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This is the game Toronto Raptors fans have been waiting for. It has been six years since the Raptors made the playoffs. With a win tonight over the Boston Celtics in the second game of a home-and-home, the Raptors will officially clinch a playoff berth. To have it happen in front of their Raptors fans would be a special moment in a season full of them. First, the Raptors have to beat Rajon Rondo and the youthful Celtics.
Cage’s Keys To The Game
The Bench Has To Carry Its Weight
In the last game against Celtics, the Raptors bench only managed to score seven points. They were all scored by one player. Greivis Vasquez has been great off the bench for the most part, but he’s inconsistent. Plus it’s pretty hard to consistently win ball games when you have one player from your bench contributing points. Chuck Hayes has been solid with his defense and rebounding recently, but players like John Salmons have to step up. The bench can’t be outscored 51-7 like they were Wednesday night.
Stop That Man!
The man referred to above is not Rondo. It’s Jared Sullinger. In the two games Sullinger has played against the Raptors, he has tallied 51 points and 28 rebounds. He single-handedly beat the Raptors back in January, and almost led a fourth quarter comeback Wednesday with 19 points in the fourth. Raptors forwards have to be physical with him. Make him uncomfortable, and get a hand up when he ventures beyond the arc.
The Raptors have played down to their competition recently. They’ve struggled against the Atlanta Hawks, lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and almost blew a sizeable lead against the Celtics. These are teams that are no better than nine games under .500. With the playoffs looming, the Raptors have to focus on the task at hand. The ball needs to move on offense the defense needs to be swarming and the bench has to contribute. The Celtics are a lottery team. The Raptors need to make them look like one tonight.
X-Factor: John Salmons
Salmons has been brutal over the last couple of weeks. He has scored 9 points in his past five games. Three of those games he didn’t score a single point. This stretch also includes his role in the loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The most troubling aspect: He’s critical to the Raptors success as a backup wing. Steve Novak is a shooter and nothing else. Landry Fields has proven to be mainly ineffective. Salmons is an experienced veteran who can score pass and defend when he’s on his game. Without him, the Raptors playoff trip could be a short one. Salmons needs to turn it around soon. It has to begin tonight with the potential to clinch that long-awaited playoff berth.