Hello, Americans! Also, a hearty 'Hockey, Molson, Robin Sparkles, and Toronto Maple Leafs' to all you wacky Canadians out there!
Its (mostly irrelevant) Basketball Night In America! The 'twice as many losses as wins' Toronto Raptors take on the 'exactly as many losses as wins' Boston Celtics!
I know, I know, I'm trivializing tonight's game. And that's fair to say, because to the outside eye, this game tonight should be pretty trivial. The Raptors haven't beaten the Celtics at in over four years. The last time the Celtics lost at home to the Raptors, some of you high school seniors out there were just high school freshmen. American pop music was still Bieber-less, and the Celtics were on their way to a championship season. Avery Bradley was wicked into Pokemon. It was a long time ago, are you guys getting that?
Although, I imagine Avery Bradley is still wicked into Pokemon.
Basically, if history is any indicator, the Celtics will win tonight, but if they for some reason lose, it means they'll go on to win the title. So, win-win, right?
PG: Avery Bradley
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Kevin Garnett
C: Jermaine O'Neal
Keyon Dooling (hip) day to day
Rajon Rondo (wrist) day to day
PG: Jose Calderon
SG: Jerryd Bayless
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: James Johnson
C: Amir Johnson
Andrea Bargnani (calf) out
Rajon Rondo, Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey and Jamaal Magloire all attended the University of Kentucky
Jermaine O’Neal played in Toronto during the 2008-09 season
Linas Kleiza and Keyon Dooling both went to the University of Missouri
Keyon Dooling and Rasual Butler were teammates on the Miami Heat during the 2004-05 season
Rasual Butler and Brandon Bass were teammates in New Orleans from 2005-07
Brandon Bass and Jamaal Magloire were teammates in Dallas during the 2007-08 season.
Ray Allen vs Jerryd Bayless
Bayless gives up a couple inches to Ray, but he has the speed to stay with Ray as he runs through screens trying to get open. Ray has been shooting the ball well since his return and if Bayless leaves him open, hopefully Ray can make him pay.
Paul Pierce vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has been one of the bright spots for the Raptors and has been playing well. Pierce came up limping in the 4th quarter of the Cavs game but he seemed to shake it off. Hopefully he will be ok for this game. The Celtics win streak coincided with Pierce's return to playing well. The Celtics need his versatility and ability to give the team whatever it needs on any given night.
With both teams playing back to back, their benches will be important in this game. The deeper team whose bench contributes will be the team that comes out on top.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - The Celtics have got to crash the boards to prevent second chance points. They out rebounded their opponents during their win streak However, they were out rebounded in both of their games vs Cleveland. Being out-rebounded 39-28 in the second game almost led to a second lost lead loss in a row. The effort they put out on the boards will usually spread to other areas of the game. The team that wins the rebounding battle more times than not will win the game.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics tend to turn the ball over way too much at times. They will make a run in a game to tie it or take the lead and then they will turn the ball over several times only to dig themselves into a hole. They have to make smarter passes and pay attention to the opponents so as not to allow them to get an easy steal. They also have to handle the ball better and not drive into a crowd only to lose possession of the ball.
Defense - The Celtics must make defense a priority in each and every game. Their defense was excellent in beating the Magic and Pacers recently and then they lapsed into lax defense against the Cavs. They played great defense while building a 21 point lead in the second game but let up on defense and allowed the Cavs to come back to within 2. They must play strong defense all game. With the Raptors, they must particularly guard the perimeter as they love to shoot from beyond the arc.
Make Shots and Take Advantage of Opportunities - There are times when it seems as though no one on the Celtics can hit the broad side of a barn. They miss jumpers, layups, 3 pointers, and shots in the paint. This inability to hit shots keeps them from taking advantage of opportunities.
Hustle and Effort
The Celtics were out-hustled in both games against the Cavs. The Cavs beat them to loose balls, to rebounds and in hustling on defense in the 4th quarter. The Celtics need to show effort and hustle for 4 quarters, no matter the opponent. They can't take any opponent for granted.
Focus and Desire
The Celtics lost focus against the Cavs and allowed them to score 12 straight points down the stretch of their loss to them at home. They then gave up a 21 point lead to just barely win by 3 on the road. They must keep their focus and play good basketball for 48 minutes, even against the teams with the worst records. If they want this win badly enough, and don't self destruct, they should be able to get it.