A day after losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors will face off against the Boston Celtics in a game that will have huge implications for the number-one seed.
Up two games, with only five remaining in the season, the race for the number-one seed will essentially be over if the Toronto Raptors are able to beat the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. Up three games with only four remaining and the Raptors likely holding the tie-breaker, Toronto would need to go 0-4 down the final stretch, including a loss at home against the Orlando Magic.
If they lose, however, things will get dicey. Boston’s schedule is not a murders’ row, and Toronto would likely need to win-out to maintain the number-one spot.
Fortunately for Toronto, they will once again be playing a Celtics team that is short-handed due to a rash of injuries. Boston is missing Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart for the foreseeable future and possibly for the rest of the season. Unfortunately for Toronto, that same under-manned team beat them just four days ago.
In the previous contest, Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens coached circles around Dwane Casey. Boston played giant lineups that at times included four front-court players and at one point even ran a zone. Coach Casey had no answer. Toronto was held to just 15 fourth quarter points and Boston pulled away as a result.
It will be hard for Stevens to duplicate such a strategy. The Raptors’ staff has certainly discussed a counter if Boston attempts a zone once again in Wednesday’s contest and Stevens has only so many rabbits he can pull out of his hat. (I think, but at this point I am starting to question if that hat is actually bottomless)
- Figure out the zone – It’s possible that Stevens won’t even attempt to play a zone defense again. Often times coaches use these inherently flawed defenses betting it will baffle offenses only for a little while. But if the Celtics are struggling on defense to start, I wouldn’t put it past Stevens to try this funky strategy once again.
- Run off big lineups – Last time these two teams played, the Celtics played big the entire game. If they elect a similar strategy this time around, the Raptors need to run them off the court. Space the floor and force guys like Marcus Morris to defend the best perimeter athletes in space.
- Force Turnovers – Despite Terry Rozier being the only healthy Celtics’ guard the last time these two teams played, Boston only turned the ball over five times. Meanwhile, the Raptors turned it over 15. It’s hard to win any game when the turnover margin is 10, let alone an Eastern Conference contender.
The Boston Celtics have battled all season. What they have done without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving for large stretches is truly remarkable. But the Raptors are the more complete team and will take care of business when their back is truly up against the wall.
Raptors 106 – Celtics 98