Game Preview: Celtics at Raptors

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (1-4) and Toronto Raptors (3-1) will face off for the second time this preseason when they take the court at 7 p.m. tonight at the Air Canada Centre. Tonight’s contest takes place exactly two weeks before the teams meet on Opening Night in Toronto.

Ironically, Boston and Toronto also opened up their preseason schedules against each other on October 7 at TD Garden. The Raptors won that contest 97-89 thanks to 17 points apiece from Rudy Gay and Tyler Hansbrough.

While those two players shined for the Raptors, Boston had a couple of bright spots as well. Gerald Wallace excelled during his first game with the Celtics by dropping in a team-high 16 points to go along with four assists. Jared Sullinger also played well in his first game since undergoing back surgery in February, logging 14 points, six rebounds and four assists off of the bench.

The Celtics were unable to grab a win despite those efforts because their defense was sluggish. Toronto shot 52.1 percent from the field in the game and outscored Boston by six points in the fourth quarter.

Boston’s defense should look far different tonight than it did during that first matchup with Toronto. The Celtics have drastically improved on defense since their opener, as preseason opponents have shot just 44.0 percent from the field against them. They limited a talented Nets team to just 35.5 percent shooting last night in Brooklyn.

Head coach Brad Stevens liked what he saw in that Nets game despite being unable to grab a win. He believes that his team will be able to use that defensive effort as a building block heading into tonight’s game.

“There’s going to be some great teaching moments from the film, that’s the benefit of this,” Stevens said. “I thought for the most part our guys competed and gave a pretty good effort.”

Duplicating that effort will not be a simple task tonight. The Celtics will be playing in the second night of a back-to-back after traveling from Brooklyn to Toronto late last night.

The good news for Boston, however, is that it was impressive in the second night of its first back-to-back of the preseason. That game was played against the Knicks on Saturday in Manchester, N.H. The Celtics dominated the Knicks during that contest en route to a 111-81 victory. Six of Boston’s players scored in double-figures and the team outshot New York by 20.9 percent.

Toronto will do everything it can to prevent a similar performance by Boston tonight. The Raptors will be well rested and are likely to leave their starters on the floor for more minutes than they did when these teams first met.

The Celtics will need to have an answer for that, and it all starts on defense. They need to slow down Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, who are Toronto’s top two scorers. Succeeding in that goal will likely put Boston in position for its second win of the preseason.