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3 things to watch for against the Toronto Raptors

The Celtics take on the Toronto Raptors in their second pre-season game.

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

After making light work of the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday, the Boston Celtics will now face a much sterner test in the form of the Toronto Raptors for their second game of pre-season basketball.

Unlike the Hornets, the Raptors possess positional versatility, legitimate length, and some exceptional athletes, all of which will ensure Boston’s core rotation gets a significant barometer to test how far they are from regular-season form.

Still, now is the time for Joe Mazzulla to experiment, as he continues to learn more about his roster, and what combinations of players prove impactful for him in specific moments. NBA basketball is all about situational dominance, and knowing who to turn to in those moments is key. With all that being said, these games don’t have anything riding on them, so it’s always fun to see some whacky rotations and watch players start trying new things they’ve been working on in the summer.

Nevertheless, nothing is more fun than winning, so here are 3 things to look out for.

  1. Turnovers

I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel here. The Celtics registered 23 turnovers against the Hornets and considering they’re not currently known for their disruptivness, that’s an issue that should certainly cause some concern.

Toronto, however, is known for being a disruptive defensive team, as they love to utilize their length to clog passing lanes, and have a pitbull in Fred VanVleet that is always pressuring the rock.

Boston looked to push the pace in their first pre-season game, and truthfully, they looked a much-improved team because of it. But, there needs to be an additional level of control when facing a team as well-coached as Toronto, especially in the half-court. Sure, playing with pace often leads to more loose balls — just look at the Golden State Warriors turnover issues through the past decade — yet, there does need to be some form of balance between speed and control, and that will be an interesting puzzle for Mazzulla to solve.

2. Defensive Scheme

Against Charlotte, Mazzulla had the Celtics switching 1-through-4 with the 5 playing ‘up-to-touch’ on the screener, allowing the big man to react to the possession in whatever way they saw fit. Without Robert Williams in the rotation, it looks like Mazzulla will move away from having a secondary big man in a free-safety role on the weakside corner, which means there’s going to be a slight alteration in how the perimeter defense looks to deal with penetration.

Against the Raptors, the Celtics will have to contend with some additional size and ball-handling on the wings - especially when Scottie Barnes is rampaging downhill with the rim in his sights, or Pascal Siakam decides to hunt mismatches. Will Mazzulla encourage his switchier players to scram guys out of mismatches? Are we going to see some zone coverage or a box-and-1 thrown into the mix for a couple of possessions?

And what areas of the floor are the Celtics going to try and takeaway? Do they want to flood the middle? Limit cuts off the wing or slot? Or will they be more concerned with trying to improve their rebounding, thus easing some of the pressure on perimeter shooters, because let's not forget that Toronto ranked 20th in three-point percentage last season.

3. The Bench Unit

Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams, and Sam Hauser, all three of these players had incredible performances against Charlotte, and all eyes will be on them again against Toronto, as we all wait to see if they’re capable of carrying that form over against a sterner opponent.

Brogdon should be the least likely to struggle, after all, he’s the team’s marquee off-season signing and has proven himself to be an impactful player with both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers. Williams, on the other hand, should be motivated to show off the improvements in his game, from his newfound passing skills to attacking close-outs off the dribble.

Hauser, however, has a much clearer path — continue to prove you can knock down open jumpers on the perimeter, move without the ball, and stay in front of your man on defense. Unlike Brogdon and Williams, there is far less pressure on Hauser’s shoulders, yet, he’s the one fighting for minutes in the rotation, so carrying over his form from Sunday into the game against Toronto would be an ideal scenario.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how both Noah Vonleh and Mfiondu Kabengele perform against an athletic Raptors frontcourt, especially with both big men playing for prominence within the coaching staff's minds, although, Vonleh is the only one fighting for a contract out of the two.

Final Thoughts

The outcome of Wednesday’s game is inconsequential, but the performance itself will hold a ton of value in determining where the Celtics are in their pre-season preparations, who have improved their game, and how they deal with size and length on both ends of the floor.

We shouldn’t be expecting perfection, it’s far too early for that, but we should be expecting to see some heart, hustle, and fight. If the Celtics can give us those three things, while also keeping this game close down the stretch, then we will probably be satisfied with the outcome. However, a win is always a nice way to end the day, especially if that win also coincides with seeing Blake Griffin play his fist minutes in a Celtics jersey, because who doesn't love a new addition to the rotation!

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