Celtics [39-15] at Raptors [36-16]: Preview & 3 keys to victory

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 12: Jaylen Brown
BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 12: Jaylen Brown /

Here it is, Raptors fans – the first signature game since our team blew out Cleveland. The Boston Celtics will surely provide a sterner test.

The Boston Celtics are here for a game with major implications for gaining the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. While neither Boston’s nor the Toronto Raptors’ seasons would somehow be ruined by a defeat, the winner gains a full game on the loser. A Raptors victory means the teams are tied in the loss column, and in the head to head meetings to date.

Boston revamped its winning roster in the off-season to a degree I doubt we’ve ever seen or will see again. All but four of last year’s successful (ECF finalists) squad were moved. This year’s Celtics features Kyrie Irving, who wanted out of Cleveland (wise move!), rookie swingman Jayson Tatum, and sophomore Jaylen Brown. Al Horford is a versatile, smart man to have in your front court, while Aron Baynes picks, passes and rebounds from the center spot.

BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 04: Jayson Tatum
BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 04: Jayson Tatum /

Greg Monroe, a well-travelled power forward, has joined Boston after Phoenix waived him. Whether he can help isn’t known, as he hasn’t yet dressed in green & white and may not tonight. Marcus Morris would normally get a lot of minutes off the bench. He’s a valuable stretch-4, because he can do much more than shoot. However, like Irving, he’s suffering from a nagging injury; both will be game-time decisions.

If those two can’t answer the bell, Boston has two respectable options. Daniel Theis, a veteran of the German League, can bang inside or hit shots from outside. Terry Rozier thinks he has the goods to be an NBA starter at the point. He may be right; the young man has a well-rounded game which I suspect will only improve.

They bring it every game

Boston is so much more than the sum of its parts. Their defensive rating of 99.9 leads the NBA. The value of the rating, which is a synthetic, is borne out by their actual results. The Celtics are second in the league in points allowed, surrendering 98.4 per game [PG].

By contrast, their offense is exceedingly modest. Boston’s 103.2 points scored PG ranks 24th.

You can see where this is going…tough defense, mediocre offense…yep, a lot of tight games. Boston has played 14, and won 9, games decided by 3 points or fewer; by comparison, the Raptors have played 7, winning 2.

3 keys to Raptors victory

  1. Limit second chance opportunities. The Celtics are a small, swarming team. The Raptors have allowed 13.6 points PG off second chances, which ranks 26th. Admittedly that puts our guys in a tie with Golden State, which may cause you to shrug your shoulders and say “Who cares?” I think the Warriors have a few advantages over us, so let’s not be blase.
  2. Speed up the game. The Celtics may not be big, but they like to be deliberate with the ball. Their pace is 98.6, which is among the slowest in the league. Make them uncomfortable.
  3. Drive them off the line. The Celtics average 37.2% on 3-balls, which is seventh. Their attempts are 31.6 PG, for sixth. On a low-scoring team, these buckets matter. Don’t let their shooters get open.

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This game is an extreme example of “who knows?” because so much depends on which Celtics are actually healthy enough to dress.

Toronto 99 – Boston 96