1/20 Game Preview: Celtics at Raptors
As the youth of the Boston Celtics has made them an up-and-coming team which fights to the end, the Toronto Raptors have held them at bay in the Atlantic Division behind experienced veterans.
One thing the teams do have in common is perimeter players driving the offense, something that could lead to three guards from this game soon being named All-Stars.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry try to help the Raptors win a season-high sixth straight and further show they're still the team to beat in the Atlantic as Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics head north of the border Wednesday night.
No one in Boston's regular rotation is older than 28, and the 26-year-old Thomas is the only one of its top five scorers who wasn't born in the 1990s.
The only Toronto starter not born in the '80s is center Jonas Valanciunas, and starting forward Luis Scola is 35. DeRozan is 26 but in his seventh NBA season and fourth playing alongside Lowry, a 10-year veteran.
"They have played so much together, the continuity, the offensive sets, the spacing and they understand where each other is going to be," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
DeRozan and Lowry are averaging career highs of 22.8 and 21.0 points, respectively. Both have made one All-Star appearance and would like to double that total with this year's game being in Toronto on Feb. 14.
Lowry was third among guards in the most recent balloting so he could get a starting nod, while DeRozan was sixth and could be a reserve along with Thomas (ninth place).
The 5-foot-9 Thomas is averaging 21.8 points, including 28.0 in the last six games, to lift the Celtics into playoff position and within 4 1/2 games of the two-time defending division champion Raptors (26-15).
"He's not only a dynamic scorer, but the way he's able to run the offense, the way he's been able to defend for us, his all-around game," coach Brad Stevens said of Thomas, who averages 6.6 assists. "Obviously, he's elevated our team."
The only other players with double-figure scoring averages for Boston (22-20) are 6-2 guard Avery Bradley and small forward Jae Crowder at 14.5 apiece.
Even when the Celtics lose, the games always seem to come down to the wire. Each of their last nine losses have been by single digits.
They trailed 17-2 in Dallas on Monday but fought back to force overtime, eventually losing 118-113 to have a three-game winning streak snapped.
"We try to play until the clock runs out," Stevens said. "That's a pretty consistent trademark of this team."
His team hasn't faced Toronto since a 113-103 home loss Oct. 30. DeRozan led the Raptors with 23 points and is averaging 28.5 in his last four versus the Celtics.
He had 30 on Monday while Lowry scored 13 of his 31 in the fourth quarter to lift Toronto past Brooklyn 112-100. Lowry, averaging 26.7 points in the last three games, hit seven 3-pointers and added eight assists.
After they scored at least 30 in the same game for the first time, DeRozan says he and Lowry are "extremely comfortable" taking control down the stretch.
"It's second nature now and a lot of things do not need to be said. It's a feel thing and something that comes from years of playing and knowing each other's game."
Toronto, which opened a seven-game homestand Monday, has won eight of 10 at Air Canada Centre.
Boston has lost four of five on the road, but the defeats were by an average of 5.8 points.