3 key matchups that will determine winners in Raptors-Celtics games

MONTREAL, CANADA - OCTOBER 14: Christian Koloko #35 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, CANADA - OCTOBER 14: Christian Koloko #35 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Raptors have the displeasure of playing in the toughest division in the league, with arguably the league’s best team in the Boston Celtics standing in between them and another division title. Monday marks the first of four regular-season meetings between the two teams.

While the Celtics don’t have the same lockdown defense they had last year when Ime Udoka was the coach and Robert Williams was healthy, this offense has been unstoppable. Interim coach Joe Mazzula has Boston at 19-5 while averaging over 120 points per game.

The Raptors may have temporarily righted the ship by beating up on a lousy Magic team, their bad losses at the hands of the Pelicans and Nets are likely still fresh in Nick Nurse’s mind. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are good enough by themselves to tear apart any defense.

The Raptors have enough pieces to make a run in the East, but they will be an underdog in most of their matchups against Boston. The Raptors need to come out on top in these three matchups if they want any chance of unseating what may be the best team in the NBA.

3 key matchups in Toronto Raptors-Boston Celtics battles

3. Christian Koloko vs. Al Horford

Even without Williams in the lineup, the ageless wonder Horford has proven to be an elite interior defender while somehow shooting just under 47% from 3-point range. The Raptors have not been shy about letting Koloko cut his teeth against the best in the game, and they likely won’t change things up now.

Koloko appears to have earned a starting spot over Thad Young at the center spot, as Toronto needs someone with his height and shot-blocking skills at the rim. Even if he isn’t a dominant scorer against the mighty Horford, he needs to make sure that the aging veteran can’t get going.

Toronto Raptors: Will Christian Koloko compete against Al Horford?

The Raptors are 11.2 points better per 100 possessions when Koloko is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. That mark has been surpassed only by Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes this season.

On defense, the Raptors allow 8.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Koloko on the floor, which is the best mark on the team and in the 93rd percentile among NBA centers.

Even though the box score numbers don’t look amazing, Raptors fans can see Koloko starting to figure out the professional game gradually. If he can hold his own against Horford, that will give Toronto even more confidence in him moving forward.