The Celtics host the Toronto Raptors for the first of 4 meetings this season. They will meet again in Boston on March 31 and then twice in Toronto February 6 and April 4. The Celtics are finishing a 3 game home stand while the Raptors are beginning a 3 game road trip. Toronto is in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division and 4th in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors are 3-3 on the road and have won their last 2 games. The Celtics are 5-1 at home and have won 11 straight games. Together these two teams have won 10 of the last 11 Atlantic division crowns with Boston winning 6 and Toronto winning 4. Toronto has won the series 3 of the last 4 seasons and they won last season 3-1.
The Raptors have had the Celtics number for the most part for the past 3 years. Toronto is 11-5 vs Boston since the 2013-14 season. They have the most wins against the Celtics of any teams over that span. Toronto is 40-9 vs Atlantic Division foes since the 2014-15 season and they are 8-4 over Boston during that span.
Kyrie Irving suffered a minor facial fracture after getting hit in the first quarter of the Hornets game by teammate Aron Baynes. He is listed as doubtful for this game and expected to play through the injury wearing a face mask after that. The good news is that Al Horford is listed as probable for this game.
I am guessing that Brad will start Marcus Smart at the point if Kyrie is out. Smart was brought into the game when Kyrie went down in the first quarter of the Hornets game. And when the second half began Smart was once again on the floor with the starters. I'm also guessing that Brad will keep Morris in the starting 5 with Horford and bring Baynes off the bench once again.
Brad may also decide to start Terry Rozier or Shane Larkin, who scored a season-high 16 points on Friday, if he doesn't go with Smart. It's also possible that he may opt to leave Baynes in the starting lineup and bring Morris off the bench. The Raptors have no injuries reported and their regular starters are listed here.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Al Horford
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Al Horford (concussion) probable
Kyrie Irving (facial fracture) doubtful
Two Way Players
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar Derozan
SF: Norman Powell
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Two Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry has given the Celtics problems in the past and so they need to pay particular attention to slowing him down. He is averaging 5.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists. The Celtics would like to have Kyrie to counter Lowry, but Smart's defense may be able to slow the Raptors offense down.
Jaylen Brown vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is the Raptors best player and he is averaging 24.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. Jaylen will need to play lock down defense to keep DeMar from having a big game. With Kyrie likely out, Jaylen will also need to find his offense to give the Celtics a boost on that end.
Marcus Morris vs Serge Ibaka
Ibaka is averaging 13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. He's always a threat to block shots and get second chance points and so Morris needs to keep him out of the paint as much as possible. He is also a threat from outside so he needs to stick with him on the perimeter as well.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense has always been and always will be the key to winning. The Celtics have the best defensive rating in the league at 94.8. The Raptors are 17th with a defensive rating of 103.8. 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 7th in the league, averaging 110.1 points per game. Especially if Kyrie is out, if the Celtics want to win, they are going to have to do so with lock down defense.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to 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.
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. The Celtics are 4th in rebounds at 47.6 per game. The Raptors are 24th with 41.9 per game. The Celtics have to continue crashing the boards in this game.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have been coming out of the gates slowly and letting teams get a lead. That has worked out against them vs the Magic and the Hornets, but if they give the Raptors a big lead, they will have a tougher time coming back. They need to start strong and play hard right up until the final buzzer.
Home Game - The Celtics are still at home and several of the players mentioned that the crowd getting into the game helped them pull out a win against the Hornets and the Garden crowd needs to give the team a boost again in this one.
Next Man Up - The Celtics have been finding ways to win even without key players. They did it when Morris couldn't play at the beginning of the season. They did it when Hayward went down. They did it when Al Horford was out with a concussion. They did it when Jayson Tatum left the game with ankle soreness. And, they did it when Marcus Smart missed games with an ankle sprain. Now, they have to find a way to win without Kyrie. Who will step up their game in this one?