Game Preview: Celtics at Raptors

Paul Pierce,

Paul Pierce's defense on Rudy Gay will be critical to Boston's chances tonight in Toronto.
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images

BOSTON – Eighty down. One to go.

You won’t hear that again in the near future.

The Boston Celtics (41-39) will close out their regular season at 8 p.m. tonight in Toronto when they take on the Raptors (33-48). The Celtics will finish the season with only 81 games played due to the cancellation of Tuesday’s tilt with the Pacers in the aftermath of Monday’s attacks in Boston.

Tuesday’s cancellation was termed as an “emotional decision” by Celtics President Rich Gotham. Emotions continued to run high as the team gathered for practice Tuesday afternoon in Waltham, Mass.

Several players, along with Doc Rivers and Gotham, spoke before that practice about Monday’s attacks and the decision to cancel Tuesday’s game. Many of them, including Shavlik Randolph, relayed their belief that playing Tuesday’s game would have been quite a challenge.

“It would have been very difficult,” Randolph said of playing Tuesday night.

By the time the Celtics tip off tonight, more than two days will have passed since the explosions took place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Time always helps to heal the mind and body, but the attacks will undoubtedly still be weighing on the team when it takes the floor.

“I don’t think you should get it out of your mind. I don’t think anyone is going to get it out of their minds. I think it will be on your mind,” Rivers said on Tuesday. “Whether you were in the city or out of the city, you’re part of Boston. And if you’re part of this city or this country, for that matter, it’s something that will be on your mind.”

Surely it will be difficult for the Celtics to play this game but they must go through with it. Fortunately for them they’ll be taking on a team that they have dominated this season.

Boston is 3-0 against the Raptors this season with an average margin of victory of 15.3 points per game. The C’s have had three separate players lead them in scoring in those contests all while shooting 52.0 percent from the field as a team.

The C’s may have controlled the Raptors earlier this season but the current version of Toronto seems to be much improved. The Raptors have won six of their last seven games and seven of their last 10 overall.

Chief among the reasons why Toronto has been playing better is its improved defense, which has been nonexistent against Boston this season. The Raps have held their last 10 opponents to an average of just 93.9 points per game and 43.6 percent shooting.

Toronto’s improved play will make tonight’s game difficult for more than one reason. The C’s will be taking on a strong opponent all while playing with heavy hearts.

How Many Minutes?

Rivers is in a situation that he never believed he’d be in. His initial plan was to play all of his regulars for their standard minutes during Tuesday’s game, then rest many of them tonight. With the cancellation of Tuesday’s contest, that plan went out the window.

Now Rivers has to make a decision as to how many minutes he will leave his key players on the floor tonight. Does he give them their regular minutes in order to keep them sharp before Game 1 of the playoffs? Does he play them limited minutes in order to preserve them for intense practices the next two days? These are important questions that only Rivers knows the answers to.

Containing Their Duo

Toronto traded for Rudy Gay with the hope that he would team up with DeMar DeRozan to create a dynamic perimeter scoring duo. That plan has come to fruition of late.

Both players have been 20-point scorers since April 3. DeRozan has averaged 23.9 PPG on 55.0 percent shooting since that date, while Gay has put up 20.0 PPG on 48.9 percent shooting. Each player has also made at least 46.9 percent of his 3s during that time span.

DeRozan and Gay are on fire and the C’s will need to stop them tonight. If Boston can’t contain that duo, the team may head into the playoffs on a losing note.

Maintain the Momentum

It seems like a month ago, but the Celtics are coming off of one of their best performances of the season. They defeated the Magic 120-88 Saturday night in Orlando in a game that featured at least 12 points from seven different Celtics.

That performance Saturday night was incredible. The Celtics were clicking on all cylinders at both ends of the court. It would have been a perfect launching pad into the playoffs, but tonight’s game still remains. Rivers and his staff would surely be happy if their players can maintain the momentum from Saturday’s game and put forth another dominant effort tonight in Toronto.