The Celtics travel to Toronto for the 4th and final game between these division rivals this season. The Celtics lead the season series 2-1. The Raptors won the first game 115-83 on October 22 in Boston. The Celtics won the second game104-88 on November 10 in Boston. The Celtics won the 3rd game 109-97 on November 28 in Toronto. The Celtics have won the last 4 games played in Toronto.
The Celtics have climbed to first place in the East and have won 6 straight games. They are 9-1 in the last 10 games and 21-16 on the road. They are 9-6 against Atlantic Division teams and 30-16 against Eastern Conference opponents. They are tied with 2nd place Miami, half a game ahead of 3rd place Milwaukee and 4th place Philadelphia. They are 3.5 games ahead of 5th place Chicago and 4.5 games ahead of 6th place Toronto.
The Raptors are 6th in the East and fighting to stay out of the play-in games. They have won their last 2 games and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 19-16 at home. They are 8-5 against Atlantic Division teams and 26-20 against Eastern Conference opponents. They are 4.5 games behind 1st place Boston and 2nd place Miami. They are 4 games behind 3rd place Milwaukee and 4th place Philadelphia and 1 game behind 5th place Chicago. They are 1 game ahead of 7th place Cleveland, 3 games ahead of 8th place Brooklyn and 4 games ahead of 9th place Charlotte.
The Celtics just finished a 4-0 road trip out west and a 2-0 home stand. After this trip to Toronto, the Celtics have 3 home games against Miami, Indiana and Washington. They will then finish with 3 big games on the road at Chicago, Milwaukee and Memphis. This is the second of back to back games. The Celtics are 8-5 in the second of back to back games and they are 0-2 when the games are Home/Road. They have one more back to back set on 4/6 at Chicago and 4/7 at Milwaukee.
The Raptors are playing in the 3rd game of a 4 game home stand. They won the first two games against Cleveland and Indiana. They will finish the home stand against Minnesota on Wednesday. They will then head to Orlando for one game on the road before another 4 game home stand against Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Houston. They will finish the season on the road at New York.
The Celtics will likely be short handed in the front court as Al Horford is expected to miss his second game for personal reasons and Robert Williams is not expected to travel with the team to Toronto after leaving Sunday’s game with a knee injury, which has been diagnosed as a meniscus tear. I’m guessing that Grant Williams will start at the 4 and Daniel Theis will start at the 5.
Derrick White came up limping during Sunday’s game but as of now, he is not on the injury list. Jayson Tatum has had some lingering knee soreness and is questionable. The Celtics are signing Juwan Morgan of the Maine Celtics to a 10 day contract. It is unclear if he will be available for this game. Jaylen Brown (knee) and Jayson Tatum (knee) have both been added to tonight’s injury list and both will be out. I’m going to guess. Derrick White starts at the 2 and Aaron Nesmith at the 3, but of course, I could be wrong.
For the Raptors, starting point guard, Fred VanVleet is listed as questionable for this game with knee soreness. Their game on Saturday was delayed due to a fire in the building and when the game resumed, VanVleet did not finish the game due to his knee tightening up. However, I expect him to play.
Gary Trent, Jr has missed the last 3 games with a toe injury and is questionable for this game. Malachi Flynn is out with a hamstring injury. Khem Birch was a late scratch for this game due to swelling in his knee. I’m guessing that Precious Achiuwa will get the start in his place.
Probable Celtics Starters
Al Horford (personal) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Jayson Tatum (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (knee) out
Probable Raptors Starters
Fred VanVleet (knee) questionable
Malachi Flynn (hamstring) out
Gary Trent, Jr (toe) questionable
Khem Birch (knee) out
Marcus Smart vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 20.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He is shooting 41.0% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc. The Celtics were able to slow him down in the first 3 games and need to do the same in this one.
Grant Williams vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam is averaging 22.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game this season. He is shooting 49.2% from the field and 37.3% from beyond the arc. Slowing him down will be key, but it will be difficult with our starting frontcourt out for this game. Hopefully Grant will go into Batman mode for this one.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Celtics are 1st with a defensive rating of 105.9 while the Raptors are 13th with a defensive rating of 110.3. 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.
Rebound - The Raptors average 45.4 rebounds per game (9th) while the Celtics average 46.1 rebounds per game (5th) In the Raptors 32 point win over the Celtics at the start of the season, Toronto out-rebounded the Celtics 60-42 and they pulled down 21 offensive rebounds. In the Celtics wins, they out-rebounded the Raptors 44-41 and 53-44. The Raptors are 2nd in the league with 16.7 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 4th in the league with 12.5 turnovers per game. The Celtics are 13th with 13.5 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 3rd with 18.5 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy, the Raptors will surely make them pay.
Focus and Effort - The Celtics need to focus on taking and making good shots. On the second night of back to back games, they may struggle from the perimeter due to tired legs and if they do, they have to focus on getting the ball inside. They have to focus on making good passes and on handling the ball without turning it over. They have to focus on staying strong on defense and on playing with effort and energy, in spite of playing two nights in a row.
Back to Back on the Road - The Celtics are playing on the road after playing on Sunday at home. 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 and Injuries - Ime Udoka is a first year coach 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. Can Ime out coach the veteran? Can Ime game plan for playing without his starting front court?
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.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are 8-point underdogs in Toronto tonight. Factor in the second night of a back-to-back, Boston without four starters, and any hangover from the Robert Williams news this morning and eight points seems generous. Considering the Raptors are in a dogfight to stay out of the play-in tournament (currently a game behind the Chicago Bulls for the 5th seed and a game up on the 7th-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers), the Celtics’ stay atop the Eastern Conference will most likely be short-lived.
If there’s reason for optimism, it’s that the Raptors are prone to offensive droughts. Over their last four games, they’ve scored under 100 points twice and could be without sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. on Monday night. Of course, Boston’s defense just won’t be the same without Williams, Horford, Tatum, and Brown, but the schemes will be the same and teams just haven’t been able to figure it out over the last three months. The smart money is on Toronto, but as a fan, hang your hat on this Mike Gorman tidbit from our friends over at Celtics Beat:
Mike Gorman says during the Celtics game Donovan Mitchell told Dwayne Wade:— Celtics on CLNS (@CelticsCLNS) March 26, 2022
"We can't figure out what these guys are doing defensively. We have no clue."
Checkout the #Celtics Beat Podcast w/ @celticsvoice!
Full Podcast: https://t.co/iPd9bgR3Vg
⚡️by @betonline_ag pic.twitter.com/p3I674OG9S
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