Duds: Final Six Minutes ‘Crushed’ Celtics vs. Raptors | Herald – Celtics lose out on chance to catch Atlantic Division-leading Raptors for No. 2 in East | Celtics Notebook: Rebounding deficiency hurts C’s again
On Page 2: No need for spell check
By accepting votes on Twitter and Facebook, the league simplified the process and also made it a way for people to share their fandom loudly and proudly. But as the unique ballots poured in, so did misspellings.
There was Isiah Thomas instead of Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas. There was Dwayne Wade instead of Bulls guard Dwyane Wade. And then there’s Bucks guard Giannis Antetokounmpo–at least we’re pretty sure that is how it’s spelled.
But fear not, because the NBA says it has mostly prepared for your gaffes. Over the years, the league has developed a list of common misspellings of players’ names. And that list has been used to collect the All-Star votes, so Isiah, Dwayne and other similar errors will all be accounted for.
When Zaza Pachulia is possibly going to make the All-Star Game, it’s obvious that fan voting is a train wreck. But at least the NBA has a strong grip on the logistics.
On Page 3: Plays of the Week
On Page 4: They try
The NBA referees want us to know that they work hard to get the calls right. Sure, sometimes they call a flagrant 2 foul for an inadvertent elbow, and sometimes that F2 is rescinded the next day when it’s too late to take back the ejection. Or they might miss a goaltend. But, hey, they mean well. Here’s a rare behind-the-scenes look at how one crew got ready on a recent game day.
And, finally: Real journalism
John Karalis is the co-founder of Red’s Army, but his day job is with Fox 5 News in New York City. This week, John reported on the harassment faced by female sports fans. It’s a serious problem that needs to be spotlighted. Please take a few minutes to watch.
The Rest of the Links: