Game Preview: Raptors at Celtics
BOSTON – Back-to-backs are typically a hassle for NBA teams, but every once in a while they can be a blessing in disguise. Tonight is one of those rare occasions for the Boston Celtics (34-29).
The Celtics will close out the tail end of their most recent back-to-back at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden when they host the Toronto Raptors (25-39). Tonight’s contest will give Boston an opportunity to redeem itself one night after being overwhelmed in Charlotte by an underwhelming Bobcats team.
Charlotte clobbered the Celtics by 26 points on a night in which Doc Rivers chose to rest Paul Pierce. Regardless of Pierce’s absence, Boston should have beaten the Bobcats. Many of the C’s admitted after the game that they didn’t perform the way they are accustomed to.
“Our energy level wasn’t up there and we weren’t executing,” Avery Bradley said after the loss. “We know that we have to play better. We have to come out tomorrow and play the way we’ve been playing and play some better basketball.”
Bradley’s quote has two important connotations associated with it. He and the team are taking accountability for their poor performance, and they’re also looking forward to tonight. The Celtics know that they must bounce back, and in a big way.
There may be no better opponent to do that against than Toronto, which is a team that Boston has beaten twice already this season. The Celtics dominated the Raptors on Nov. 17 in TD Garden, 107-89, in a game that featured 20 points from Jason Terry and 19 points from Paul Pierce. Boston made 56.6 percent of its shots during that game.
The most recent meeting between these teams was much more competitive but the result was the same – a Celtics win. Boston took down the Raptors on Feb. 6 in Toronto by a score of 99-95. The Feb. 6 game was the first meeting between these two teams that included Rudy Gay, whom the Raptors acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 31.
Gay’s acquisition initially sparked the Raptors but the honeymoon has since ended. Toronto won seven of its first 10 games after it traded for Gay but has gone 2-6 since. That record includes a narrow 100-96 victory over the Cavaliers Sunday night. Gay missed that game due to back stiffness and is listed as day-to-day.
Gay's availability of Gay for tonight’s game is unknown, but Boston shouldn’t concern itself much with that fact. All the Celtics need to think about is beating the Raptors and bouncing back quickly from Tuesday night’s fiasco in Charlotte.
Pierce’s absence during Tuesday’s game isn’t the reason why the Celtics lost, but it certainly was a factor. He is the team’s best scorer and best passer now that Rajon Rondo is lost for the season. Playing an NBA game without your leader in those two categories is not an easy thing to do.
The Celtics won’t need to do that again tonight because Pierce will be back in the lineup. He will be playing for the first time since Sunday afternoon’s game in Oklahoma City, which means he should be well rested. He should also be charged up to pass Charles Barkley for 20th on the NBA's all-time scoring list, which he'll do with his 10th point tonight. (Ironically, Kevin Garnett also will reach 15th on the list by scoring three points).
Whoever is forced to defend Pierce tonight, be it Gay or DeMar DeRozan, will have their hands full. The Celtics, meanwhile, will have their full deck of cards, which is always a good thing.
Amir Johnson’s Emergence
Boston would typically go into a matchup with the Raptors looking to slow down players like Gay, DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani (out for season – elbow) and Kyle Lowry. Tonight, however, they should have their attention on Amir Johnson.
Johnson is playing fantastic basketball thus far in March. He has scored at least 17 points in three of his six games this month. He has also grabbed at least nine rebounds in three of those six games. Johnson has shot an incredible 67.3 percent from the field this month while scoring 13.8 points per game and grabbing 8.5 rebounds per game.
As those numbers indicate, Johnson is emerging as a game-changing player. Brandon Bass, who will start the game opposite of Johnson, will need to have his attention set on Johnson at all times.
Use the Crowd
Tonight’s return to TD Garden may be the most welcomed home game of the season for the Celtics’ players. They were lulled to sleep by a silent crowd in Charlotte last night. Now they’ll be able to enjoy the rowdiness of the Boston fans.
We all know that the TD Garden crowd can have an impact on a game. The energy of this crowd is what the Celtics are used to, and it should give them an added level of energy tonight. That’s exactly what they need after their underwhelming performance in Charlotte.