The Celtics and Raptors meet for the first time since the Celtics won a hard fought 7 game series in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in the Bubble. The Raptors are playing this season in Tampa, Florida because travel in and out of Canada would have been too difficult considering the pandemic.
After posting a 53–19 record for a .736 winning percentage last season, which was the best winning percentage in franchise history, the Raptors have had a very slow start this season, winning just 1 of their first 5 games. They are starting the same players as last season with the exception of former Celtic Aron Baynes starting in place of Marc Gasol, so there shouldn’t be that much of a drop off.
These two teams will face each other again on February 12 and March 4, with both games being played in Boston. The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games after a 122-120 win over the Pistons. They also had to travel from Detroit to Tampa after the game. The Raptors last played on Saturday when they lost 120-116 at the Pelicans.
The Celtics could be very shorthanded in this one. They will be missing Kemba Walker (knee) and Romeo Langford (wrist) as they have all season so far. Javonte Green is still out due to health and safety protocols (Covid). Jeff Teague left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and has been ruled out for this one. Marcus Smart sprained his thumb in Sunday’s game and is questionable for this game. If both Teague and Smart are out, we may see Payton Pritchard get his first career start. For the Raptors, Patrick McCaw is out as he rehabs from knee surgery.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Daniel Theis
C: Tristan Thompson
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Javonte Green (covid 19 protocols) out
Jeff Teague (ankle) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) questionable
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Aron Baynes
Patrick McCaw (knee) out
Marcus Smart vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry is the longest tenured Raptor and is their leader. He is averaging 18.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game this season. This should be a good matchup and Marcus Smart sprained his thumb in Sunday’s game and is questionable for this game. With Jeff Teague out due to an ankle injury, we may see Payton Pritchard in the starting lineup.
Jaylen Brown vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is leading the Raptors with 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds 6.0 assists and 1.5 steals. If the Celtics don’t play tough defense on him, he is capable of taking over a game. Jaylen has been playing at an elite level and the Celtics will need that from him again in this game.
Daniel Theis vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam has had a rough start to the season, but is still averaging 16.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He is shooting just 39.4% from the field and 28% from beyond the arc. He sat out Toronto’s only win for disciplinary reasons. Daniel Theis will be tasked with keeping him from getting back on track in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Celtics had a top 4 defense last season but for some reason, this season they have struggled on the defensive end. The Raptors have not been on the defensive end with a defensive rating of 104.3 (6th). The Celtics are 24th with a defensive rating of 112.0. They must get back to making defense a priority and give a better effort on that end of the court.
Rebound - The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball and one of the best ways to get extra possessions is to crash the boards and beat their opponents to rebounds on both ends of the court. The Raptors are averaging 44.0 rebounds per game (17th) while the Celtics are averaging 42.1 rebound per game (25th). Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics must put out more effort to beat the Raptors on the boards.
Run and Move the Ball - There are times when the Celtics look like they are running in sand. They walk or jog up the court instead of running and it gives the opponent time to set up the defense and that makes it harder to get quality shots. They need to run up the court and they need to move the ball and look for the open man and not play hero ball.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics need to come out strong and not allow the Raptors to get any confidence and not to build any type of lead. They also have to continue to play hard through the final buzzer. Too often they get a lead and then let up and allow the opponent to catch up and beat them or make the game much harder than it should be.
Don’t Underestimate - The Raptors may have just 1 win on the season but they are not a team to underestimate. They are starting 4 of the same players they started when they took the Celtics to 7 games in the playoffs plus a tough Aron Baynes in the 5th spot. The Raptors also had double digit leads in each of their first 3 losses and if the Celtics take them for granted, they are very capable of making the Celtics pay.
Back to Back - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games and had to travel after Sunday’s game. Fatigue could be a problem down the stretch for them. It will be even more important for the Celtics to come out strong and focus on building an early lead and playing hard throughout the game.
Officiating - While rarely is officiating a reason for a win or a loss, it can always be an x-factor. Every game is called differently. Some games are called tightly and some games are allowed to be more physical. The Celtics have to adjust to the way the game is being called.