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Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris expected to return tonight vs. Toronto Raptors

From NBA Twitter and media reports

The Boston Celtics continue to set the pace in the Eastern Conference, much as they have all season long. Yet they only hold a two-game lead over the Toronto Raptors for that No. 1 spot and have been making do without injured All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and key reserve forward Marcus Morris.

As fate would have it, the Celtics visit the Raptors tonight (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass) in the second of three matchups this season. Boston won the first matchup in November by a one-point margin in a game that did not have Irving because he had suffered a facial fracture from an inadvertent elbow by teammate Aron Baynes days earlier.

At shootaround this morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said both Morris and Irving are expected to suit up tonight. Irving also told reporters he is impressed with how Boston’s younger players have stepped up in his absence.

“They’ve come so far in a week,” Irving said. “They see how hard it is to mentally and physically prepare every single game, and they’re doing a great job of figuring it out.”

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald takes a look at how Boston’s bench has stepped up of late with Irving and Morris out

“Ah man, they’re playing extremely well,” said Celtics guard Jaylen Brown. “Their bench is playing well; there’s a lot. We have our hands full, and for us in that game, it’s gonna be one of those games where we have to be very disciplined defensively, because DeRozan makes you pay. Kyle Lowry has that ability as well.

“So you just have to be locked in defensively, and that will give us our best chance to try to go in there and win the game.”

But in beating their last three opponents without some combination of Irving, Morris, Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin, those deeper on the bench have made some short-term growth. Abdel Nader has played the most meaningful minutes of his young NBA career, and Semi Ojeleye continues to emerge as a rookie surprise at both ends of the floor.

“It’s great. They’re being part of meaningful games,” said Brown. “They’re gaining experience, and those guys work really hard every day to be in this position, and it’s good to see them be able to get on the floor and have some success. They’re not just in there and dragging us. They came in and they lifted us. The more they play, the more confident they’ll get, and right now we need them to stay ready and keep playing that way.”

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