Boston Celtics (37-20) at Toronto Raptors (33-24)
Friday, February 24, 2017
Regular Season Game #58, Road Game #30
TV: ESPN, CSNNE, Sportsnet One
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, Sportsnet 590 The Fan
Air Canada Centre
Referees: Bill Spooner, Kane Fitzgerald, Jacyn Goble
The Celtics begin the post All Star stretch with a trip north of the border to take on the division rival Toronto Raptors. This is the 4th and final game of 4 games between them 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.
The Raptors won the second meeting between these two teams 114-106 on January 10 in Toronto. The Celtics were outscored 68-51 in the second half. DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 41 points. In the third meeting on 2/1, the Celtics finally got a 109-104 win over the Raptors in Boston. The Celtics came back from an 18 point deficit to take their first lead with 4:39 left in the 4th quarter. Isaiah led the Celtics with 44 points while Kyle Lowry had 32 to lead the Raptors. Jared Sullinger played his only game as a Raptor against his former team with 13 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.
The Celtics have won 11 of their last 13 games while the Raptors have lost 11 of their last 16 games. The Raptors won their last game before the break while the Celtics lost their last game, or more accurately, were robbed of their last game by Zach Zarba. The Celtics are 17-12 on the road while the Raptors are 19-10 at home. The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games and the Raptors are 4-6 in their last 10.
The Raptors improved themselves at the trade deadline by trading for Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker, both of whom will improve the Raptors' defense and rebounding. Many Celtics fans were thinking that the Celtics should go after both players. Ibaka will start for the Raptors at power forward. It's not certain when Tucker will join his new team. Patrick Paterson is expected to return from a knee injury to play in this game.
While the Raptors improved, the Celtics didn't make any moves at the trade deadline and will face the Raptors with the same group as they did in the first 3 meetings. Avery Bradley went through 1/3 of practice on Thursday and said that he felt good afterwards but wasn't expected to play in this game. Jaylen Brown went through a complete practice and is expected to play in this game. Gerald Green sat out practice with a heel injury and is questionable for this game.
With Jaylen back from the hip injury, they may decide to start him at shooting guard once again to allow Smart to move back to lead the reserves. I've included Marcus in the starting lineup for now unless I hear differently. They may want to bring Jaylen back slowly rather than throw him into the starting lineup once again.
This is a big game for the Celtics in the standings. They begin the night in 2nd place, 3.5 games behind the Cavs and 4 games ahead of the Raptors. They are just 2 games ahead of the Wizards who are playing at Philadelphia. The Celtics need to get a win in this one to keep pace with the Wizards and to keep the Raptors from moving up and catching the Celtics once again. Also, a loss would give the Raptors the tie breaker should they finish with the same record.
Isaiah Thomas...Marcus Smart...Jae Crowder ...Al Horford...Amir Johnson
Avery Bradley (Achilles) out
Gerald Green (heel) questionable
Kyle Lowry...DeMar DeRozan...DeMarre Carroll...Serge Ibaka...Jonas Valanciunas
Patrick Patterson (knee) probable
Isaiah Thomas vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry has given the Celtics problems in the past and he is playing very well this season, averaging 22.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Lowry is averaging 30.0 points on 56% shooting from the field against the Celtics in 3 games this season. We may see Marcus guarding Lowry while Jae slides over to guard DeRozan if both start to score at will.
Marcus Smart vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is Toronto's leading scorer and is going to be a tough cover. He is averaging 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. DeRozan scored 24 in their first meeting and 41 in the January 10th game. As I stated above, we may see Jaylen Brown guarding DeRozan, at least part of the time. It's important for the Celtics to slow down both of Toronto's high scoring back court players.
Al Horford vs Serge Ibaka
Ibaka will make his debut for the Raptors against the Celtics. He is averaging 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks and is a pest around the basket. Hopefully Horford can draw him out from the basket to keep him from altering shots and grabbing rebounds. But, Ibaka can also hit from beyond the arc and so Horford will need to defend him out there as well.
Keys to the Game
Defense has always been and always will be the key to winning. They Celtics 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 5th in the league, averaging 108.5 points per game. The Celtics will need to bring their defensive intensity in order to get a win in this game. They can't expect to outscore the Raptors if they can't get stops on the defensive end.
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.
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. They especially have to try to box out Valanciunas who had 23 rebounds in their last game in Toronto.
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.
Focus - The Celtics are on the road after a week long break. At times they have been sluggish when playing after being off for a few days. They need to focus on the game and playing their best and not all of the distractions of playing on the road. They need to use the fact that Danny stuck with the same group as motivation to come in focused and play their best.
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. If anyone doubts that the officiating is an X-Factor, they just need to go back to the final game before the All Star break where the officials robbed the Celtics of a victory by failing to call a very obvious foul on the Bulls at half court and then calling a ticky tack foul on the final possession to give the Bulls the victory.