The Celtics and Raptors meet for the second time this season. The Celtics beat the Raptors in Tampa, where the Raptors are playing this season, 126-114. They are also scheduled to play one more time in the first half of the season. They will meet in Boston once again on March 4.
These two teams met in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals where the Celtics won a hard fought 7 game series in the Bubble. The Celtics are 4th in the East and are 5 games behind the first place 76ers. They are 5-3 at home and are looking to get back on track after losing the last 2 games on their Western road trip. The Raptors are 8th, 6 games out of first. They are 1.5 game ahead of the Knicks, who are 9th. The Raptors are 6-8 on the road and have won their last 3 games.
The Celtics last played in Utah on Tuesday. The Raptors are playing on the second night of back to back games and had to travel over night after beating the Wizards in Washington 137-115 on Wednesday. The Raptors are 0-3 so far on the second night of back to back games. The Raptors are also playing in the final game of a 6 game road trip.
Marcus Smart remains out with the calf injury that kept him out of the road trip. Romeo Langford is still out as he rehabs from wrist surgery. Robert Williams is also out with hip soreness. Jaylen Brown reportedly has tendonitis in his knee but is not on the injury list. For the Raptors, OG Anunoby has missed 8 games with a strained calf and is questionable for this game. If Anunoby can play, I would expect him to return to the starting lineup, although possibly on a minutes restriction. Yuta Watanabe (ankle) is questionable and Patrick McCaw (knee) is out.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Daniel Theis
C: Tristan Thompson
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Robert Williams III (hip) out
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: Norman Powell
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Aron Baynes
Jalen HarrisPaul Watson
Patrick McCaw (knee) out
Yuta Watanabe (ankle) questionable
OG Anunoby (calf) questionable
Jaylen Brown vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is leading the Raptors with 20.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He has scored 30+ points in 13 games this season and has had 4 30 point games. He is shooting 41% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. He is capable of putting up a lot of points and had 35 points in the January game. The Celtics need to keep him from having another big game.
Daniel Theis vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam is averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 46% from the field and just 27% from beyond the arc. In the January game, he put up 22 points On the other hand, Theis is coming off one of his best shooting games, hitting 5 of 6 from the perimeter.
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry is averaging 17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.1 steals. He is shooting 42% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. He put up 18 points against the Celtics in January. Kemba has been struggling since coming back from the off season knee procedure. This would be a good time for him to get back to being Kemba once again.
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, slipping to 19th with a defensive rating of 113.2. The Raptors have not been a top defensive team either with a defensive rating of 112.2 (17th). The Celtics 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 42.5 rebounds per game while the Celtics are averaging 44.0 rebound per game. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics must put out more effort to beat the Raptors on the boards.
Move the Ball - The Celtics need to move the ball more. They have way too many possessions where only 1 or 2 players touch the ball and where the majority of the shot clock is one player dribbling around trying to find his own shot. The Celtics are much more effective when they move the ball and find the open man and not over-dribble.
Play Focused 48 Minutes - The Celtics seem to lose focus for periods during each game where they lose focus and turn the ball over and can’t seem to hit a shot. They also struggle to get stops on the other end. They need to stay focused for 48 minutes and not give up those runs to the other team, especially in the last few minutes of the game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must play with a chip on their shoulders. They have to get back to having a swagger on the court. They have allowed teams to play harder than the them and that should never be. They have to come out strong and they have to play hard and aggressively for 48 minutes. Even teams with less talent can beat them on any given night if they play allow those teams to play harder than them.
Home and Road - The Celtics are finally back home after a 5 game road trip out west. It should feel good for them to be back in their own beds and their own arena and not having to travel before or after the game. The Raptors are on the final game of their 6 game road trip and that’s always a tough game for teams as they are ready to be done and go home.
Coaching - It is once again Brad Stevens vs Nick Nurse. These two coaches matched wits in last year’s Semi-Finals with Brad coming out on top but Nurse got plenty of kudos for his coaching in that series. Brad won their first matchup this season. Which coach will come out on top in this 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. Too often this season, players have lost focus as they complain about fouls, or lack of fouls. They also seem to be playing for calls quite a bit. The Celtics have to adjust to the way the game is being called and not lose focus if calls aren’t going their way.