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.
Is this a Must-Win?
Isaiah Thomas believes it is.
The Celtics point guard expressed a sense of urgency following the team’s third straight loss Wednesday night, noting that the team doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Boston (39-29) currently sits in a three-way tie for fourth place in the East, along with Miami and Charlotte. Toronto (46-21), meanwhile, has a strong hold on the two-spot in the standings.
"We gotta win," Thomas said after Wednesday’s 130-109 loss to Oklahoma City. "The playoff picture - not saying we're not going to make the playoffs, but - it's close, so Toronto is another test for us. We gotta be mature about the situation and just try to get a win."
If they don’t, the Celtics will match their longest losing streak of the season.
Another Day, Another All-Star Tandem
Amir Johnson, who spent six seasons in Toronto, gave the inside scoop on how to beat his former squad following Wednesday's loss.
First and foremost, he said, “You gotta stop their two guys, which is (point guard) Kyle Lowry and (forward) DeMar (DeRozan).”
Johnson hit the nail on the head here; that All-Star duo has completely run the show for the Raptors this season. During Toronto’s last five games, DeRozan and Lowry have averaged 30.8 points per game and 24.2 PPG, respectively.
DeRozan tends to bring out his best against Boston; he’s averaged 29.6 PPG during his last five contests versus the C’s, including a 34-point outburst during Toronto’s 115-109 win over Boston on Jan. 20.
The Celtics faced a similar scenario Wednesday night when they faced off against Oklahoma City’s star point guard/forward tandem in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. That pair totaled 52 points for the Thunder, and led their squad to a blowout win.
“It's the same mindset as (Wednesday's) game,” explained Avery Bradley. “And hopefully they're not making every shot too."
Battle on the Boards
Key No. 2 to beating the Raptors, according to Johnson, is to win the rebounding battle. In other words, the C’s must do the opposite of what they did last time they were north of the border.
No Celtic corralled more than five rebounds on Jan. 20, when Toronto held them to a season-low 33 boards. That game was a bit of an anomaly, however, given that there weren’t a lot of rebounding opportunities – both teams shot over 50 percent.
C’s coach Brad Stevens noted Wednesday night that his team needs to improve in the rebounding department, particularly on the defensive end.
Limiting teams on the defensive glass is Toronto’s specialty, as it surrenders the fewest defensive rebounds per game (31.0) in the East.
Olynyk Getting Back into a Rhythm
Kelly Olynyk returned to action Wednesday night after being sidelined for more than a month with a shoulder injury.
How did he look on the court?
“He looked like a guy that hadn’t played in five and a half weeks,” said Stevens. “Which is to be expected.”
Olynyk shot 1-for-7 from the field, totaling eight points during 22 minutes of play. It wasn’t a shining performance by any means, but Olynyk said it was “good to get back in the rhythm.”
Boston will need him to progress further tonight at the Air Canada Centre, where the 7-footer has averaged 19.0 PPG during his last three games.
Jerebko’s Presence is Vital
Forty-two minutes before tip-off Wednesday night, the Celtics announced that Jonas Jerebko would be sitting out due to left ankle soreness. There was no update regarding his injury as of this morning, but his presence will be vital tonight.
Given that Boston is already without Jae Crowder, it does not have many options to stretch the floor at the 4.
Jerebko was the team’s most reliable scorer during Tuesday’s loss in Indiana, where he scored a season-high 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field.
Update: Brad Stevens announced today at approximately 11:20 a.m. that Jerebko's ankle injury will sideline him for tonight's game and Sunday's game in Philadelphia.