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The Celtics take on Raptors in a battle of the East’s top two teams

Kyrie Irving returns as the Celtics take on the Raptors in what may be an Eastern Conference Finals preview.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After a 3-0 home stand, the Celtics travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors who are 2-0 on their own current home stand. This is the 2nd of 4 games between these two teams this season. They will meet again in Toronto on April 4 and in Boston on March 31.

The Celtics have won 4 straight and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 18-7 on the road. The Raptors have won 2 straight and are 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Raptors are a league best 21-4 at home. It’s a tough task to go into the Air Canada Centre and get a win. The 4 teams who have won in Toronto are Washington, Miami, Golden State, and Utah.

The Celtics still lead the Eastern Conference but the Toronto Raptors are right there with them, just 2 games back of the Celtics. That makes this game very important for the standings. A Celtics win would put them up 3 games on the Raptors, but a loss would give them a very precarious 1 game lead.

Kyrie Irving missed the past 3 games with a quad bruise. According to Brad Stevens, Kyrie had a good practice and traveled with the team to Toronto is expected to play in this game. Marcus Morris missed the last game with a hip injury but also traveled with the team and will be a game time decision.

Marcus Smart (hand), Shane Larkin (knee) and Gordon Hayward (ankle) are all out. The Celtics have agreed to a deal with Greg Monroe and he has arrived in Boston for his physical, however he has not yet been signed. Danny is delaying the signing to give the team flexibility leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline. The Raptors have no injuries reported.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Guerschon Yabusele
Terry Rozier

Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Shane Larkin (knee) out
Marcus Smart (hand) out
Kyrie Irving (quad) expected to play
Marcus Morris (hip) game time decision
Greg Monroe (unsigned) doubtful

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Brad Stevens

Probable Raptors Starters

PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar Derozan
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Reserves
Norman Powell
Bruno Caboclo
Alfonzo McKinnie
CJ Miles
Lucas Nogueira
Jacob Poeltl
Pascal Siakam
Fred VanVleet
Delon Wright


Two Way Players
Lorenzo Brown
Malcolm Miller

Head Coach
Dwane Casey

Key Matchups

Jaylen Brown vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is the Raptors best player and he is averaging 24.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He is also shooting 47.1% from beyond the arc. Jaylen will need to play lock down defense to keep DeMar from having a big game.

Kyrie Irving 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 16.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.2 steals. It’s good that Kyrie will be back for this one. Hopefully he is at full strength because the Celtics will certainly need him against this tough Raptors team.

Honorable Mention
Celtics Bench vs Raptors Bench
The Raptors’ bench has the 3rd best net rating behind only Golden State and Houston. They outscore their opponents by an average of 6.3 points per 100 possessions. When Siakam and Poeltl are together in the 4th quarter the Raptors have a +13.9 net rating and allow just 90.1 points per 100 possessions. The Raptors’ reserves average 50.1 points per game. The Celtics reserves must play tough defense along with contributing to the offense if the Celtics want to get a win.

Keys to the Game
Defense has always been and always will be the key to winning. The Celtics have the best defensive rating in the league at 99.9. The Raptors are 3rd with a defensive rating of 103.1. They need to play particularly tough defense against the Raptors since they are averaging 112.7 points per game at home and are capable of putting up a lot of points in a hurry. The Celtics will miss Marcus Smart’s defense but the rest of the team must step up and play tough team 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. Dwayne Casey has said that the Raptors want to step up and match or surpass the Celtics’ aggressiveness and physicality and if so, the Celtics have to work harder to be the more aggressive team.

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 9th in rebounds at 44.5 per game. The Raptors are 15th with 43.5 per game. The Celtics have to crash the boards and beat the Raptors to the rebounds if they want to get a win.

Play 48 Minutes
The Celtics have been coming out of the gates slowly and letting teams get a lead. They have been able to come back and get a win against a lot of teams, 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.

On the Road - The Celtics are on the road once again and playing in an arena where it is very difficult to get a win. With the Raptors having the NBA’s best home record, the Celtics have to come in focused and play their best in order to get a win. The young players especially have to stay focused and ignore all of the distractions that come with playing on the road.

Next Man Up - The Celtics have been finding ways to win even without key players. They may or may not get Marcus Morris and Kyrie Irving back but whether they do or not, they will still be missing some key players and so the players who are available must step up and fill in for the players who are out.

Motivation - There is a lot of motivation for both teams. First and foremost, the Celtics are just 2 games up on the Raptors and a win would cut that to 1 game. With the Raptors playing well recently, they would be very close taking over first place from the Celtics. The Raptors also have the added motivation of wanting to avenge the 1 point loss in the first game between these two teams. The Celtics need to be motivated to keep them from getting that revenge.

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