Observations: Doc & the 'awful' effort
When an offensive play crumbled coming out of a first-quarter timeout, an enraged Rivers called for another 20-second timeout and emphatically lit into his players on the sideline, the sort of emotional outburst we've rarely seen from Rivers during his eight-year tenure on the Boston bench.
"I was really frustrated with our execution," Rivers told reporters in Toronto. "We couldn’t run a play out of a timeout, so that’s just frustrating, [and] that’s focus or something. We have to fix that. Because we’ve been playing too well for this to go back down this road again.
"We’ve kind of worked out of all our kinks, then all of a sudden, the last couple games, it’s returned back out of nowhere. [Getting emotional is] part of coaching. It shouldn’t be, but it is. You just gotta keep finding the right button and it’s everybody -- everybody gets frustrated with each other. I saw that today. Two guys knew the play, one guy didn’t -- and just one guy didn’t. And everybody, it drains energy. Not being a professional drains energy. Being a professional is knowing every set you run, knowing your rotations, because it’s draining for the pros who know, who do the work.
"Mickael Pietrus, I’ll use him as an example. He’s been here the least amount of time, he knows every single rotation and every single set, because he’s a pro. [Not knowing the rotations and sets is] just unacceptable."
The Raptors were up 20-7 when the Celtics took a full timeout when Rivers didn't like how a play was developing. Coming out of the timeout, he clearly expected better execution but the lineup on the floor -- Pietrus, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, JaJuan Johnson and Chris Wilcox -- again failed to set the play in motion, which set Rivers off.
But it wasn't just one play that drew Rivers' ire on this night. Asked about the performance after the game, he said simply, "Awful; we were awful."
The Celtics turned the ball over 17 times, including a whopping 13 times in the first half; they got outrebounded 42-34, giving up 13 offensive rebounds (even if Toronto failed to fully capitalize); and were dominated in points in the paint, the Raptors finishing with a 42-248 edge overall.
In a season in which Rivers has made it clear he won't allow his team to lean on excuses, he was adamant that the Celtics could not blame Friday's effort on Thursday's overtime loss to the Lakers in Boston.
"If they want to use the overtime [Thursday] night, then we are not mentally tough enough to be a winner," said Rivers. "If you’re tough, you come in and you grind this one out and win it, too. If you’re not, then you use [Thursday] night as an excuse."
You can understand Rivers' frustration. The Celtics overcame their early-season woes to win nine of 10, including five in a row, before Thursday's loss to the Lakers. But over the last two games, all that restored optimism was bowled over by terrible execution and sloppy basketball. Rivers knows the schedule is getting too daunting moving forward to allow the Celtics to lose all of that confidence.
He lit into his team Friday and now it's time for them to respond.
It won't be easy with an Eastern Conference showdown looming next against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
A few other observations from Friday's loss in Toronto:
Rondo couldn't have had a worst first quarter: In just over 11 minutes, he missed both shots he took, turned the ball over four times, and handed out just one assist as Boston's offense sputtered and the Raptors built a 12-point cushion. Rondo finished with a mere five points on 2-of-10 shooting with seven assists and five rebounds over 40:50, his effort improving as the game went on. A frustrated Rondo did boil over in the fourth quarter when he got hit with a technical foul for yapping at an official for a lack of a foul call.
"He was frustrated at halftime and he said, 'Man, I’m playing like crap,’" said Rivers. "I said, ‘That’s fine, but you gotta still keep playing.’ It's one of the things where, listen, you’re not going to play well [every game], but -- and this is everybody -- you can’t let it affect your energy and your effort, because everybody is always watching on your team."
Bradley a surprise spark: Backup point guard Avery Bradley, who sat out Thursday's game with a sore right shoulder, was not expected to play Friday, but the Celtics were so desperate for a spark, that Rivers put him in for the final minute of the first quarter (and into the second frame when Boston made a little run). Bradley chipped in three points over 7:27.
"[Bradley] was great," said Rivers. "I should have gone back with him, but right when you’re about to, Rondo started getting it going. I thought when we went small, [Rondo] is better equipped to see the floor and facilitate. Like I told [his players], they put me in a terrible position. Because we’re down, we’re scrambling, we’re going small and that effort -- it was awful."
Short bench: With Jermaine O'Neal out due to a sore left shoulder, Brandon Bass got the spot start and finished with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks over 29:46. The bench missed his presence, however, as beyond Pietrus (11 points on 4-of-6 shooting over 27 minutes), the reserves combined for a mere 13 points on a night the starters really needed a boost.
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