After one game at home, the Celtics heat out on another 3 game road trip. Their first stop is in Toronto to take on the division rival Raptors. This is the 2nd of 4 games between these two teams this season. The Celtics won the first game 116-110 on December 5 in Toronto. They will meet two more times in Boston on April 5 and again on April 7.
The Celtics are 1st in the East, 4.5 games ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee and 3rd place Philadelphia. They are 6 games ahead of 4th place Brooklyn and 6.5 games ahead of 5th place Cleveland. The Celtics are 16-7 on the road and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 19-8 against Eastern Conference teams and 5-0 against Atlantic Division opponents.
The Raptors are 11th in the East. They are 1.5 games behind 10th place Chicago and the final play in spot. They are 5 behind Miami and the final set playoff spot. They are half a game ahead of 12th place Washington. They are 14-11 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 14-18 against Eastern Conference opponents and 3-8 against Atlantic Division teams. They have lost their last 2 games.
The Raptors are playing in their first home game after a 3 game road trip. They will play back to back games at home with the Knicks coming in on Sunday. They will then head out on a 7 game road trip. The Celtics are playing in the first of a 3 game road trip that will take them to Orlando and Miami for back to back games before going back home for a 4 game home stand.
After playing 48 minutes in the Celtics win over the Warriors on Thursday, Jayson Tatum was ruled out for this game with wrist soreness. Danilo Gallinari also remains out as he rehabs from a torn ACL. For the Raptors, Otto Porter, Jr is out for the season with a foot injury. Delano Banton has missed the last 3 games and is questionable for this one with a hip bruise.
Robert Williams III vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam is averaging 25.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game this season. He is shooting 47.5% from the field and 32.4% from beyond the arc. Slowing him down will be key. In the first game between the Celtics and Raptors this season, Siakam had 29 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. He averaged 22 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game in 3 games against the Celtics last season.
Marcus Smart vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 18.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is shooting 38.7% from the field and 34.0% from beyond the arc. He has been playing well in recent games and is capable of hitting big shots and having a big game if not defended well.
Derrick White vs Gary Trent, Jr.
Trent is averaging 18.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He is shooting 43.8% from the field and 36.0% from beyond the arc. In the first meeting between these two teams, he finished with 20 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 steals off the bench. I’m guessing that Derrick White will be back in the starting lineup with Tatum out.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Celtics are 5th with a defensive rating of 110.9 while the Raptors are 19th with a defensive rating of 113.6. If the Celtics hope to win this game it will have to be with defense first. The Raptors average 51.1 points in the paint per game and are shooting just 33.2% 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 42.5 rebounds per game (22nd) while the Celtics average 44.7 rebounds per game (6th) 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 1st in the league with 11.9 turnovers per game. The Celtics are 5th with 13.4 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 21.1 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy, the Raptors will surely make them pay. The Raptors are also 3rd with 17.8 fast break points per game and limiting turnovers will help in that area also.
Next Man Up - With Jayson Tatum sitting out this game with a sore wrist, the Celtics will need to step up to replace his 31 points and 8.5 rebounds. Hopefully no player will try to do it all himself but they need to play team ball and every Celtic needs to work just a little harder on both ends of the court.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing in Toronto in the first of 3 road games. Travel is tiring and staying in hotels is distracting, especially for young players. They also have to play in front of a hostile crowd 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.
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 won the first round against the former Coach of the Year. Can he do it again?
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.