After a game in Philadelphia, the Celtics return home for their final 3 games and face the Toronto Raptors in this first of 3 home games. The Raptors may be the Celtics 1st round opponent in the upcoming playoffs. This is the 3rd of 4 games between these two teams this season. The Celtics won the first game 116-110 on December 5 in Toronto. They won the 2nd game 106-104 on January 21, without Jayson Tatum and without Marcus Smart in the 2nd half. They will meet one more time in Boston on April 7.
This is the second of back to back games for both teams. The Celtics played in Philadelphia on Tuesday and had to travel home to face the Raptors. The Celtics are 9-3 on the second night of back to back games. They are 2-0 when the second game is at home. Toronto played in Charlotte on Tuesday night and had to travel to Boston for this game. The Raptors are 4-7 on the second night of back to back games. They are 1-7 when the second game is on the road.
The Celtics are 2nd in the East, 3 games behind first place Milwaukee after a Celtics loss and Bucks win on Tuesday. They are 2 games ahead of third place Philadelphia. The Celtics are 29-9 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 31-18 against Eastern Conference opponents. They are 9-5 against Atlantic Division opponents. The Celtics are coming off a loss in their last game.
The Raptors are 9th in the East. They are tied with 8th place Atlanta, who own the tie breaker. They are 2 games behind 7th place Miami and 2 games ahead of 10th place Chicago. They are 6 games ahead of 11th place Indiana. The Raptors are 14-25 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 25-24 against Eastern Conference opponents and 4-10 against Atlantic Division teams. They won their last 2 games.
Trying to figure out the players who will be out is going to get tougher as the end of the season nears. Al Horford is listed at out. Robert Williams and Jaylen Brown are off the injury list. I’m also guessing that Blake Griffin will start and Timelord will come off the bench. Jayson Tatum (hip) and Marcus Smart (neck) are both questionable. For Toronto, Otto Porter, Jr (foot) is out and Gary Trent Jr (back) is questionable.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Jayson Tatum (hip) questionable
Justin Champaignie (new) questionable
Al Horford (back) out
Marcus Smart (neck) questionable
Probable Raptors Starters
Two Way Players
Jeff Dowtin, Jr
Ron Harper, Jr
Gary Trent, Jr (back) questionable
Otto Porter, Jr (foot) out
Jayson Tatum vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam is averaging 24.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game this season. He is shooting 47.7% from the field and 32.7% from beyond the arc. In the first 2 games between the Celtics and Raptors this season, Siakam averaged 29 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists. Slowing him down will be key. Tatum may or may not sit out this game for rest.
Marcus Smart vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 19.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He is shooting 39.7% from the field and 34.5% 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.
Jaylen Brown vs O.G. Anunoby
Anunoby is averaging 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.9 steals. In the first 2 games between these two teams, Anunoby averaged 12.5 points, 4 rebounds, no assists and 1.5 steals. The Celtics need to stay with him on defense because he can have a big game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 110.7 while the Raptors are 12th with a defensive rating of 113.4. If the Celtics hope to win this game it will have to be with defense first. The Raptors average 52.8 points in the paint per game and are shooting just 33.6% 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 43.0 rebounds per game (18th) while the Celtics average 45.2 rebounds per game (7th) The Raptors are 2nd in the league with 16.4 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 11.8 turnovers per game. The Celtics are 6th with 13.3 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 21.0 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy, the Raptors will make them pay. The Raptors are also 2nd with 17.8 fast break points per game and limiting turnovers will help in that area also.
Play Hard From Start to Finish - The Celtics have started off slow in some games and have had to put out a lot of effort to catch up and then come up short in the end. In other games they have gotten off to a big lead and then let up on their effort, allowing their opponents to come back and forge ahead for the win. The Celtics must come out with a strong effort to start and they have to play hard for the entire game until the final buzzer with no let up.
Home Game - The Celtics are at home and they need to use use the cheers of the fans as motivation to play hard and to stay focused. They have to make opponents uncomfortable in the Garden and give their best effort to protect their home court. The Raptors are just 14-25 on the road and hopefully the distractions of travel and playing in front of a hostile crowd will give the Celtics an advantage.
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 2 rounds 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.