Game Preview: Raptors at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – There aren’t many occasions when the Boston Celtics (5-4) play a home game on a Saturday. It’s even more rare for a Saturday matinee game to be played in TD Garden, but that trend will be bucked this weekend.

The Celtics will be back in the Garden at 12:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon to take on the visiting Toronto Raptors (2-6). This contest will double as the first meeting of the season between the two divisional opponents as well as Boston’s only Saturday afternoon game of the season.

Saturday’s meeting will mark the third game in four days for Boston. The C’s are currently in the midst of a brutal stretch of games in which they’ll play four games in five nights, and seven games in 10 nights overall.

Boston is still playing at a high level despite the fact that it is nearing the end of that challenging stretch of games. The C’s have won four of their past six games and narrowly lost on the road to Brooklyn Thursday night, 102-97, while playing without Rajon Rondo in the second night of a back-to-back.

A trio of Celtics helped the team make a massive comeback in the second half of Thursday’s loss. Paul Pierce led the team with 22 points in the game and he scored 16 of those in the second half. Courtney Lee played his best game with the C’s by scoring 13 points and grabbing seven of his team-high rebounds in the second half. Chris Wilcox, who played less than 13 minutes, also deserves a mention as he finished the game with a plus-17 mark in the plus/minus category.

Unfortunately for the C’s, they were unable to win the game despite those players’ efforts. Now they must re-focus and turn their attention to a Toronto team that they should undoubtedly defeat.

Toronto has upgraded its talent over the past couple of years but it is currently ravaged by injuries. The Raps will be missing two of their starters, Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields, when they take the court Saturday afternoon. Alan Anderson, one of their top reserves, is also out.

Lowry is the biggest talent out of that crop. He is the team’s best playmaker and shooter. Lowry was averaging 18.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 6.3 APG in four contests before he suffered a bruised right foot that has been nagging him ever since.

Longtime Raptors point guard Jose Calderon has helped the Raptors deal with Lowry’s absence relatively well. Calderon recorded the first triple-double of his career during Toronto’s 74-72 victory over the Pacers Tuesday night. He notched 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the win.

Calderon is masking Lowry’s absence well but the Raptors are still an underwhelming team. The Celtics, playing in a rare Saturday matinee at home, will have the upper hand in talent as they attempt to return to the win column.

Leandro Barbosa

Leandro Barbosa scored 17 points while starting in place of Rajon Rondo Thursday night in Brooklyn.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Barbosa or Rondo?

Rondo has missed the last five-plus quarters of Celtics basketball due to a sprained right ankle. His status is listed as day-to-day and it’s quite possible that he’ll be healthy enough to play in this contest. However, the Celtics may opt to nurse him back to full health very slowly and start Leandro Barbosa in his place.

Many believed the Celtics would struggle on offense with Barbosa starting at point guard instead of Rondo, but the team made it work Thursday night. They still managed to score 97 points on 46.7 percent shooting that included a 7-of-13 performance from downtown. Barbosa was a big part of that, as he racked up 17 points and two assists during his 30-plus minutes of playing time.

Boston would obviously love to have Rondo on the court, but it proved Thursday night that it can also run a competent offense with Barbosa at the helm.

Attack Loose Balls

Doc Rivers had to be livid after the Nets accumulated 15 offensive rebounds in the first half alone Thursday night. Whatever he said to his players at halftime worked, because the C’s limited Brooklyn to just three offensive boards in the entire second half.

There was a visible difference in the Celtics’ rebounding mindset. They attacked loose balls rather than waiting for loose balls to come to them. That’s the first step toward improving Boston’s league-worst rebounding numbers, and it must continue on Saturday.

Wake up!

Many people might think the Celtics, with their much-maligned old and creaky legs, would struggle to wake up for weekend afternoon games over the past couple of seasons. That has not been even close to the case, as the C’s have gone 10-4 in weekend afternoon games over the past two seasons.

Saturday’s afternoon game, however, is unique, because it’s happening on Saturday and it’s happening in the noon hour. The C’s have participated in only one Saturday afternoon game in the past two seasons and that game was a loss on Christmas Day in 2010 at Orlando. They have participated in only three noon hour games in the past two seasons and have gone 1-2 in those contests.

Being ready for the tip-off of a 12:30 p.m. game means a very early morning. Players will be rolling out of bed much earlier than normal and they’ll need to do everything they can to wake themselves up.