The Celtics return to Boston for their home opener as they host the Toronto Raptors. These two teams met in the preseason with the Celtics coming away with a 113-111 win in Toronto. Both teams come into this game with a 0-1 record after losing their season openers on Wednesday.
The Celtics lost their season opener against the Knicks in a 138-134 double overtime thriller on the road at Madison Square Garden. The Raptors played their first regular season game in Toronto since February 2020. They lost 98-83 to the Washington Wizards in a low scoring game. The Celtics won the series 3-0 last season.
On Wednesday, Celtics played without Al Horford, who had not yet been released from quarantine. He is now out of quarantine, but listed as questionable for this game depending on his level of conditioning. Jaylen Brown played right after leaving quarantine but they may be more careful with Al since he is older than Jaylen and may need more time to get his conditioning back.
I’m thinking positive and have Al in the starting lineup for this one. If he can’t play, I would expect Grant Williams to get another start at power forward. Williams did a good job in his start on Wednesday with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He also shot 68% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc.
Josh Richardson was a late scratch for Wednesday’s game after he came down with a migraine. He is listed as probable for this game. Marcus Smart played 46 minutes in Wednesday’s double-OT thriller against the Knicks and came away with some swelling in his knee. He is probable for this game.
Pascal Siakam had surgery on his shoulder in July and has not been cleared for contact yet. He will likely start contact in practice this week and may return within the next couple of weeks. Yuta Watanabe has missed the last 2 games for the Raptors with a calf strain and is listed as out for this game as well.
The Raptors are playing on the first night of back to back games. After this game they will head back to Toronto for a Saturday game against the Mavericks. The Celtics don’t play again until Sunday at Houston and Monday at Charlotte. Unless the game is close, I would expect the Raptors to try to limit their starters’ minutes in this one.
Probable Celtics Starters
Al Horford (conditioning) questionable
Marcus Smart (knee) probable
Josh Richardson (migraine) probable
Probable Raptors Starters
Gary Trent, Jr
Yuta Watanabe (calf) out
Pascal Siakam (shoulder) out
Jaylen Brown vs Fred VanVleet
This will be a key matchup for both teams. Jaylen Brown is coming off a 46 point career high against the Knicks but mentioned some lingering problems from his bout with covid. Hopefully he will pick up where he left off in that game and have another big game in this one. VanVleet put up 22 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals against the Celtics in the preseason. He was also Toronto’s high scorer with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in Wednesday’s season opener. He is always a threat to score and so Jaylen will need to defend on a high level as well.
Robert Williams III vs Precious Achiuwa
Robert Williams had a bit game on Wednesday with 16 points on 5-5 shooting, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 5 blocks. He is a big factor for the Celtics’ defense in the paint. He will be tasked with stopping Precious Achiuwa who had 13 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and 1 block against the Celtics in the preseason. He also had 6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists on Wednesday. This should be a good matchup between 2 young and athletic centers.
Jayson Tatum vs OG Anunoby
Granted that Tatum will likely be playing at the three and Anunoby will likely be at the four, but these are both very important players for their respective teams. Tatum had a terrible game on Wednesday shooting just 7-30 from the field and 2-15 from beyond the arc. The Celtics need him to shoot much better than that if they hope to go anywhere this season. Anunoby is also an important player for the Raptors. He has played well against the Celtics in the preseason with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assist. On Wednesday, he put up 11 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and a block.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning every single game. The Celtics struggled some on defense against the Knicks. They should play better once they get the whole team on the court as both Al Horford and Josh Richardson are key defenders. The Celtics must be aggressive on defense and make playing team defense a priority.
Rebound - Rebounding is also a key to winning every game. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics have to put out extra effort on the boards to prevent the Raptors from getting second chance points and extra possessions and to give themselves extra opportunities to score.
Be Aggressive - Ime Udoka has said that he wants the Celtics to be the team that plays harder every game. Too often last season, the Celtics lost games to teams they should have beat because they allowed the other team to play harder than them. Against the Knicks, the Celtics were aggressive for much of the game but had just a couple of stretches where it seemed like their opponent was playing harder. They have to be aggressive from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Pace and Teamwork - The Celtics need to run on every possession and move the ball without a lot of iso play and without a lot of dribbling around. The Celtics had 34 assists against the Knicks and they need to keep up that kind of ball movement in every game this season. They are most effective when they keep the ball moving and also move without the ball.
Home Opener - The Celtics are playing in their first home game of the season. The Garden crowd will be back and should give the team a lift. Young players usually play better at home and hopefully the Raptors will be feeling the results of having to travel and also the hostile Garden crowd.
Health - Injuries and covid took a huge toll on the Celtics last season and they are already feeling the results of covid this season. Last season the top 7 players never got to play together. The starting 5 played in just 7 games together where they were 6-1. Hopefully Horford, Richardson and Smart can all play in this one. But, if Horford is still feeling the effects of covid, it would be better for him to sit out this one, rather than taking a chance on an injury due to lack of conditioning.