Saturday, October 6, 2012
In focus: Struggles in opener
By Greg Payne
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Celtics aren't judging their preseason success on wins and losses, placing more of an emphasis on integrating a host of new players, while having their returning veterans establish a comfortable rhythm heading into the regular season. Having said that, Boston is still looking to play the best basketball it can over an eight-game preseason slate, and their opening loss to Fenerbahce Ulker came with three glaring areas they'll look to improve in over the final seven contests:
Courtney Lee struggled in his Boston debut in Turkey.
* Pick-and-roll defense: Fenerbahce was led by point guard Bo McCalebb, one of the top players in Europe, who possesses some impressive handles and a quick first step. He got into an early habit of splitting Boston's defense at the top of the key and parading into the paint, where he scored on his own and created for many of his teammates. Often, Boston's big men were too slow in their attempts to cut off McCalebb whenever he turned the corner to get into the lane. The biggest perpetrator was arguably Darko Milicic, who, while active, couldn't shuffle his feet fast enough to cut off the attacking guards. Add in Boston's second line of defense suffering from the occasional communication breakdown, and Boston's defense often allowed things to be far easier for Fenerbace than it would have liked.
The onus here is more on the big men off the bench, as Boston's best pick-and-roll defender, Kevin Garnett, played just 15 minutes. Even so, with Garnett most likely seeing a strict minute limit this coming season, the Celtics will need their big men off the pine to be able to make the necessary rotations and not allow opposing teams to penetrate so easily.
* Turnovers: Arguably the biggest blemish on Boston's ledger from this one was its propensity for handing the ball over. While on paper, the numbers are quite ugly -- 25 turnovers, good for 23 Fenerbahce points -- it's important to note that this was the first real game action for a team comprised primarily of new parts, so there were bound to be errors in terms of where certain guys were supposed to be on the floor and when they were supposed to be there. Rajon Rondo committed a team-high five turnovers -- an area he said he wants to significantly cut back in this season -- but several of his passes were on point, only to be dropped by his teammates. Head coach Doc Rivers didn't overreact to the lofty turnover number after the game, but maintained those types of performances won't help Boston win many games this season.
"I don't think we'd be very good if we turn the ball over 25 times," Rivers told reporters afterward. "Our goal was 14. We had that at halftime, so I had to explain to the guys I didn't mean 14 a half, I meant 14 for the game. Yeah, that was just sloppy. Some of them were forced, a lot of them were just sloppy play. Even with the first game, I don't think you should do that. You can never win a game that way."
* Courtney Lee's integration: Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have been starting games together since 2007, and Brandon Bass fit in with them almost flawlessly midway through last season. Which meant Courtney Lee was going to have the microscope on him as the newest member of what has been a consistently strong starting five for the last several seasons, even with a part or two interchanged along the way. Unfortunately for Lee, it doesn't appear the transition will be seamless, as he failed to impact Friday's loss in any specific way. He committed five personal fouls in the second quarter alone, which might help to explain why Rivers opted to start Jason Terry in the second half.
Foul trouble certainly didn't help Lee's cause, as he had no semblance of an offensive rhythm, missing a string of wide-open looks from the corners. He did finish with seven points, and turned the ball over only once in 27 minutes, but the C's will have to do a better job of integrating him for the remainder of the preseason. One other important note on Lee: He's been battling a hip injury for the majority of training camp. While not serious, he might not be at 100 percent, physically, and considering he's still mastering the system, he might have been due for some early preseason struggles. Rondo, in particular, will have to exercise patience as he continues to help Lee get acclimated to become a player capable of helping Boston in a variety of areas.