The Celtics will play their second preseason game against the Toronto Raptors at home at the TD Garden. The Raptors are playing their third preseason game after going 1-1 in their first two. Both of the Raptors’ first two games were against the Philadelphia 76ers. On Monday, they won their first game 123-107. They played at home in Toronto for the first time since February 2020 when the league suspended the season due to Covid. The Raptors lost their second game 125-113 in Philadelphia.
Both of these teams are much different than when they met in the second round of the bubble and the Raptors took the Celtics to seven games in that series. That was post season and this is the preseason, and so the vibes will be much different, but the rosters are much different also. It’s hard to believe that series was just 13 months ago.
The Celtics are looking for a fresh start this season under their new head coach, Ime Udoka. Reports coming out of practice indicate that the team is very focused and practices have been intense. They are looking to increase the pace, improve the defense, pass more and play team ball. We saw some of this in their first game and hopefully will see more in this game.
Unlike the Celtics, the Raptors don’t have to adjust to a new coach’s system and culture. Nick Nurse has been with the Raptors since 2013 as an assistant coach and since 2018 as the head coach. The Raptors will however miss Kyle Lowry, who had been the heart of the team since 2012 and who helped to bring a championship to Toronto in 2019. In his place, they brought in Goran Dragic, who has started the first two games at the point. They will also miss Pascal Siakam who had shoulder surgery and won’t likely return until late November.
The Raptors are very high on Scottie Barnes, who was the 4th pick in the 2021 draft. He brings them energy and has averaged 10.5 points 6 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the two games so far. The Raptors will be missing Yuta Watanabe, who is out with a calf injury, Khem Birch, who is out with covid, Chris Boucher, who is out with a finger injury and Pascal Siakam who is out after shoulder surgery.
For the Celtics, Juwan Morgan is day to day with a hamstring injury. He missed Monday’s game and is questionable for this game. He is fighting for a roster spot and so he will play if he possibly can. On Friday, the Celtics got the news that Jaylen Brown tested positive for covid. He was reportedly asymptomatic and it is unknown if he was vaccinated or not. He will be out at least 10 days as he is in quarantine. On Saturday morning, the Celtics announced that Dennis Schroder is questionable with a left knee contusion. The injury reportedly occurred in practice.
The Raptors started the same 5 players in their first two games and so I have used those 5 players as their starters for this game, although they may decide to switch things up for this game. The Celtics starters are pretty much up in the air. Ime Udoka has said that he is going to switch up lineups in the first 3 games to see which lineups play well together but not to read too much into the lineups in the first 3 games. With Jaylen Brown being out, it is even harder to predict who will start. I’ve guessed that Aaron Nesmith and Al Horford will start with Smart, Tatum and Rob Williams. But, it’s just a guess, and probably wrong.
Possible Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Aaron Nesmith
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams
Juwan Morgan (hamstring) questionable
Jaylen Brown (covid) out
Dennis Schroder (knee) questionable
Possible Raptors Starters
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Scottie Barnes
C: Precious Achiuwa
Gary Trent, Jr
Yuta Watanabe (calf) out
Khem Birch (covid) out
Chris Boucher (finger) out
Pascal Siakam (shoulder) out
Players to Watch
Aaron Nesmith played well in Monday’s game with 10 points and 3 rebounds in 14 minutes of play. The Celtics need him to step up this season and Ime Udoka has said that he wants to see him play more with the starters to see how he would fit and so we may see him in the starting lineup. Regardless, it would be good to see him take another step up.
Robert Williams uncharacteristically struggled on offense against the Magic, going 0-7 for just 1 points to go with 5 rebounds 2 assists and 2 blocks. He will be looking to get back on track offensively in this game.
Romeo Langford hit the game winner on Monday and finished with 7 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 10 minutes. The Celtics need him to take another step up in his development this season or he may end up on the outside looking in.
Fred VanVleet is a pillar of the Raptors and has been with the team for 5 seasons. He is averaging 12.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists in the two games so far. He is capable of putting up big numbers and will be a veteran leader on this team.
OG Anunoby has been the Raptors best player so far this preseason. He is averaging 21.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2 steals per game so far. The Celtics need to defend him well.
Scottie Barnes has been impressing coaches and teammates in Toronto so far in the preseason. The 4th pick in the 2021 draft, he has averaged 10.5 points, 6 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the 2 games so far.
What to Watch For
Pace - The Celtics were 20th last season in pace and new coach Ime Udoka has said that he is hoping to up the pace this season. We saw some progress on this in the first game and hopefully will see them continue to play fast and make quick decisions. The Celtics are also looking to pass more. In the first game they tended to over pass. Hopefully they watched film and we will see more passes with a purpose and better decision making.
Defense - After being top 4 in defense in previous years, the Celtics dropped to middle of the pack last season. They seemed to lose their edge and allowed way too many easy baskets. Ime Udoka has said that he wants to focus on defense and the Celtics have good defenders on the team. Missing Jaylen Brown will hinder the defense a bit but hopefully we will see the other Celtics lock in on defense in this game. The Raptors scored around 50% from the field in both of their first 2 games. The Celtics need to up their defense to prevent that in this game.
Aggressiveness - Too often last season, the Celtics allowed themselves to be out-played by other teams. They lost that swagger and edge that allowed them to beat a lot of talented teams in previous seasons. They have been very aggressive in practice, going hard at each other. Hopefully that will transfer to the game and they will be even more aggressive against the opponent.
Improvement - You can’t tell much about the rotation from preseason games, but we can watch individual players and look for improvements in each one. They have all had a full offseason and training camp and have all worked on different areas and it will be fun to see the results of what they have worked on this summer.
Chemistry - Both of these teams are trying to integrate several new players. The Celtics also have to get used to a new coach and culture whereas the Raptors have had the same coach since 2018. In the second game, we should see the results of the Celtics’ intense practices show up in better chemistry on the court.
Next Man Up - The Celtics will face their first bit of adversity in their second preseason game as they will be missing Jaylen Brown, who was their best player on Monday and a big part of their defense. Also Dennis Schroder is questionable for this game. Last season with all the injuries, it didn’t seem like anyone stepped up when players were out. Who will step up to fill in for Jaylen and possibly Dennis? Who will get the extra minutes and who will step up?
The Celtics need to hit their shots. They shot 35% from the field against the Magic and, while they won that game, they won’t win many games shooting that low of a percentage. They need to have better focus when shooting and make sure they move the ball to get the best shots.