Watch It! - Raptors at Celtics
Here are four things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
Practice Makes Perfect
January has felt a lot like November for the Celtics in the sense that they’ve had a heck of a lot of games and almost no practices.
Boston has begun 2014 with nine games in the first 15 days of the year including tonight’s tilt with Toronto. Those contests, including three back-to-backs and a ton of travel, have limited the C’s to just two practice sessions in more than two weeks.
The good news is that one of those practices came yesterday. The Celtics convened on Tuesday for their first practice in Waltham, Mass. since Dec. 30. The team seemed to be in pretty good spirits after the session, which typically is an indicator of a productive practice.
Practice is one thing that can always help a team find its groove. We’ll see if that happens tonight for Boston.
Raptors Are Rolling
Let’s be clear about one thing: this is not the Raptors team you’ve come to know.
Toronto hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008 and hasn’t had a winning season since 2006-07. It has come to be known as the bottom-dweller of the Atlantic Division.
Not this year. Not since it traded away Rudy Gay, anyway.
The Raptors have been a completely different team since they traded Rudy Gay to the Kings on Dec. 9. Toronto received Greivis Vazquez, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson in the transaction. Since those players began play with the Raptors, they have gone 12-4 and now lead the Atlantic Division.
Toronto now starts Terrence Ross in place of Gay and has a solid stable of players coming off of the bench. This team looks a lot like the Celtics did early on in the season in terms of evenness across the board. Toronto’s new group is playing phenomenal defense, as it has limited opponents to 92.8 points per game and 42.4 percent shooting during its last 16 contests.
C’s Starting Lineup
There are two reasons why we should pay attention to Boston’s starting lineup tonight. First of all, it will look much different than it did when the team last took on Toronto. Secondly, it will likely be the second consecutive game in which this group gets to start together.
When these teams met on Opening Night, the Celtics sent out a starting lineup that consisted of Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass and Vitor Faverani. Jordan Crawford has since become the team’s starting point guard, and Jared Sullinger and Kris Humphries have also played well enough to become starters.
That leads us to our next point. Sullinger and Humphries started alongside each other in Boston’s frontcourt for the first time Monday night. Barring another lineup change, they will get their second opportunity to start a game as Boston’s power forward and center combo.
This new starting frontline is particularly important for the Celtics tonight. Sullinger and Humphries are undoubtedly Boston’s top rebounders. They combined for 18 boards on Monday despite playing a total of just 42 minutes. The C’s were crushed on the glass by the Raptors in the first go-around, as Toronto grabbed 48 rebounds to Boston’s 33.
DeRozan an All-Star?
DeMar DeRozan was on a pretty straight line toward stardom before the Raptors acquired Gay last season. That acquisition knocked DeRozan off his path, but now that Gay is no longer standing in his way, Toronto’s young shooting guard is right back on track.
Toronto is now looking at DeRozan to be its go-to scorer. That’s a great decision on the Raptors’ part, because he can fill it up. DeRozan has averaged a team-high 21.1 PPG since Dec. 13 and opposing coaches are taking notice, as evidenced by what Brad Stevens said on Tuesday: “I think DeRozan is an All-Star.”
Though DeRozan has been up and down with his shooting since the trade, he has made at least half of his shots in four of seven games in January.