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 the Air Canada Centre.
Two Teams Playing at a High Level
The Atlantic Division’s top two teams have been playing very good basketball of late, and they’ll meet tonight in Toronto.
The Raptors have rattled off five consecutive wins to take their record on the season to 26-15. That record stands as the second-best in the deep Eastern Conference and Toronto stands 4.5 games ahead of Boston in the division. During their winning streak, the Raptors have not knocked off a team currently bound for the playoffs (and they haven't done so since Dec. 23 vs. Dallas), but they have won five in a row nonetheless.
Boston comes into tonight’s game with a losing taste in its mouth. It fell 118-113 in overtime Monday night in Dallas. However, after losing six of seven from Dec. 30 to Jan. 12, the C’s seemingly have found their. They had won three in a row prior to Monday’s narrow loss and downed two playoff-caliber teams during that stretch.
No Carrolling Tonight
Toronto took a gamble this past offseason when it let multiple players, including Boston's Amir Johnson, leave via free agency so that it could sign DeMarre Carroll away from the Atlanta Hawks. The move provided Toronto with a whole lot of versatility, but that versatility is currently missing.
Carroll has played only five games since Dec. 5 and is currently out after undergoing arthroscopic right knee surgery on Jan. 6. There is no timetable for his return.
Without Carroll, the Raptors have chosen to start James Johnson as a hybrid forward. Johnson has performed moderately during his six straight starts, averaging only 6.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Those numbers fall far below Carroll’s averages of 11.7 points and 4.8 rebounds to go along with a 37.8 shooting percentage from long range.
Rediscover the D
Much attention had been given to the Celtics over their first two-plus months of the season because of their defense. They had been one of the top five teams in the league in defensive efficiency nearly all season heading into the New Year. However, since the calendar turned over to 2016, the C’s have been underwhelming at the defensive end.
Boston’s defense ranked second in the NBA in defensive efficiency heading into 2016, with a mark of 97.8. During January, with 10 games already in the books, it ranks 10th in the league with a mark of 102.0.
Isaiah Thomas is the only player Boston can rely on to score consistently each and every night. With that in mind, the team needs to get back to playing elite defense in order to win games on a regular basis.
Potential All-Star Boost
Speaking of Thomas, tonight is a big game for him personally. Tonight’s contest will be a platform for him to make a push toward the All-Star game.
It is nearly a guarantee that two of Toronto’s guards, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, will make it onto the East’s All-Star roster this season. They’ve earned it with their play, and considering that Toronto is hosting the game next month, coaches have even more reason to vote them on as reserves.
Thomas has already made his case for an All-Star berth with his consistent scoring, passing and defense this season. A top-flight performance tonight in Toronto, against two likely All-Star guards, would surely give him an additional boost.
Very Different C’s
These two teams have met only once this season, way back on Oct. 30 during each team’s second game of the season. Toronto won that game by a count of 113-103.
Boston has since undergone massive changes, particularly within its starting lineup. On Oct. 30, the C’s sent a starting group of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, David Lee and Tyler Zeller onto the floor. Tonight, they’ll use a lineup that consists of Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Johnson and Jared Sullinger.
This new starting group is much more capable at both ends of the floor. All five players can score the basketball, and all five players can defend. Toronto will surely notice throughout this game that these C’s are much different than the ones it faced during the early days of this season.