Don’t talk to Celtics head coach Brad Stevens about how well his team played in Game 1, their season series against the Raptors or how significant Boston’s recent win is.
He doesn’t want to hear it, this series is far from over and his focus won’t allow him to think otherwise. After capturing Game 1 of his best-of-7 Eastern Conference Semifinals series, 112-94 against the Raptors, Stevens is meticulously preparing for Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse’s Game 2 rebuttal and he’s expecting more from his guys.
“We have to do a lot better than we did yesterday,” Stevens said Monday after practice. “They do a great job of not only getting those run-out points but then getting fouled in transition. The hesitations, the drives, the head-down drives, couple times where we lost shooters, couple times where we didn’t match the bigs trailing the play; and you just down through the list. That’s how they do a great job of scoring.
“I actually thought our effort off of our turnovers and some of our not-great offensive possessions was really good. I thought we played really hard in that way. We had a real conscience effort to get back but still have to do that on every occasion against this team, they’re very difficult to play against in transition.”
Stevens was singing a similar tune on August 7 when his team dominated this same Raptors team, 122-100. Back then, most would have to agree with Stevens but after Sunday’s lopsided affair by the hands of a Gordon Hayward-less Celtics team, you can’t help but wonder if the Celtics are a flat-out better team than their conference semifinal opponent.
Last Meeting Between Celtics & Raptors
The beginning of Game 1 was eerily similar to the last head-to-head matchup between the two division rivals where Boston took a quick 10-2 lead from the jump. On Sunday, the Celtics leaped out to an 11-3 advantage and just like we saw three weeks ago — Toronto played catch-up all game.
Boston also limited Toronto — a team that typically shoots 45.8% from the floor — to shoot at a 36.9% clip, including only 25% from deep in Game 1. The Celtics’ smothering defense was the difference-maker against a team that its only two losses in the bubble (11-2) came from the hands of the Celtics.
In fact, the Raptors are not only 0-2 in their last two contests against the Celtics but throughout those 96 consecutive head-to-head minutes, the Raptors never held a single lead. Still, Stevens wants to see more.
Raptors’ Transition Scoring
Prior to tip-off, Stevens keyed in on how important it was for his team to limit transition buckets and even after the Celtics did so — holding the Raptors to just seven fast-break points in Game 1 — it wasn’t enough to satisfy him.
“I think that’s probably a bad stat,” Stevens said of the fast-break points. “I think it’s probably more like we up a lot more in transition and secondary transition points than that. We’ve done it well all year but it needs to be a huge emphasis and I think we gave up a lot more than seven.”
Stevens wasn’t the only one.
“Definitely could be better,” Marcus Smart said after Sunday’s win. “Just coming into this game, you can’t give those guys those transition plays where they’re able to get energy, get momentum and get to the free-throw line. It was OK. Obviously we’ve got a lot we can obviously improve on and we’ll get better. We’ll watch the film. We’ll see what we need to do and we’ll clean it up.”