Game Preview: Raptors at Celtics

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics will open their eight-game preseason schedule at 7:30 p.m. tonight when they host the Toronto Raptors. Tonight’s contest will represent the first basketball game in TD Garden since May 3, when Boston’s 2012-13 season came to an end.

This game might not hold as much significance as the last one in TD Garden, but it’s still an important matchup for the C’s. They have only played against each other for the past week, and they’re anxious to see another colored jersey.

“I’m tired of playing against these guys, man,” Keith Bogans said on Sunday, referring to his teammates. “You want to get out there and play against somebody else.”

Jared Sullinger, who will be playing in his first game since late January, claims that this game will be a great litmus test for the team.

“It’s going to be very important,” said Sullinger, “because at the end of the day we just need to know where we’re at as a team, and that way we can take those things and work on them.”

Practices and scrimmages are helpful in finding out that information, but they aren’t nearly as helpful as live action against an opponent. As every team realizes during training camp, teammates cheat during practices and scrimmages because they know what’s coming their way. That’s far from what the C’s will see tonight when they take on the Raptors.

“The first game is [Monday], so then hopefully we can figure out who does what, because we all know we run the same plays (in practice) and everybody sees it,” Sullinger explained. “So maybe a little bit different plays come at us and we’ll see how we defend it. It’s going to help the whole team out.”

While the Celtics will benefit from this contest, many questions still remain. Most importantly, what will the team’s lineup look like?

No one really has any idea as to who will be in Boston’s starting lineup. The only true givens are Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, who are likely to start at point guard and small forward, respectively.

The Celtics have several players competing at shooting guard, and a handful of big men are jostling for the starting power forward and center positions. Three of those players are going to be starters tonight, but Brad Stevens warned all of us not to make any assumptions based off of tonight’s lineup.

“You can look into it as much as you want, but I would say it’s more of we’re just looking for, ‘Hey, this combination might be something we’re interested in. This bench combination might be something we’re interested in,’” Stevens said.

While Boston searches for its best lineup combinations, Toronto already has a pretty solid grasp on its own rotations. The Raptors return all five of their starters from last season and it’s probable that those players will be on the floor to begin tonight’s game.

The Raptors acquired Rudy Gay in January, pairing him with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. That group actually went 30-29 over the final 59 games of the season, so underestimating this Raptors team would be a mistake.

Toronto also added several talented veterans during the offseason. Tyler Hansbrough, Austin Daye and D.J. Augustin all joined the Raptors as free agents, giving the Raptors quite a bit of depth.

The Celtics and Raptors are similar in that sense; both rosters have plenty of players who can contribute in the NBA. The difference between these two teams, however, is that Boston is still searching for its top lineups, while Toronto already has most of its rotation hammered down.

That being said, no one knows which team is in a better position to succeed heading into this season. We’ll get our first answer to that question tonight.