Boston Celtics at Raptors: preview & 3 keys to victory

A gassed group of Raptors must find a way to defeat a suddenly struggling Celtics squad.

The Boston Celtics visit the Air Canada Centre for the third of four meetings with the Toronto Raptors. Boston is grappling with an ankle injury to swingman Jae Crowder (he’s like DeMarre Carroll’s doppelganger) and hasn’t found the answer yet. They have lost their last three games and have fallen into a tie with…seemingly everyone. Four Eastern Conference teams have 29 losses, including Boston.

The Celtics will be starting a super-small lineup tonight. They don’t even bother to name a centre. Their forwards are both 6’9″, beefy rebounder Jared Sullinger and much-beloved former Raptor Amir Johnson. Sullinger is taking a slow route to professional stardom, though he’s a reasonable scorer off misses and will create for himself on occasion. He can be a load inside.

Jan 20, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) and Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) jump for a ball during the fourth quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 115-109. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

We all know what Amir can do, namely a little bit of everything. His scoring is down this season, though his secondary numbers are steady. I suspect the Celtics don’t use him much on offense which, knowing Amir, doesn’t trouble him in the least.

The Celtics will start three guards, the wide-bodied Marcus Smart, quick and savvy Avery Bradley, and Mighty Mouse himself, Isaiah Thomas.

Smart is developing well enough in his second season except for one big problem – his shooting needs a lot of work. He’s a better than average rebounder.

Bradley is a player I’ve always liked. He takes nothing but good shots with excellent form, is always in motion and very difficult to shake when he’s defending, keeps the ball moving on O, low maintenance – Masai, find this guy’s clone.

Thomas has continued his remarkable rise from second-round afterthought to stardom upon moving to Boston. He’s their top scorer and assist deliverer. Thomas is hellish difficult to bottle up, as he is accurate out to well beyond the arc and will happily take the ball to the hoop.

Kelly Olynyk has returned from injury, though he’s not at full health yet. The young Canadian giant has great range; I’ll be watching to see if James Johnson hops off the Raptors bench when Olynyk comes in. JJ is the only Raptor who can defend outside the 3-point line without compromising our rebounding. Evan Turner was considered a wasted pick (#2 in 2010) by Philly, but they were too impatient. Now in his sixth season, Turner has established himself as a respectable backup shooting guard. Tyler Zeller is likely to be the first “true” big man off the bench, particularly if Bismack Biyombo is dominating the glass.

I’d feel better about the Raptors’ chances of defeating this team if we hadn’t needed to play Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan so many minutes last night in Indy. Toronto can still muster a victory if they…:

  1. …slow the pace. These guys want to exploit their three guards to run us ragged.
  2. …make crisp passes. Careless ball distribution will end in easy runouts for the Celtics, the league’s second-best team in steals.
  3. …play tight on their scorers. Yes, our defenders will need to run through an array of screens, and duck under their bigs(?) when Boston executes the high pick and roll. I’m glad to see Norman Powell is named as a starter. Here’s a trial by ordeal to enhance his defensive skills.

This game will be a test of many things for the Raptors, including Dwane Casey’s tactical skill at using his entire squad to keep our starters fresh. Can we pull out another tight win? Toronto 104-Boston 102.