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October 08. 2013 5:12PM

Preseason Celtics

Celts' plan: Play hard, don't win too much


Celtics forward Jared Sullinger lies face down on the court after a play with Raptors power forward Tyler Hansbrough in the second half of Monday's 97-89 preseason loss to Toronto at TD Garden. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watches from the sideline as they take on the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Brad Stevens said the Celtics have a lot of things to work on. He said their 97-89, preseason-opening loss to Toronto on Monday brought into focus some serious Shamrock shortcomings.

And after coaching his first NBA game, Stevens said he would endeavor to get better, noting how the flow of the professional game is different, what with the additional eight minutes and all. He said he has some things of his own on which to improve.

Damn.

You hate to clash with the coach after just one measly game — a preseason one at that — but the strong feeling here is that Brad Stevens is just plain wrong.

I think this was perfect.

I think Stevens has the game plan down cold. He is, as advertised, one smart dude.

What you saw from the Celtics last night is what you need from the Celtics this season. Oh, they will get better as the year moves along, but this was a fairly strong greenprint.

The Celts played hard.

They played together.

They got some encouraging performances out of the young guys.

They were competitive.

And they lost.

Perfect.

Once the Celtics made their series of offseason moves, crossed the roundball Rubicon and put into storage their realistic hopes of contending for the next NBA championship, the goals became abundantly clear. The quickest way for the Celts to get good — don't-make-any-vacation-plans-for-June good — is to develop the talent they have on hand to either keep or trade and make prudent deals to position themselves for salary cap flexibility.

And, what the heck, while you're at it, you might as well purchase a lottery ticket. People in these parts know there's certainly no guarantee in that game of chance (Tim Duncan never walked through that door), but as the slogan goes, you can't win if you don't play.

So last night the Celtics showed they could play pretty well when it came to the things they could control. They got better with their offensive execution as the night went along, and that was no small feat considering Rajon Rondo still is working his surgically repaired knee back to health.

(He is cordially invited to take his time and make certain he is entirely ready when he does consider a return. To handle it any other way would be foolish for both player and franchise.)

On the downside here, the Raptors were able to roll up a 52-34 advantage on points in the paint and a 46-26 edge on rebounds. At halftime, the Celts had pulled down just six wayward attempts.

"We've got to get better playing when we're undersized," Stevens said, "because we are undersized a little bit on the front line. There's ways to combat that, and we'll get to work on it."

But as long as the Celtics are going to send power forwards to do a center's job, they will struggle against even the mid-level teams. Kris Humphries and Jared Sullinger can play well inside, but at a certain point, the physics win out.

In an overall size sense, opponents simply will be better than the Celtics in the areas where the shots are higher-percentage entities.

The C's can help themselves in this situation by running more, and there is ample evidence they will be able to do that — even more so when Rondo gets back in the running and finds he has willing targets on the wings. But when it comes down to a possession game, the Celtics will be at the kind of disadvantage that makes a critical difference.

They still have people who can play and play well, but it's fair to say Miami isn't quaking in its sandals. (The LeBrons certainly didn't fear the Celts last season, either, but there was a healthy concern.)

Brad Stevens will make these Celtics better, but he shouldn't worry, as he stated last night, about getting a feel for the rhythm of the NBA game.

He's doing just fine.


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