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Celtics host the Toronto Raptors in a fight for the top seed in the East

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The Boston Celtics return home to host the Toronto Raptors as they look for their 6th straight win.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a 4-0 road trip, the Celtics return home to take on the Toronto Raptors. This is the 3rd of 4 games between these two teams this season. They will meet again in Toronto on April 4. The series is tied at 1-1 so far with each team winning on their home court. Needless to say, this game is very important for both teams.

The Raptors currently are first in the East while the Celtics trail them by 3 games. Both teams are 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Celtics have a 5 game win streak coming into this game while the Raptors are looking for their 2nd straight win. They have alternated wins and losses for a .500 record in their last 6 games after having won 11 straight before that.

When they meet again on April 4, the Raptors will be playing in the second of back to back games after playing in Cleveland on the previous night. The Celtics will also be playing in back to back games after playing in Milwaukee the night before. It will be a tough game to win in Toronto where the Raptors are 31-7.

The Celtics will still be short handed for this game with Kyrie Irving (knee), Marcus Smart (thumb), Daniel Theis (knee), and Gordon Hayward (ankle) all still out. Al Horford (ankle) and Marcus Morris (ankle) are not listed on tonight’s injury list and so I’m assuming that they will play. As of this morning, Jaylen Brown was also listed as questionable with toe soreness but he has been upgraded to probable. However, Shane Larkin is now listed as out with an illness.

On Thursday, DeMar DeRozan missed practice to go to be with his father who is very ill. There isn’t more information as of now and he isn’t listed on any of the injury lists so I think he will probably play but it’s possible that he may not if his father takes a turn for the worst. Malachi Richardson (wrist) is a game time decision and other than that, the Raptors are healthy.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Terry Rozier
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Guerschon Yabusele
Greg Monroe
Shane Larkin
Jabari Bird
Kadeem Allen
Xavier Silas

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Marcus Morris (ankle) expected to play
Al Horford (ankle) expected to play
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (toe) probable
Shane Larkin (illness) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Raptors Starters

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

Raptors Reserves
Nigel Hayes
Alfonzo McKinnie
CJ Miles
Lucas Nogueira
Jakob Poeltl
Norman Powell
Pascal Siakim
Fred VanVleet
Delon Wright

Injuries
Malachi Richardson (wrist) game time decision

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 23.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He is averagin 19.5 points per game in the two games against Boston so far this season. Jaylen will need to play lock down defense to keep DeMar from having a big game. Of course, it’s possible that DeRozan may miss the game to be with his ailing father, but that isn’t being listed anywhere as of now. As of Saturday morning, Jaylen is listed as questionable with “great toe soreness” and so this matchup is in question.

Terry Rozier 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 16.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.1 steals. He averaged 21.0 points in the two games against Boston so far this season. Rozier will need to play Lowry tough on both ends of the court.

Honorable Mention
Celtics Bench vs Raptors Bench
The Raptors’ bench leads the league with 45.1 points per game. They are pretty much at full strength and have played very strong this season. In the Raptors’ game against Denver on Tuesday, the 2nd unit scored 31 of the Raptors 32 points in the 4th quarter. CJ Miles scored 20 points against the Celtics in their last meeting. The Celtics reserves are pretty thin with all the injuries, but they have to step up and play tough against the Raptors second unit if they hope to get a win in this game.

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 101.2. The Raptors are 5th with a defensive rating of 103.6. They need to play particularly tough defense against the Raptors since they are averaging 112.5 points per game 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. Their only hope to win because of their injuries is for every player to play their hardest and to play harder than the Raptors.

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, which was illustrated against the Jazz when Shane Larkin pulled down 9 rebounds. The Celtics have to be the team that puts out more effort from every player to go after rebounds. The Celtics are 8th in rebounding at 44.4 per game. The Raptors are 17th with 43.6 per game. The Celtics have to crash the boards and beat the Raptors to the rebounds if they want to get a win.

Next Man Up
The Celtics have been finding ways to win even without key players. They have been missing 6 of their top players and yet have won 5 straight with 4 of those on the road. This will be the toughest game yet and every player will have to step up once again for the Celtics to have a chance at a win in this one.

X-Factors
Home Again - The first game home after a long road trip is sometimes one of the hardest. The Celtics need to stay focused and use the crowd to give them added energy to pick up their game and get the win.

Who Is Playing - If DeRozan misses this game to be with his ailing father, that will definitely make a difference. Also if Al Horford and Marcus Morris can play after sitting out the last game with sprained ankles as it looks like they may, , that would also make a difference. If Jaylen Brown is unable to go with the toe soreness, that would make a very big difference. We may not know until game time who will or will not be playing.