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Celtics visit Raptors with 2nd place in the East on the line

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The Celtics follow a perfect 4-0 home stand with a trip north of the border to take on the division leading Toronto Raptors with second place in the East and the Atlantic Division lead on the line.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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Boston Celtics (23-14) at Toronto Raptors (24-13)
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Regular Season Game #38, Road Game #21
TV: NBA-TV, CSNNE, Sportsnet One
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, TSN Radio 1050
Air Canada Centre
Referees: Sean Wright, Kevin Cutler, Josh Tiven


The Celtics follow a perfect 4-0 home stand with a trip north of the border to take on the division leading Toronto Raptors. This is the second of 4 games this season. The Raptors won the December 9th meeting 101-94 in Boston. The Celtics surged to a 14 point lead but a 33-18 run for the Raptors in the third quarter turned the tide and the Celtics weren't able to come back. The Celtics were without Isaiah Thomas in that game.

This game starts a stretch of 5 games against division rivals for the Raptors, which should be good news for them in that they are a perfect 5-0 against Atlantic division rivals. The Raptors won the series against the Celtics 3-1 last season. The Celtics are playing in the first of back to back games and they are 6-2 so far in the first half of back to back games.

The Celtics are 12-8 on the road, while the Raptors are 12-6 at home. The Celtics are surging, winning 8 of their last 10 games and 10 of their last 12 and winning their last 4 games. The Raptors have been slumping somewhat, going just 5-5 in their last 10 games and having lost their last 2 games.

This will be the 3rd of 6 Huskies games for the Raptors. They will wear blue Huskies road uniforms and will play on an alternate Huskies court. They are 2-0 so far in their Huskies tribute games. The Huskies and Celtics were both charter members of the Basketball Association of America in 1946. The Huskies folded after 1 year. The Knicks, Celtics and the Philadelphia Warriors (now Golden State) are the only remaining BAA charter teams.

The Raptors were 5 games ahead of the Celtics when they last played. Thanks to the Celtics getting hot and the Raptors slumping a bit, the Celtics are now just a game behind the Raptors in the standings. A win would tie them for the lead in the Atlantic Division and for 2nd place in the East. A loss would drop them to 2 games behind the Raptors and so this is a big game for both teams.

The Raptors will have the same team that beat the Celtics on December 9. They are missing Delon Wright (shoulder) and Jared Sullinger (foot) who have both been out most of the season so far. The Celtics were missing Isaiah Thomas in their first meeting. This time they will be without Avery Bradley (Achilles), Tyler Zeller (illness) and James Young (ankle).



Probable Starters

Isaiah Thomas...Marcus Smart...Jae Crowder ...Al Horford...Amir Johnson

Celtics Reserves

Jaylen Brown
Gerald Green
Terry Rozier
Jonas Jerebko
Kelly Olynyk
Demetrius Jackson
Jordan Mickey

Injuries
Avery Bradley (Achilles) out
James Young (ankle) out
Tyler Zeller (illness) out

Head Coach
Brad Stevens


Probable Starters

Kyle Lowry...DeMar DeRozan...Norman Powell...DeMarre Carroll...Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Reserves
Bruno Caboclo
Cory Joseph
Lucas Nogueira
Patrick Patterson
Jakob Poeltl
Norman Powell
Terrence Ross
Fred VanVleet

Injuries
Jared Sullinger (foot) out
Delon Wright (shoulder) out

Head Coach

Dwayne Casey

Key Matchups
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Isaiah Thomas vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry has given the Celtics problems in the past and he is playing very well this season, averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game. In their first meeting, Lowry finished with 34 points, 21 of which came in the 2nd half. Keep in mind, it was Marcus who was guarding him in that game, not Isaiah. With Marcus having his hands full in this game guarding DeRozan, if Lowry starts to go off, we may see Jae shift over to guard one or the other.

vs
Marcus Smart vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is Toronto's leading scorer and is going to be a tough cover. He is averaging 27.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. DeRozan scored 24 in their first meeting with Avery guarding him. It's important for the Celtics to slow down both of Toronto's high scoring back court players.

Honorable Mention
Bench vs Bench
The Raptors bench averages over 40 points per game and they have players who are capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. The Celtics will need their reserves to come in and produce and play tough defense to keep the Raptors reserves from having a big game.

Amir Johnson vs Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas is averaging 11.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks. Amir will need to box out to keep Valanciunas off the boards. He isn't a big shot blocker, but he can score inside as well as crash the boards.

Keys to the Game
Defense

Defense has always been and always will be the key to winning. The Celtics are finally showing their defensive grit that we came to expect from them last season. They will definitely miss Avery on the defensive end, however. Hopefully they will keep that defensive mindset in this game. They need to play particularly tough defense against the Raptors since they are capable of putting up a lot of points in a hurry. The Raptors are 3rd in the league, averaging 110.6 points per game. The Celtics will need to bring their defensive intensity in order to get a win in this game.

Be Aggressive

The Celtics must be aggressive on defense, in going after loose balls, in crashing the boards, and just all around going all out. They have to aggressively attack the basket. They need to start the game with that aggressive attitude and be aggressive through the whole game with no let up. We saw that aggressiveness over their home stand and hopefully they will bring it to this game also.

Rebound

The Celtics must crash the boards. They can't score if they don't have the ball. Much of rebounding is effort and desire. The Celtics have to be the team that puts out more effort from every player to go after rebounds.

Run and Move the Ball

The Celtics need to run on every possession and get up the court before the defenses get set up. When the Celtics slow down, their offense gets sluggish so they need to run throughout the game. They also have to move the ball and find the open man. The Celtics need to keep the ball moving and not lapse into hero ball.

Play 48 minutes - The Celtics found out in the first game against this team, they can't let up against them on either end of the court. The Celtics got out to a 14 point lead and then the Raptors defense increased and they were unable to score or prevent the Raptors from scoring. They also can't afford to let the Raptors get a lead because they are tough to come back against. The Celtics must come out strong and play hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

X-Factors
On the Road Again
- The Celtics are coming off a 4 game home stand and so haven't traveled for a while. They need to focus on the game and playing their best and not all of the distractions of playing on the road.

Motivation - Both teams have plenty of motivation to play well in this game. The team with the second best record at the All Star break will send their coaches to coach the Eastern team. Also, the Atlantic Division crown is up for grabs between these two teams. A win in this game would give the Celtics a chance at possibly winning the series for playoff seeding. A loss would probably guarantee them to lose the tie breaker should they finish with the same record. The Celtics also have the motivation to avenge the earlier loss to the Raptors. Another motivating factor is for Isaiah personally as he and DeMar DeRozan battle for the second guard spot on the East All Star team.

Officiating Factor - Officiating is always an x-factor. How the refs call the game has a big influence on how the teams play. Will they let them play or call every little bit of contact? Will they call it evenly or will they favor one team or the other. Will they be influenced by the home crowd or will they call it fairly for both teams? It all effects the outcome of the game.