Celtics

8 takeaways as familiar Celtics issues resurface in blowout loss to Raptors

Ime Udoka questioned his team's effort after the home opener.

Celtics Raptors takeaways
Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics looks on from the bench with teammates during the Celtics home opener against the Toronto Raptors. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways, as the Celtics were blown out 115-83 in their home opener by the Raptors.

1. Nobody reasonable panicked after the season-opening loss to the Knicks — a good team playing in front of an electric home crowd, led by a star player in Julius Randle whose archetype was tough for the Celtics without Al Horford.

Panic is still premature after Friday’s loss (some letdown after Wednesday was always possible), but the Celtics whose game plan broke down in the third and fourth quarters looked disturbingly familiar. After the NBA paid homage to former Celtics players pre-game — Paul Pierce, Satch Sanders, Cedric Maxwell, Danny Ainge, Leon Powe, and Brian Scalabrine were honored on the court — the Celtics inadvertently paid homage to last year’s team with their performance which, like so many in 2020-21, drew boos from TD Garden.

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Head coach Ime Udoka wasn’t exactly broken up for his players.

“We deserved it, the way we played, and I think our guys know that,” he said. “That’s what we appreciate about the fan base as well: They are going to be on us out there with our effort, and for the most part [the Raptors] just out-played us.

“When you get that result out there, I expect nothing less.”

2. Before the season, Udoka said he didn’t want his players to complain to the officials as much. On Friday, after one unsuccessful foray into the paint late in the third quarter, Jayson Tatum stared at an official so long, the Celtics’ defense gave up a layup on the other end. Udoka called timeout, and Tatum didn’t return to the game until the fourth quarter.

“I don’t claim to be perfect at all,” Tatum said. “Far from it. I make mistakes all the time and I like to be held accountable from my teammates and myself and you guys [the media]. So I understand that that’s a reoccurring thing that myself and other guys have to get better at.”

Tatum finished with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting.

3. The Celtics’ spacing was difficult to watch at times, although not difficult to defend. The Raptors packed the paint, and the Celtics — whose rotation is full of players not known as shooters — struggled to generate any consistent offense.

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Udoka noted that the Celtics drove into too many crowds, but the Raptors were able to pack the paint against lineups with multiple guards who aren’t known as shooters and double-big units. Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard might need to have big seasons.

4. Before the draft, Scottie Barnes drew some comparisons to players like Ben Simmons — a non-shooting forward who can handle and pass while switching onto multiple positions defensively.

Simmons is smoother handling the ball and has point-guard vision, but Barnes looked notably more comfortable already as a shooter and even hoisted a pair of 3-pointers (he was 1-for-2). Barnes finished with 25 points on 11-for-17 shooting and pulled down 13 rebounds. Like several of his teammates, he outworked and out-hustled the Celtics thoroughly, and as a result, he was the best player on the floor for stretches.

The Celtics also had little answer for Precious Achiuwa, whose effort and athleticism popped en route to 15 points and 15 boards. The Raptors’ youth looks promising.

5. After the game, Jayson Tatum was asked about turnovers. He started to answer, then stopped.

“How many turnovers did we have?”

The Celtics turned the ball over 25 times. That number would have ranked second all of last season only to perhaps their worst loss of the year: A 27-turnover debacle against the lowly Thunder in April.

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“That’s a lot,” Tatum conceded. “I mean, yeah, that’s unacceptable. I mean, it’s hard to win with 25 turnovers, for real.”

6. Udoka said Horford’s minutes limit coming back from COVID-19 was 25, and the Celtics adhered to it at the expense of their rotations.

That proved challenging. The Raptors dominated on the glass, especially against lineups with Grant Williams at center when both Horford and Williams were out (Udoka stuck to his guns and only played Enes Kanter late when the game was out of reach). The Raptors finished with 21 offensive boards and out-rebounded the Celtics 60-42 in total.

“It’s positioning and effort,” Horford said. “The way that we’re playing, we’re doing a lot of switching, so a lot of the time a lot of our bigs end up on the perimeter, they end up outside. If we’re going to play this way, we have to find ways to rebound the ball as a group.”

7. On a brighter note for the Celtics, Robert Williams looked good again — nine points (4-for-7 shooting), six rebounds, and three blocks in just under 30 minutes. His alley-oop from Marcus Smart late in the second quarter was probably the Celtics’ best play of the game.

Long, healthy stints for Williams will always be encouraging for the Celtics this season.

8. The Celtics hop on a plane to Houston on Saturday, where they have a third attempt to claim their first win of the season against the Rockets on Sunday evening.

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“It’s only been two games,” Tatum said. “We’re not going to lose a championship or win it after two games. If we was 2-0, obviously we’d probably feel a little bit better about ourselves. But we got 80 games left, so I think we’ll be all right.”

Udoka may have envisioned something different from his first two games as a head coach.

“I said that to the group, I said, ‘That’s as ugly as it can get,'” Udoka said. “One thing I can’t stand as a coach is to get punked out there, and I felt they came out and punked us, outplayed us, played harder than us, all the things we talked about. You don’t want to overreact and panic. We’re going to stay together and keep our head up.

“But I said use these boos as motivation. We deserved it, the way we played. Us coaches didn’t prepare them as well as we should have, understanding who Toronto is. Doesn’t matter who they have on their team, on their roster, they are going to play with that same intensity, and we didn’t match it. Take it in, use it for fuel, use it for motivation to come back ready for Houston in two days.”

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