The Celtics close out the first half of the season by hosting the short handed Toronto Raptors. This is the 3rd meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics won both of the previous meetings. They won 126-114 in Tampa on January 4 and then they won 120-106 in Boston on February 11.
The Celtics have moved up to 4th again in the East, still 5 games behind first place Philadelphia. They are 11-5 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are looking for their 4th straight win. The Raptors are 7th in the East, one game behind the Celtics. They are 9-10 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games.
The Raptors are playing on the second night of back to back games. They lost 129-105 at home to the Pistons on Wednesday. Their Wednesday game was originally scheduled for Tuesday but due to covid protocols, it was postponed until Wednesday, giving them a back to back set that wasn’t originally scheduled. The Raptors are 1-5 on the second night of back to back games.
The Raptors come into this game very short handed. Nick Nurse and 5 of their assistant coaches are quarantined due to covid protocols. They also have 5 players including OG Anunoby, Malachi Flynn, Patrick McCaw, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet, out due to covid protocols. Their lone assistant, Sergio Scariolo, who had been in Spain and just cleared quarantine on Friday, will coach the team. Marcus Smart and Romeo Langford remain out for the Celtics.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Daniel Theis
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Terence Davis II
SF: Norman Powell
PF: Chris Boucher
C: Aron Baynes
Paul Watson, Jr
Patrick McCaw (covid) out
OG Anunoby (covid) out
Malachi Flynn (covid) out
Pascal Siakam (covid) out
Fred VanVleet (covid) out
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry is averaging 18 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He usually plays very well against the Celtics. In the 2 games this season, he averaged 21 points, 3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2 steals. Kemba has been playing very well in the past few games and hopefully will continue that in this game.
Jayson Tatum vs Norman Powell
With both Siakam and VanVleet out, Norman Powell becomes a key player for the Raptors and he has been delivering for them. He is averaging 17.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He scored 30 points on Friday and 36 points on Wednesday in his two starts. He has the ability to put up points. Tatum struggled on Tuesday against the Clippers and hopefully gets back on track in this game.
Daniel Theis vs Chris Boucher
Boucher is averaging 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. The Celtics need to watch for him when they go into the paint because he can block shots if you aren’t aware of where he is.
Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense will always be the key to winning. The Celtics are 14th with a defensive rating of 110.8 while the Raptors are not far behind them at 16th with a defensive rating of 111.3. The Raptors allowed a Pistons team with 7 players out to score 129 points on Wednesday and so they aren’t exactly playing lock down defense. The Celtics must get back to making defense a priority and give a better effort on that end of the court.
Rebound – The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball and one of the best ways to get extra possessions is to crash the boards and beat their opponents to rebounds on both ends of the court. The Raptors are last in the league, averaging 41.9 rebounds per game while the Celtics are averaging 43.9 rebound per game. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics must put out more effort to beat the Raptors on the boards.
Move the Ball – The Celtics need to move the ball more. They have way too many possessions where only 1 or 2 players touch the ball and where the majority of the shot clock is one player dribbling around trying to find his own shot. The Celtics are much more effective when they move the ball and find the open man and not over-dribble. When they have more than 20 assists they win more often than not. When they have fewer than 20 assists, they usually struggle.
Play Focused 48 Minutes – The Celtics seem to lose focus for periods during each game where they turn the ball over and can’t seem to hit a shot. They also struggle to get stops on the other end. They need to stay focused for 48 minutes and not give up those runs to the other team, especially in the last few minutes of the game.
Be Aggressive – The Celtics must play with a chip on their shoulders. They have to get back to having a swagger on the court. They have allowed teams to play harder than the them and that should never be. They have to come out strong and they have to play hard and aggressively for 48 minutes. Even teams with less talent can beat them on any given night if they allow those teams to play harder than them.
Short Handed Raptors – It seems like the Celtics come into a game against a short handed or weak team and expect to win without having to put out any effort and often lose because of it. The Raptors lost to the Pistons 129-105 on Wednesday and the Celtics may look at that and expect an easy win. They can’t underestimate these Raptors because they still have enough talent on the team to beat the Celtics if they come out flat and don’t play with effort, especially since the Raptors already lost to the Celtics twice and will be looking to avenge those losses.
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. Too often this season, players have lost focus as they complain about fouls, or lack of foul calls. The Celtics have to adjust to the way the game is being called and not lose focus if calls aren’t going their way.