Toronto Raptors: Previewing the 5 biggest games of the New Year

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors – Jonas Valanciunas (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) /

Jan. 16- Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics

Key Matchup: Kyle Lowry vs. Kyrie Irving

Staying in the East, the Raptors’ largest contest of the month is against Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics.

Not only are the Celtics one of the Raptors biggest foes in the East, but tiebreakers are very much on the line in the two teams’ third meeting of the year. Currently, the two are tied 1-1 this year.

Thus far, the Celtics have been a mild disappointment.

Prior to the year, ESPN projected the Celtics to finish one spot behind the Raptors, with the former expected to win 53.2 games. Prior to the start of January, the Celtics are on pace to finish just short of their preseason expectations.

Part of the problem for the Celtics has been injuries and the insertion of Gordon Hayward back into the starting lineup. Down low, the roster has also dealt with the loss of Al Horford and Aron Baynes for long stretches, gutting their interior defense.

Keeping the ship afloat for the Celtics thus far has been Kyrie Irving. Fresh off of his late-season knee surgery last year, Irving appears to be back to his former superstar status, nary a lengthy absence due to injury.

On the year, Irving has averaged 23.1 points and 6.6 assists per game and produced a career-high 118 offensive rating.

After a slow month of October to begin the year, Irving has returned to his high-scoring ways, averaging over 25 points per game in the subsequent two months. In that span, Irving has also registered 40 or more points twice.

Opposing Irving, if he can regain his health, will be Lowry.

Though not known for his defensive prowess, Lowry has been a serviceable defender nearly every year of his career.

In the two squads’ pair of matchups this year, two different versions of Irving have been present. In the Celtics win, Irving posted a season-high 43 points and garnered 11 assists as well. When the Raptors got the win, Irving only accumulated 21 points six assists.

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If the Raptors and Lowry are able to hold Irving to a merely average game by his standards, they will likely replicate their double-digit victory from October. If not, it will likely be a long night for the visitors.