The Celtics home opener is finally here and the Celtics host the World Champion Toronto Raptors. The Celtics first three games are against division rivals: 76ers, Raptors and Knicks. The Raptors beat the Pelicans on Tuesday night to open their title defense after receiving their Championship Rings.
This is the first of 4 games against the Raptors this season. The Celtics will play the Raptors in Toronto on Christmas Day and then in Boston on December 28. Their last meeting will be in Toronto on March 20. They split the series 2-2 last season with each team winning at home. Both teams have changed considerably since last season, however.
Both teams are playing in the first half of back to back games. Toronto will play in Chicago on Saturday while the Celtics will travel to New York to face the Knicks on Saturday. It is the first of 12 back to backs for the Celtics and the first of 13 back to back sets for the Raptors.
Rondae Hollis Jefferson (groin) and Patrick McCaw (knee) did not play on Tuesday for the Raptors and are listed as questionable for this game. Fred VanVleet twisted his ankle in Tuesday’s game but is expected to try to play in this game. Tacko Fall is still out for the Celtics as he goes through the concussion protocol. Romeo Langford is still out with a sore knee.
Enes Kanter got a knee contusion against the Sixers and although he finished the game, he was limping afterwards and has been ruled out for this game. Marcus Smart was hit in the throat in that game and has a strained windpipe. He said it hurts like strep throat and he needs to ice it and take inflammatories to help the swelling but as of now, he is not on the injured list for this game.
Tacko Fall, Javonte Green, Romeo Langford and Tremont Waters were listed as inactive for the Celtics first game in Philadelphia. With Tacko and Romeo both out with injuries and Enes Kanter joining them on the injured list, either Javonte Green or Tremont Waters will be active for this game. My guess is that it will be Javonte, unless Smart is out with the injury also.
I’m guessing that Daniel Theis will join Walker, Brown, Hayward, and Tatum in the starting five. Enes Kanter started the first game but is unavailable for this game. Daniel Theis and Robert Williams started two games each in the preseason and it appeared that Theis had won the starting spot before Kanter was named the starter for the first game. Victor Poirier did not play in the first game, but with Kanter out and the center position fluid, I expect him to get some run in this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (knee) out
Tacko Fall (concussion) out
Enes Kanter (knee) out
Two Way Players
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol
Rondae Hollis Jefferson (groin) questionable
Patrick McCaw (knee) doubtful
Fred VanVleet (ankle) probable
Jaylen Brown vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet had a strong game in the Raptors’ opener with 34 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds. Jaylen Brown started good but was limited by foul trouble in the Celtics’ opener. Jaylen needs to try to limit fouling while playing tight defense on VanVleet to keep him from having another big game.
Jayson Tatum vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam just signed a big extension ($130 million over 4 years) and didn’t waste time trying to earn it. He had 34 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 assists in the Raptors’ opener. Tatum struggled a bit with his shot in the first game and so he needs to come out more focused in this game and come up big on the offensive end, but he also needs to play tough defense to limit Siakam’s scoring and rebounding.
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
Kemba struggled in his first game with the Celtics, shooting just 4 of 18 for 12 points. He missed several makable shots. Let’s just chalk that up to nerves and getting to know his new team. Hopefully he comes out strong in this game and has a big game. Lowry had 22 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in his first game and so the Celtics need to also try to slow him down on defense.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - I always list defense as the first key but after the Celtics opening game, I’m going to move rebounding up one. The Celtics were out-rebounded 62-41 by the Sixers. That’s 21 fewer rebounds and it’s hard to win when you give your opponent that many more extra possessions. Much of rebounding is desire and effort and every Celtic must commit to putting out that extra effort to go for rebounds.
Defense - You knew that defense had to come next as defense wins games and defense wins championships. The Celtics have to commit to playing tough, in your face defense for 48 minutes. They can’t play it for one half and then slack off as they did against the Sixers. They need a strong defensive effort from every player for all 48 minutes.
Move the Ball - In spite of slacking off on defense and allowing the Sixers to out-rebound them by 21, this may have been their biggest failure in that game. The Celtics had just 18 assists. They moved the ball fairly well in the first half, but in the second half, lapsed into too much one on one hero ball. They have to move the ball and keep it moving if they want to win.
Focus - The Celtics didn’t seem to be focused against the Sixers as they missed quite a few shots they usually make. They also missed 14 free throws and that is usually due to a lack of focus. They will be home for this game and hopefully their focus will be sharper with the home fans behind them. They need to block out everything else and focus on playing Celtics basketball for 48 minutes.
Home Game - The first home game of the season should be loud and there should be a lot of energy in the building for the players to feed off of. The Celtics need to stay focused and feed off that energy in the crowd to boost them to victory.
Officiating - The officials in the game vs the Sixers called every little thing with a lot of early fouls going against the Celtics (23 fouls for the Celtics and 13 for the Sixers at the half). They called 70 fouls for the game and that makes it tough to get any kind of flow to the game. The Celtics need to realize how the game is being called and adapt to it. Hopefully this crew will let them play and not destroy the flow with a whistle on every play.