Game Preview: Celtics at Raptors
After ending their recent struggles in Boston, the Toronto Raptors can secure their first playoff appearance in six seasons by sweeping a home-and-home from the Celtics on Friday night.
While Toronto's 99-90 victory Wednesday snapped an 11-game road slide at Boston, it more importantly left the Raptors 2.5 games up on second-place Brooklyn in the Atlantic Division and one win away from clinching their first postseason berth since 2008.
Terrence Ross had 24 points, Kyle Lowry scored 23 and DeMar DeRozan added 20 for the Raptors, who have won 17 of their last 23 home games.
Averaging a career-high 22.7 points, DeRozan understands what a return trip to the postseason would mean to the team and its fans.
"Not just the franchise, the whole city of Toronto and Canada," said DeRozan, who has totaled 54 points in the last two home games.
"I've been here five years and see how passionate the fans are. It definitely means a lot," he added. "We feed off them, the energy they bring every single night. That would be great for the city and we have to take advantage of the opportunity."
Toronto will also secure a postseason spot if New York loses in Phoenix on Friday.
Though the playoff-clinching moment appears inevitable, the Raptors won't coast while keeping their sights set on a division title and the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
"We can't be satisfied just making the playoffs," DeRozan said. "We could go out there and play four games and be home. We've worked too hard to get to this point just to slow down and pace ourselves. We've got a long, long way to go."
Toronto dropped four of six before leading by as many 15 on Wednesday then holding off the Celtics, who got within three with 1:49 left.
Lowry has scored at least 20 points in eight straight games and is averaging 22.5 in the last 11. He went 8 of 17 from the field and hauled in nine rebounds Wednesday.
He's totaled 41 points with 16 rebounds in the last two at Boston. Lowry had 11 and three boards but posted eight assists in a 93-87 home victory over the Celtics on Oct. 30.
Toronto has won two straight and four of five at home against Boston, which has allowed an average of 104.9 points and 50.2 percent shooting during its current eight-game road slide. The Celtics, who dropped 10 straight on the road earlier this season, are 8-26 away from home.
Losers of two straight and seven of eight overall, the Celtics hope Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green can play Friday.
Rondo had 15 assists with nine points in 31 minutes despite needing nine stitches to fix a cut on his forehead suffered during the third quarter Wednesday.
"That's the kind of player he is," teammate Avery Bradley said of Rondo, who has averaged 14.0 assists in his last four contests. "He's tough. He wants to win."
A stiff neck limited Green to six points in 20 minutes.
"(Tuesday) he could hardly move it; (Wednesday) he didn't look much better," coach Brad Stevens said of Green, who averages a team-high 16.8 points. "Hopefully by the time we play again Friday he feels better."
Green scored 25 on 8-of-16 shooting at Toronto earlier this season.
Jared Sullinger has 51 points in two home games against the Raptors in 2013-14, but sat each of Boston's three previous games in Toronto since he entered the league last season.