Watch It! – Celtics at Raptors

Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Air Canada Centre.

The Battle for the Division

It was widely believed before the season began that the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors would end up in a neck-and-neck battle for the Atlantic Division crown.

At this moment in time, that's exactly how it's shaping up to be.

The Celtics (23-14) currently sit just one game behind the Raptors (24-13) for the division lead and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

If Boston can pull out a win tonight in Toronto, the two teams would have the same record. Technically, though, the Celtics would win the tiebreaker for the top spot since their inter-division record would be better.

Things Going South in the North

A couple of weeks ago, the Raptors held a commanding lead over the Celtics in the standings. Things have been rapidly going south for Toronto of late.

The Raptors, who opened up the season 19-8, have lost five of their last seven games and are currently in the midst of a two-game losing spell.

In Toronto’s defense, it has played an incredibly tough schedule over the last couple of weeks. It recently came off of a six-game, Western Conference road trip that included losses to Golden State and San Antonio.

The Raptors’ most recent defeats came during a back-to-back this past weekend. On Saturday they lost an overtime contest in Chicago, and the following night fell to the Rockets in Toronto.

Things won’t get any easier tonight for the Raptors as they’re set to face off against the hottest team in the East – a Celtics squad that has won 10 of its last 12 contests.

C’s Eyeing 3-Point History

One of the reasons why Boston has been so hard to stop in recent games has been its extraordinary prowess from behind the 3-point arc.

Boston has made at least 17 3-pointers during each of its last four games, including a team-record 19 makes Friday night against Philadelphia.

How astounding is that feat? Well, the NBA record for most consecutive games with 17 or more 3-point makes is five – a mark that Houston established earlier this season. Aside from the Celtics and Rockets, no other team in NBA history has gone more that two straight games with 17 or more makes from beyond the arc, according to basketball-reference.com.

The Celtics have the opportunity to tie Houston’s record tonight, which would then set up a chance for them to break the mark tomorrow night when they host the Washington Wizards at TD Garden.

Overcoming Bradley’s Absence

Unfortunately for Boston, one of its top 3-point shooters will be absent tonight. Avery Bradley will miss his second straight contest due to a right Achilles strain.

Bradley is the second-highest scorer on the Celtics and has notched the second-most 3-pointers this season (75) behind Isaiah Thomas (90).

That being said, the Celtics will likely miss Bradley far more on the defensive end than on the offensive side of the ball. Boston will have its hands full going up against Toronto’s All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Without Bradley, the Celtics will need huge defensive contributions from Marcus Smart and the rest of their backcourt cast if they hope to walk out of Air Canada Centre with a win.

Stopping Toronto’s Elite Offense

Despite its recent stretch of exceptional play, Boston has been struggling mightily on the defensive end of late.

Over the last eight games, the Celtics have possessed the highest (worst) defensive rating in the East with a mark of 112.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.

Fortunately, their conference-best offensive rating of 116.6 points scored per 100 possessions has kept them afloat during that span.

Toronto, however, certainly has an offense that is capable of matching Boston’s. The Raptors have averaged the most points per game (110.6) in the East this season, so the Celtics must step up their play on the defensive end tonight.

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