Game Preview: Raptors @ Celtics

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

The Raptors are in Boston to take on the Celtics in the second game of a back-to-back, fresh off a 124-110 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night. The win got Toronto back in the wins column after the Cleveland Cavaliers snapped a six-game winning streak, and allowed the Raptors to close out a six-game homestand with a 5-1 record.

Tip-off: 7:30 P.M. ET

Broadcast Info: SNET1 / TSN1050

TALKING POINTS

Celtics expected to be without Thomas

The Celtics are expected to be without star guard Isaiah Thomas on Friday. ESPN reported that Thomas told reporters during a community event that he would not be playing against the Raptors as he heals from a groin strain.

"I won't be playing [Friday]. But [his Celtics teammates will] be ready,” Thomas told ESPN. “I'm going to do whatever I can to get back out there on the court. It's eating me alive to not be able to participate, not to be able to play, but I gotta be smart about this because i don't want this to linger on for the rest of the season."

Thomas is Boston’s leading scorer, averaging 26 points and 6.1 assists per game. He also missed Wednesday’s victory against the Orlando Magic because of the injury.

Casey wants more from team defensively

Although the Raptors were able to turn it on late in a 124-110 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, head coach Dwane Casey was not pleased with his team’s effort through the first three quarters of the game. After the win, rather than focusing on what went right, Casey honed in on the defensive issues his team had for much of the game.

“[We won] in spite of our defence,” Casey said. “That’s what I just told the team; if we’re serious about going anywhere, doing anything special, our defence and our attention to detail, our passion for defence, our give-a-crap level for defence has to pick up.”

Cory Joseph echoed his coach’s words. At 25 years old, Joseph is still a young player, but after spending the first four seasons of his career with the San Antonio Spurs going through deep playoff runs, he understands as much as anyone the importance of doing things the right way all of the time.

“The really outplayed us, energy wise, for three quarters,” Joseph said. “The last quarter we stepped it up, rotations were faster and we were just playing with a little more grit.

“The same way we played the fourth quarter we’ve got to do that for the full 48,” he continued. “We’ve got to have high energy, we’ve got to cover for one another and when somebody makes a mistake we’ve got to be better at our rotations. We’ve got a lot to get better at, but the thing is we’re capable of doing it. We show flashes of it so we’ve got to continue to grow.”

Joseph’s main role when he checks into the games to provide a presence defensively. Over the last few weeks, his play has been especially solid. He understandings why Casey gets frustrated when the team isn’t performing as it should defensively because he understands how important defence is to where the team is trying to go.

“Me, I’ve had a lot of experience in playoff games and big moments and what not,” Joseph said. “I throw my two cents in there whenever I get a chance, but also last year, doing what we did, it’s helping our confidence in those situations this year.”

Continuity (and All-Star backcourt) helping down the stretch

Although there was plenty to clean up in Thursday’s game against the Wolves, once again, the Raptors found a way to pull out a win. Having a roster that’s familiar with one another makes it easier in close-game situations. Going through a long playoff run a season ago also helps.

“We’ve got four guys who have been here for five years,” Kyle Lowry said. “Pat [Patterson[ is the second longest and me, T [Ross], we just have guys that are used it it, trying to come through at the end of games and sticking with the game plan and sticking with the course of action. At the end of the day we know we have to go out there and still make plays, play defence, make shots and be an aggressive, assertive team in the fourth quarter.”

Of course, the Raptors go largely as Lowry and backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan go. Prior to Thursday’s game against Minnesota, Tom Thibodeau had praise for the duo who he coached over the summer in the Rio Olympics.

“They were great,” he said. “The interesting thing about them is, you know, you could see when you’re coaching against them the chemistry that they have together on the floor, but what you don't see is how they are off the floor with each other and that’s equally impressive. They’re high character guys. They did an unbelievable job for us. Usually when they went in it was Kyle, DeMar and Jimmy Butler, and when they came out usually the game was pretty much, you know, in check. Those guys played tough defence, they pushed the ball and Kyle’s leadership with the team was fantastic he and DeMar, I can’t say enough about them. Just the way they handled themselves, too, they’re first-class guys. Toronto can be real proud of those guys.”