For the second time this week, the Celtics and Raptors will square off in a game between two Atlantic Division rivals. The Celtics are 2-0 this season, winning the first game 112-105 in Boston on October 25 and the second 118-102 on Christmas Day. They will meet one more time in Toronto on March 20.
The Celtics sit in 2nd place in the East, 4 games behind Milwaukee, while the Raptors are 4th, 2 games behind the Celtics. The Raptors are 8-6 on the road while the Celtics are 13-1 at home. The Celtics are 6-3 vs Atlantic Division teams while the Raptors are 3-3 vs the division. The Celtics have won their last 5 games while the Raptors have lost their last 2 games.
The Raptors have not played since Wednesday when the Celtics won on Christmas Day. They are playing in the first of back to back games and will head home after this game to play the Thunder on Sunday. The Celtics are playing in back to back games at home after beating the Cavaliers on Friday night. The Celtics are 2-1 on the second night of back to back games. The Raptors are 2-2 on the first night of back to back games.
The Celtics have a chance to clinch the season series with the Raptors and that would be very big. The Raptors look to be one of the Celtics top rivals to win the East and the Atlantic Division. Winning the series, and thus any tie breakers would be big for the Celtics. Hopefully the Celtics keep in mind what is at stake and come out ready to play hard for 48 minutes and avoid any let down from having played this team just days ago. The Raptors will be looking to avenge two losses to the Celtics and the Celtics must match their intensity.
Both teams have been hit with injuries to key players. The Celtics got Gordon Hayward back for the Christmas Day game after he missed 3 games with soreness in his foot. Marcus Smart has missed 8 games with an eye infection that spread to both eyes. All signs point to his return for this game, but with his minutes restricted. He is not listed on today’s injury list so it is looking like we will finally see him back on the court.
Both Vincent Poirier (finger) and Robert Williams (hip) remain out for the Celtics. Tremont Waters, the Celtics two way player played at the end of Friday’s game, even though the Red Claws played on Friday night. Tacko Fall was back with the Red Claws on Friday, putting up 12 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks. As of now, Waters is still with the Celtics and Fall is with the Red Claws.
For the Raptors, they have 5 players listed on their injury list. Dewan Hernandez, who last played on December 16, is out with a sprained ankle. Matt Thomas is out with a fractured finger. Norman Powell is out with a subluxation of his left shoulder. Pascal Siakim is out with a groin injury and Marc Gasol is out with a hamstring injury. One of their two way players, Oshae Brissett has been called up from the G-League.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Marcus Smart (eye) probable
Vincent Poirier (finger) out
Robert Williams (hip) out
Two Way Players
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: Patrick McCaw
PF: OG Anunoby
C: Serge Ibaka
Dewan Hernandez (ankle) out
Matt Thomas (finger) out
Norman Powell (shoulder) out
Pascal Siakim (groin) out
Marc Gasol (hamstring) out
Two Way Players
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry is averaging 20.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.2 steals. He has picked up his game with the injuries to his teammates and is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week. In the two games against the Celtics, Lowry averaged 21.5 points and 7.5 assists. Limiting Lowry’s production should be a priority for the Celtics.
Jaylen Brown vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 18.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.0 steals. He has picked up his game quite a bit to fill in for his injured teammates. Jaylen Brown has been playing very well for the Celtics and should match up well with VanVleet. He needs to stay with him on the perimeter as VanVleet is shooting 39% from beyond the arc.
Daniel Theis vs Serge Ibaka
With Marc Gasol out, the Raptors have been starting Ibaka, who is averaging 13.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. Ibaka is always a threat to block shots and grab rebounds and so the Celtics will need to try to keep him out of the paint.
Keys to the Game
DefenseThe Celtics have the 2nd best defensive rating in the league at 103.9. The Raptors are 5th with a defensive rating of 104.3. They need to play particularly tough defense against the Raptors since they are a top defensive team themselves, even with all the injuries. Brad Stevens wasn’t happy with the Celtics’ defense against the Cavaliers and hopefully they will play tougher defense in this game against a very motivated Raptors team.
Be AggressiveThe 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. The Raptors are going to come out and play hard and be very aggressive after losing on Wednesday, and the Celtics absolutely can’t let the Raptors play harder than them.
ReboundThe 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 11th in the league in rebounds at 46.0 per game. The Raptors are 10th with 46.1 per game. The Celtics have to crash the boards and beat the Raptors to the rebounds if they want to get a win.
Move the Ball CarefullyThe Celtics need to move the ball and not lapse into hero ball. They have to make the extra pass and find the open man and the best shot. As Brad Stevens tells them, make the next right play. They have to play team ball. They also have to focus and make careful passes and take care of the ball because the Raptors are 2nd in the league with 19.7 points off turnovers per game and first with 19.1 fast break points per game. If the Celtics get sloppy and turn the ball over, the Raptors will definitely make them pay.
Home Game - With an Atlantic Division rival in the building, the crowd should be loud and the Celtics should draw motivation and some encouragement from having the crowd behind them. The Celtics need to stay focused and feed off that energy in the crowd to boost them to victory.
Officiating - Every crew calls a game differently. Some games are called tight with every little bit of contact called. Some crews let the teams play and only call the obvious fouls. Some favor the home team and some not so much. The Celtics need to recognize 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. BAD REF ALERT:Tony Brothers brings angst to every team’s fan base and he is the lead ref for this game. He was voted the worst ref in the league by 24.5% of the players in their recent survey. With Brothers, you never know what you will get. Sometimes he calls everything on both teams. Sometimes he lets both teams play. And, sometimes he calls a game one sided for one of the teams. Basically, he is just bad. Hopefully we get the Tony Brothers that lets them play both ways in this game. Usually when fans of any team sees Brothers calling their games, they cringe.
Back to Back - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games and that could affect their energy late in the game. They should get a boost if their heart and soul, Marcus Smart is able to play and that may help them with their energy. The Raptors will be well rested and so the Celtics will need to dig down deep, especially on defense, if they want to get this win.