I come to you LIVE from 36,000 feet in the air this morning (@JetBlue, I couldn’t be any more in on FlyFi). So, as you may know the Celtics take the court tonight against the Toronto Raptors who sit at 12-3 perched atop the Eastern Conference. While you can’t exactly call a game on November 16th a must win I’d still call it a game they have to win. The Raptors have looked like world beaters thus far and the Celtics have faltered out of the gate. In a race that seems like it’s going to go down to the wire for the top seed in the East a win tonight would do the Celtics a lot of good. In regards to tiebreakers, after already losing earlier in the season in Toronto, getting down 0-2 would put them in a tough position. If they do lose, the least they could do is tie in the season series and it’s only November 16. A win tonight, especially at home, would put them in a great position down the road and will give them even more confidence after their pummeling of Chicago on Wednesday. After a dismal road-trip, the green have something to prove. Tonight’s game and tomorrow’s against the Jazz (whom also beat the Celtics earlier in the season) would be a couple of nice games to win to right the ship.
A 59-23 team a year ago, the Raptors have had the LeBron bug the past few years and haven’t found their way to the Finals. What did they do in the offseason to improve? They sent Raptor legend and fan favorite DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Essentially, they upgraded at the small forward position from an All-NBA talent to a true MVP candidate and also added another 3 and D guard to gain more depth. They’re even more scary than before and with LeBron out West they’re eyeballing that spot in the Finals. At the beginning of the season the talk of the Eastern Conference was that the Celtics would run away with it. In hindsight, this was pretty disrespectful to the Raptors (I still consider Milwaukee and Philly below Boston). Basically a 60-win team improves and somehow they still get overshadowed. Maybe it’s Canada, maybe it’s the LeBron thing, maybe it was the idea of a new coach in Nick Nurse, maybe it’s just that we all overlooked how good Kawhi would make this team. Whatever it was, it was poor foresight, they’re the real deal and a threat to the Celtics come the playoffs. In 12 wins this season Toronto is beating teams by an average of 11.5 ppg and have an overall point differential of 7.3 per game (5th in the NBA). They’ve been playing some of the best basketball in the association thus far and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.
Backtracking to their loss to Toronto earlier in the season, there were some key things that led to the Celtics eventual demise.
First of all, Serge Ibaka gave them fits posting 21 Points and 6 rebounds on 10-14 from the floor. For the Celtics to be successful tonight they need to slow him down as they’ll already have their hands full with Kawhi and Kyle Lowry. That duo of Leonard/Lowry are starting to play some great basketball together as they learn each other’s tendencies and preferences. Another factor is to not give up these 10+ point runs that the Celtics have specialized in this season. Against Toronto, down 101-99 the Celtics gave up one of these runs as the Raptors closed the last 2:30 of the game on a 12-2 run to seal it. It was absolutely infuriating and I wanted to throw up watching it unfold. They cannot give an inch, especially to a team of this caliber if they want to come out of tonight with a win. They experienced this the last time these two teams faced off so hopefully it’s still fresh in their minds and a focus for tonight.
Lastly, three guys who I see as keys tonight are Jaylen Brown, Terry Roizer, and Al Horford. Jaylen’s been playing some aggressive basketball lately and to help with spacing against an elite defensive team he’s going to have to get himself into the paint. Jaylen can force the issue and set the tone early for the Celtics on offense. If they successfully can get to the basket, then Toronto can’t just focus on the perimeter defensively but must focus on the paint as well. This will open up the three-point game for Boston and make their offense more mulit-dimensional. Terry will have an opportunity to make a big impact tonight due to the strength of the Toronto bench. Last season Terry was integral in the season series posting averages of 14.3 ppg 5.8 rpg and 4.3 apg. He’s going to have his hands full with Fred Van Vleet and the rest of a strong bench unit.
For a guy looking to make an impact, tonight is a prime opportunity to make things happen and give the Celtics a lift off of the bench while Kyrie is getting his rest. For Al, his defense, three-point shooting, and facilitation are all things the Celtics need from him tonight. Last game against the Raptors he had a near triple-double posting 14 pts 10 rebs 9 asts 1 blk and 1 stl. This kind of play was a main factor in the Celtics having a chance to win that last matchup and if he can give that same sort of production tonight the Celtics will be in a good spot to take this one home. His defense off of switches and in man situations against Ibaka/Jonas Valanciunas is another side plot to watch for. It remains to be seen how the Celtics will come out tonight but I have a good feeling about tonight’s game and expect them to come out with a win.
Follow us on Twitter @ViewsFromWall for real-time post updates and other news!