Preview: Boston Celtics (24-23) vs Toronto Raptors (17-31)

The Boston Celtics visit Toronto looking none the worse for being without their luminous point guard, Rajan Rondo. Since he crashed out of the season with a torn ACL, the green guys have won four straight, which has certainly quieted the panicky trade chatter. Avery Bradley has stepped into the breach, but he must be using powerful mirrors. He provided just 2 assists in each of their last 3 wins. I’m struggling to understand how Boston is putting points up; their leading assist man in Rondo’s absence is Pierce, with four.

The Raptors lost badly in Boston earlier this season, but in that game Rondo had 20 assists and Jared Sullinger, another player gone for the season, had a double-double.

Feb 3, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) drives to the hoop against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics’ roster reflects their coach, Doc Rivers. He’s not interested in showboating players, so this team will beat you with relentless defense and just enough scoring. The Celtics are an ancient team by NBA standards, but Kevin Garnett and Pierce, their oldest players, remain formidable warriors. Pierce leads Boston in scoring at 18.6 PPG, and is second in rebounding. That’s as much a commentary on the Celtics’ overall weakness on the boards as a compliment to Pierce.

Garnett is still a terror on defense; he anticipates brilliantly, talks trash and leans on his man to the point of obnoxiousness, and will steal passes and pull down boards at a rate belying his years. Brandon Bass starts at the other forward spot, and is a useful veteran of modest skills. Courtney Lee starts beside Bradley in the backcourt, but will give way to Jason Terry, another warhorse who can score in a hurry if left unguarded.

Leandro Barbosa we remember well as a slasher and jump shooter. Jeff Green, still rehabilitating after off-season heart surgery, might be the most talented Celtic on the bench. His numbers are modest, but I’ll wager he’ll be a force next season.

The Raptors have enjoyed two days of practice since their second-half collapse against Miami. One assumes that Rudy Gay is becoming increasingly comfortable with the Raps’ offensive schemes. With 49 points in 2 games as a Rap, Rudy hasn’t exactly struggled. Andrea Bargnani is a game-time decision; I hope he’s able to make an appearance. Landry Fields has back problems, but may dress.

I doubt I’ve ever written that Aaron Gray may be a difference-maker, but I think that’s the case here. He should dominate the boards, and hopefully get the Raps out on the fast break. I think we can run past the Celtics by a 99-91 count.


Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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