The Celtics travel to Toronto to face the Raptors for the 3rd of 4 meetings this season. The series is tied 1-1 after the Raptors beat the Celtics 115-83 in their home opener on October 22 and the Celtics beat the Raptors 104-88 in Boston on November 10. They will meet one more time in Toronto on March 28. The Celtics and Raptors also played in the preseason and the Celtics won that one 113-111 in Toronto.
The Celtics currently sit in 9th place in the East. They are 5-6 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They have lost their last 2 games, one at home and one on the road. The Raptors are 12th in the East. They are 2-6 at home and 3-7 in their last 10 games. They lost their last game, but are coming off of a 2-4 road trip and this is the first of a 7 game home stand for them. The Celtics are finishing a 2 game road trip before one game at home and then starting another 5 game Western road trip.
Jaylen Brown is once again listed as questionable for injury management. He was listed as questionable for the past two games as well but played in each of them. Robert Williams will miss his 3rd straight game due to a non-covid illness. Dennis Schroder is also listed as out with an ankle injury that he hurt in Friday’s game against the Spurs. If Jaylen can’t play then I’m not sure who will start but I would guess Josh Richardson, who is not on the injury list after missing the last two games.
For the Raptors, Khem Birch is expected to miss his third straight game with a knee injury. OG Anunoby has missed the last 5 games and is listed as questionable for this game. His status will be a game time decision. Gary Trent, Jr left Friday’s game with calf tightness and is questionable for this game. He missed Saturday’s practice and is also a game time decision. If he can’t play then Svi Mykhailiuk or Malachi Flynn may get the start in his place.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (rest) questionable
Robert Williams III (illness) out
Dennis Schroder (ankle) out
Probable Raptors Starters
OG Anunoby (hip) questionable
Gary Trent, Jr. (calf) questionable
Khem Birch (knee) out
Marcus Smart vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 19.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He is shooting 43.7% from the field and 38.6% from beyond the arc. Against Boston this season he is averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 assists and he is shooting 42.9% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc. The Celtics were able to slow him down in the first two games and need to do the same in this one.
Grant Williams vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam is averaging 17.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game this season. He missed the first 10 games of the season and has been improving since returning. Over the last 4 games he is averaging 21.8 points on 52% shooting. He missed the first game against the Celtics and had 8 points and 3 assists in the second one. Slowing him down will be key.
Jayson Tatum vs Scottie Barnes
Barnes is one of the top rookies this season. He leads all rookies in scoring and rebounds. He is averaging 14.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 23.0 points per game. He shot 64% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. It will be crucial for the Celtics to slow him down in this one. Also, Jayson Tatum had another poor shooting game against the Spurs and the Celtics need him to get his offense back on track.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Celtics have struggled on offense at times this season but their defense has improved over the first 20 games of the season. The Celtics are 9th with a defensive rating of 105.2 while the Raptors are 26th with a defensive rating of 110.5. If the Celtics hope to win this game and if they hope to contend this season, it will have to be with defense first. They need to make defense a priority in every game.
Rebound - The Raptors average 44.3 rebounds per game (26th) while the Celtics average 47.0 rebounds per game (4th) In the Raptors 32 point win over the Celtics earlier this season, Toronto out-rebounded the Celtics 60-42 and they pulled down 21 offensive rebounds. In the Celtics win, they out-rebounded the Raptors 44-41. The Raptors are 2nd in the league with 15.9 second chance points per game. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics must put out more effort to beat the Raptors to rebounds.
Take Care of the Ball - The Raptors don’t turn the ball over much. They are 4th in the league with 12.9 turnovers per game. The Celtics are 12th with 13.9 turnovers per game. But the Celtics go through spurts in the game where they turnover the ball on possession after possession. They must take care of the ball and limit their turnovers. The Raptors are 2nd with 20.4 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy, they will surely make them pay.
Focus and Effort - I’m not completely sure why the Celtics have struggled so much on offense. I have to think that part of it is a lack of focus. We know that the Celtics are capable of shooting much better than they did against the Spurs and in other games where they couldn’t seem to hit their shots. They need to focus on taking and making good shots. They also have to put out better effort on both ends of the court.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics need to come out strong and not allow the Raptors to get any confidence or build a lead. When they come out sluggish like they did against the Spurs, it is just too hard to come back and maintain that to win the game. 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. The Celtics need to start strong and be aggressive throughout the game until the final buzzer sounds.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing in the second game of their 2 game road trip. Travel is tiring and staying in hotels is distracting, especially for young players. They also have to play in front of hostile crowds and the Raptors crowd is one of the more hostile ones in the NBA. The Celtics have to block out all the distractions and focus on playing the right way. The Raptors are just 2-6 at home but they still have a distinct advantage there and the Celtics have to work harder to overcome that.
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. Jayson Tatum has been complaining about the officiating in every game and even on social media. Tatum, and all of the Celtics, have to adjust to the way the game is being called and focus on playing and not on the calls that are being made or not being made.