The Celtics continue their road trip with their second straight game against a division rival. The Celtics take on the Toronto Raptors in the first of 4 games this season. They will meet again in Toronto on January 21 and they will meet twice in Boston, first on April 5 and again on April 7. These two teams split the series 2-2 last season with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games while the Raptors have been off since Saturday. The Celtics are 4-0 in the second of back to back games. They are 1-0 when both games are on the road. This is the second game of a 6 game road trip for the Celtics and it is the 2nd game of a 3 game home stand for the Raptors.
The Celtics are 1st in the East, 2 games ahead of the second place Milwaukee Bucks. They are 8-3 on the road and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 3-0 against Atlantic Division teams. The Raptors are 7th in the East. They are 6.5 games behind the first place Celtics and they are 1 game out of both 4th place and 9th place. They are 9-2 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 1-4 against Atlantic Division teams. Both teams won their last game and are looking for their second straight win.
Marcus Smart missed Sunday’s game against the Nets with a hip contusion that he got in overtime against the Heat. He is expected to play in this game. Al Horford was added to the list as out for back soreness. Malcolm Brogdon i s questionable with a non-covid illness. Danilo Gallinari (knee) and Robert Williams III (knee) both remain out. I’m guessing that Blake Griffin will start in Horford’s absence.
For the Raptors, Precious Achiuwa is out with a partial ligament tear in his ankle. Juancho Hernangomez is doubtful after spraining his ankle in Saturday’s win over the Magic. Otto Porter, Jr is out with a dislocated toe. They will likely start the same five as they did in their last game. I’m going to think positive and list Marcus Smart in with the Starters.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Al Horford (back) out
Malcolm Brogdon (illness) questionable
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Raptors Starters
Gary Trent, Jr
Two Way Players
Jeff Dowtin, Jr
Ron Harper, Jr
Precious Achiuwa (ankle) out
Juancho Hernangomez (ankle) out
Otto Porter, Jr (toe) out
Jayson Tatum vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam is averaging 24.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game this season. He is shooting 49.3% from the field and 34.7% from beyond the arc. Slowing him down will be key. In the last game between the Celtics and Raptors last season, Siakam had 40 points and 13 rebounds. He averaged 22 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game in 3 game against the Celtics last season. The Celtics must stay with him both inside and on the perimeter.
Jaylen Brown vs OG Anunoby
Anunoby is averaging 19.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. He is shooting 48.4% from the field and 34.9% from beyond the arc. Anunoby is capable of hitting big shots as Celtics fans should remember from the game winner he hit in the 2020 playoffs.
Marcus Smart vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 16.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He is shooting 36.5% from the field and 34.8% from beyond the arc. He has slowed down some this season but he is still capable of hitting big shots and having a big game if not defended well.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Celtics are 14th with a defensive rating of 111.5 while the Raptors are 7th with a defensive rating of 110.5. If the Celtics hope to win this game it will have to be with defense first. The Celtics shooting may suffer from tired legs on the back to back and that makes defense even more important in this one. The Raptors average 52.3 points in the paint per game and are shooting just 32.9% from three. The Celtics must try to keep them out of the paint and force them to play out of their comfort zone.
Rebound - The Raptors average 43.7 rebounds per game (12th) while the Celtics average 41.9 rebounds per game (26th) The Raptors are 1st in the league with 17.7 second chance points per game and so rebounding is very important to limit those second chance scores. 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 3rd in the league with 13.3 turnovers per game. The Celtics are 6th with 13.9 turnovers per game. But the Celtics have been known to 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 1st with 17.7 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy, the Raptors will surely make them pay. The Raptors are also 1st with 18.4 fast break points per game and limiting turnovers will help in that area also.
Play Team Ball - The Celtics have to get back to moving the ball and finding the best shots. Over the past two games we have seen too much of Jayson Tatum trying to do too much and not trusting his teammates enough. Against the Nets he had 9 turnovers and just 1 assist. Many of his turnovers were from driving into a crowd instead of trying to make a pass to the open man. They play the best when the ball keeps moving to find the best shots and no players tries to dominate a possession. They have to get back to playing that way.
Back to Back on the Road - The Celtics are playing in Toronto after playing on Sunday at Brooklyn. 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. Will the Celtics run out of gas by the end, or will they find a second wind and keep up their strong play?
Coaching - Joe Mazzulla is a first year head coach who was thrown into the position just 2 weeks before the season while Nick Nurse has been coaching the Raptors since 2018 and has won a championship with them. Nurse is good at making in-game adjustments and at taking advantage of any weaknesses he can find in the opponent. Joe has been very good so far but can he out coach the veteran and former Coach of the Year?
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. 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.