The last time the Boston Celtics played the Toronto Raptors, it was the second game of the season and Boston’s home opener. It could not have gone worse for the Celtics.
Toronto outscored Boston 64-36 in the second half on the way to a 32-point blowout victory. That loss caused several Celtics to directly question their effort and focus levels, while Ime Udoka said his team got “punked”. Here’s what we’re looking for as the teams meet for a second time in Boston in a two-and-a-half-week span.
1. Effort and focus: The Celtics are coming in shorthanded without Jaylen Brown, but that can’t be an excuse for not playing hard. Boston has to get after Toronto on both ends of the floor.
In the previous loss, the Celtics had a whopping 25 turnovers. To make things worse, they allowed the Raptors to grab 21 offensive rebounds. That led to an 18-shot difference in the game. That’s a recipe for a loss, and that’s exactly what Toronto served Boston.
2. Is Jayson Tatum finally back? Jayson Tatum had one of his better games of the season in the last-second loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Tatum hit 12-of-19 overall, including 6-of-8 from behind the arc for 32 points. He was continually aggressive about attacking the rim, while also taking, and making, his open jumpers.
Now, can Tatum repeat this and find some much-needed consistency? That would be huge for the Celtics while Brown is out. Look for Tatum to draw a host of different defenders from the Raptors, but he should still be able to generate enough offense to keep Boston afloat.
3. Can Boston use their size to their advantage? Even starting two bigs, it’s rare when Boston is the bigger team. Against Toronto, they should have a size advantage almost across the board. The Raptors have been running a five-out, three-forward offense with Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes up front. Al Horford and Robert Williams should both be able to make some things happen in the paint against that group.
In the backcourt, Dennis Schroder and Marcus Smart aren’t giants, but both are similarly-sized to Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. In addition, Boston should be coming off the bench with more size than Toronto will.
This didn’t pay off at all in the first loss, as the Raptors were all over the offensive glass. It’s up to the Celtics make those small-ball groups pay by doing some work in the paint and on the boards.