Game Preview: Raptors vs. Celtics
The Raptors kick off their final 25 games of the regular season against the Boston Celtics on Friday at the Air Canada Centre. In addition to getting back into the swing of things post All-Star break, Serge Ibaka is also expected to make his Raptors debut.
Tip-off: 8:00 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: SN1 / SN590
Ibaka set to make Raptors debut
Serge Ibaka became a Raptor a little over a week ago in a trade that brought him to Toronto from Orlando and sent Terrence Ross and a future first-round pick to the Magic. Despite being in town for the team's final game before the All-Star break, Ibaka was not able to suit up, making Friday his expected debut.
Ibaka was pleased that Toronto's schedule allowed him to get in two practice sessions and a morning shootaround with his new teammates before hitting the court for real. While Dwane Casey didn't want to overwhelm the seven-year veteran with information, Ibaka is eager to get things going in Toronto.
[Casey] says it's a lot but I'm going to pick it up quick," Ibaka said. "Just have to learn how to play with the players. Especially on defence, most of the things already know how to do, there's little changes but no big change. Today was my first practice. We're going figure it out. We're going to learn each other."
As Ibaka gets accustomed to a new system, Patrick Patterson has been the teammate to be especially helpful with instruction as the team went through plays during practice Despite just two practices with his new teammate, Patterson is already impressed with what Ibaka has shown.
"With Serge, it's all about plays pretty much, and play calls," Patterson said. "He's a tremendous athlete, he's very smart, IQ, he's played with the best in the league, he's been in crunch time situations so he knows the game of basketball through and through. So with us, it's just about talking to him about where to be on what plays, play calls, understanding certain words and certain schemes and where guys like to be in that set, so when I'm out there on the court with him, it's just talking to him as if we're all playing on the same team, because right now we're playing against each other [during practice], but just like talking to him, each play, where to be each set so that he's comfortable and he knows what to do.
Toronto's work did not stop after the Ibaka deal. The team announced on Thursday that it had acquired forward P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Jared sullinger, second-round picks in 2017 and 2018 and cash considerations.
Tucker, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound physical forward is averaging 7.0 points, 6.0 rebounds 1.5 steals and 28.5 minutes per game in 57 games with the Phoenix Suns this season. He comes to Toronto for the second time, having been selected 35th overall by the Raptors in the 2006 NBA Draft.
Although Tucker was expected to arrive in Toronto late Thursday night, his status for Friday's game is not known. Masai Ujiri spoke with media following the trade announcement.
"Toughness," Ujiri said about what Tucker brings to Toronto. "I love his toughness. He can defend. He can defend multiple positions. He can shoot the corner three. Toughness. We needed to become a tougher team and I think this helps us. Grit, just play ball. I love that about these two guys [Tucker and Ibaka] added to the guys that we have. I think it helps us with toughness."
Celtics provide tough test
There's no better way to get back into the swing of things than to face the Celtics. Boston is 37-20 on the season and second in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics provide a good test for Toronto, having won the previous meeting between the two teams 109-104 behind a 44-point explosion from All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
Although it will be a good test, Dwane Casey knows it won't be an easy one.
"It's never a good time to have to face Boston, but that's the schedule," Casey said. "I think our guys are focused. Serge can't come in overnight and pick up everything, but what he does pick up will be a huge help. I don't want us to expect 'Hey Ibaka's in, everything is fixed now'. No, we worked on some things for two days now that should help us, but it's on everybody that's dressed and ready to play to do their jobs."
As the team works to integrate new players, Casey and his staff will be breaking down the remaining 25 games into five-game chunks.
"We have to treat these last 25 games like five, five-game series, this is it," he said. "We're going down the stretch and right into the playoffs, it's not going to be easy. We've got to be ready, we have to do it with enthusiasm, passion. Whatever happened the last three weeks is down the drain. We've got to look forward and use these last 25 games to build that momentum. Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to be perfect? No. But we have to go into it with the passion and confidence and swagger we had the first third of the season.