The Toronto Raptors are back at it again facing the Boston Celtics for the 2nd time in 3 games. Heading into tonight’s matchup against the 5th place Celtics, the Raptors sit just a 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place in the East.The last time these teams met, the Raptors came away victorious in a 105-91 home victory which saw Kyle Lowry flex his muscle on his way to 32 huge points. The Raptors will win the season series against Boston and could sweep the series with a victory tonight. Jonas Valanciunas will apparently make his return tonight from a hand injury; while Patrick Patterson is still questionable with a sore left ankle.
The Celtics are a young and gritty team who have shown their fearlessness for much of this season. The Raptors won’t be able to look to the refs for calls because the Celtics are a team that’s more than capable of getting under their opponent’s skin. Expect nothing less than a physical game with playoff-like intensity when these two teams lace em’ up. The Celtics are without arguably their most valuable player in Jae Crowder – who’s out for at least another week with an ankle injury
Force them to the perimeter
The Celtics aren’t an overly capable threat from beyond the arc but they do rank fifth in the league for both points (106) and assists (24.4) per game. They’re not a team with a plethora of scorers capable of creating their own shots. A majority of their points come from attacking the paint and getting second chance opportunities as a team. Force the C’s to contested long two’s and pray that the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner don’t find their range against what’s been a relatively weak Toronto defence these past few months.
Toronto will need lots of movement whether it be on-ball or off-ball. When it comes to playing a team who will work hard for their coach on defence, something as simple as a backdoor cut, or making the extra pass will go a long way. The absence of Cory Joseph in the Raptors’ last game saw the extra pass essentially vanish from existence. When DeMarre Carroll returns, it will be clear how his impact off of the ball will help the Raptors’ offence. With the Celtics bound to be aggressively hawking the ball handler, the Raptors need to use the Celtics’ defensive pressure to their own advantage.
X-Factor: Norman Powell
Norman Powell quietly made himself a fan favourite with his play in the Summer-league, but also with how he’s managed his time as a player bouncing between the D-League and the NBA. Powell’s minutes have been increasing as the Raptors get closer to the post-season. In a road game like this it’d be nice to see what the young and hardworking combo-guard can do. If Dwane Casey elects to rest another player – say Terrence Ross or Joseph again, expect Powell to be fighting for those extra minutes. Powell finished with 10 points in 22 minutes in his last game against the Celtics.