Game Preview: Celtics at Raptors

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (14-11), fresh off of a tough loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, will return to the floor to take on the Raptors (8-19) at 7 p.m. tonight in Toronto.

It will be a quick turnaround for the C’s, but they wouldn’t ask for anything different. Their 8 p.m. showdown with the Lakers went south Thursday night when they failed to score the game-winning points on the final possession of both regulation and overtime.

Now they will face off with the Raptors on Friday less than 19 hours after they boarded their flight to Toronto. Thursday’s game was not only a late start, it also went to overtime and the postgame media availability was relatively lengthy. Boston’s players and coaches were scheduled to board their plane at 12:15 a.m. this morning, and if they took off by 12:30 a.m. they would have been lucky.

All of this comes after a mentally draining overtime loss to the Lakers. The Celtics had plenty of opportunities to win that game and actually played from ahead for the majority of the contest. But when it came down to making a critical play in crunch time, it was the Lakers, not the Celtics, who came up big.

Thanks to Thursday night’s game being so close throughout, Boston’s starters won’t be playing on a full tank of gas tonight. Paul Pierce played a game-high 48 minutes Thursday night and every other starter played at least 33 minutes. Jermaine O’Neal’s 33 minutes were a season high, helping him to register six boards and three blocks in the loss.

Meanwhile, the Raptors had Thursday off as they attempted to recover from a Wednesday night loss to the Bucks. Milwaukee came into the Air Canada Centre and pulled out a 105-99 victory over Toronto thanks to some hot 3-point shooting. It was the Raptors’ third consecutive loss and fifth in its last six games. Toronto might not get off the hook tonight, either, because the Celtics have had the Raptors’ number this season.

Boston has won both of its regular season games against Toronto in 2012 and both of those wins were laughers. The C’s have dominated the Raptors to the tune of a 29.5 PPG margin of victory in those two contests. Boston’s swarming defense has limited the Raptors to just 35.9 percent shooting this season.

One of the main reasons why Toronto hasn’t been able to score many points against Boston is that its top scorer, Andrea Bargnani, hasn’t played in either contest. That will be the case again tonight as Bargnani will miss his 10th straight game with a strained left calf. That’s a tough pill for the Raptors to swallow every night, because Bargnani, who scores 23.5 PPG, is the only player on the roster averaging more than 14.8 PPG.

Toronto has struggled to put the ball in the basket this season and that tendency will likely continue tonight. The Celtics may be tired after Thursday night’s game, but they should have enough energy to go out and shut down a struggling Raptors team.

Who Will Carry the Load?

This is a great question for both teams.

As we’ve seen in the first two games between Boston and Toronto, the Raptors don’t have any active players on their roster who can step up against the C’s and score big points. None of their players scored more than 14 points in the last meeting, and their season-high scorer against Boston to this point is Gary Forbes’ 18-point outburst back on Jan. 18.

They’ll need to find someone who can score the basketball tonight if they have any shot at winning. Look for their main options to be DeMar DeRozan (14.8 PPG), Leandro Barbosa (12.0 PPG), or Jerryd Bayless, who led the team with 14 points against Boston on Feb. 1.

The Celtics will need to look deep for someone to score, too, because after last night’s big minutes the odds are that Pierce won’t be lighting it up in this game. Ray Allen led the team in scoring against the Lakers with 22 points, but he also played big minutes. Doc Rivers would love to see someone like Brandon Bass or Mickael Pietrus put up a big night tonight and allow the starters to get some rest.

Blow Them Out Again

Blowouts are great for a few different reasons. First, they go into the win column. Second, they build confidence. Third, they get your starters rest. The Celtics need all of those tonight, particularly No. 3.

With a Sunday afternoon game against the Bulls looming over their shoulders, the Celtics cannot afford to have their starters play big minutes for a second consecutive night. Boston needs to be fresh and ready to compete against the conference-leading Bulls on Sunday, and the best way of making that happen is to blow the Raptors out yet again tonight.

Bench Dominance

If there’s one good thing to pull from Thursday’s loss to the Lakers, it’s that the Celtics’ reserves should be very well rested heading into tonight. Brandon Bass led Boston’s reserves in minutes played with just less than 24. That’s nearly five less than his season average.

The group of Bass, Mickael Pietrus, Chris Wilcox and others should be ready to be unleashed tonight. That group should also be salivating at the possibility of putting up big numbers against Toronto.

Only two Bucks players logged big minutes against the Raptors on Wednesday, but both of them had great games. Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy combined for 35 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

Boston’s reserves will have the leg up in terms of talent tonight. They should be able to put up solid numbers and lead the C’s to victory.