The ovation Peja received when he checked into the game on Wednesday was legendary, the crowd may have been sparse, but boy do we love us some Peja; and to his credit, he didn’t disappoint in very limited minutes. Wednesday against the Sixers, the Raptors rolled off their 4th win in a row, in pretty good fashion. They got out to an early lead, Philly started to chip into it, came close, then the Raptors closed out the game after a scare. Good, done deal.
The fact that we’re heading into Boston on a 4 game winning streak, one of them came against Boston, shouldn’t be discounted. Look, we all know that this team isn’t a very good one, but they hustle, are active, and are fun to watch, but the Raptors just don’t have the horses. That being said, the East is an interesting situationt: 5 games separates 5th and 15th, so going 4-6 in their last 10 games has the Raptors half a game out of the playoffs.
Yes yes, I know it’s far too early to talk about the playoffs, but you need to consider that only a week ago this team was in a race for last pace in the East/League. Took a 4-game winning streak to climb 6 spots in the standings. Don’t think that this has gone unnoticed in the upper ranks either. All the moves BryCo has made have been both tactical and strategic. There are made with the intention of making the playoffs that year, but also providing flexibility should they not work out, and the Raptors are once again in that position to either blow it up and get as many balls in as possible to get a top 3 pick, or add a couple guys who can push them to the playoffs, and possibly not as bright a future since we wouldn’t be getting a lottery pick.
I’m straddling both sides of the moment: I’m always for going to the playoffs, but it would be nice to get a nice young stud in the draft to mold into a major part of this teams future. I have the luxury of flip-flopping back and forth though, BC doesn’t.
We get the Celtics for the 2nd time in a week, and normally I’d be saying this game is going to be messy. It still might, but the things that won the game for us at home last week, haven’t changed: namely Rondo’s injury and Toronto’s athleticism. The Celtics did take the Raptors lightly, but they lots of trouble running with us and keeping up. Two things happened last game that really made my day: 1) Garnett sat on the bench with a lost look on his face. He’s owned Bosh over the years, but Bargnani abused last week 2) Watching Glenn Davis roll around on the floor clutching his face in pain after getting a shot to the head, loved it.
Ed Davis – Wearing his warmup suit at least
Leandro Barbosa – Achilles, should play
Rajon Rondo – Hamstring, Out
Delonte West – Wrist, Out
Jermaine O’Neal – Out
Kendrick Perkins – Out
This match-up couldn’t be any better for the Raptors: Rondo/West are replaced by Nate Robinson/Avery Bradley, Bradley of the DNP-CD variety. Robinson put in a pretty good performance last week, but most of it came in the 1st quarter. While his shooting was hot, he wasn’t moving the ball around, and the offense became dependant as a result of him going one-on-one and hitting the shot. I’ll take that any day of the week since his shooting went downhill after the 1st quarter, and the rest of the Celtics were left holding the bag. It took a game, but Calderon found his rhythm after the Jack trade, dropping 16pts 9ast Wednesday against the Sixers. Bayless came out like gangbusters in his first game with the Raps, but I don’t expect to see him go 3-for-3 from behind the arc, and finish the game with 13pts. Keeping Robinson out of the paint, and chucking shots from the perimeter is the move tonight, I’d go with that.
Ray Allen should be who DeMar DeRozan looks too for a role-model in this league. The guy doesn’t yap, keeps in primo shape, and shoots like an angel (he also moves and plays defense like one as well). So go down to the AV room, and get as many DVD’s of Ray-Ray doing his thing over the years, get into the gym and shoot 500 jumpers a day, and stay in shape. DeMar’s contribution during this winning streak has been negligible at best; averaging 7.5pts 2.8rebs a game. It’s actually very troubling considering he’s being counted on for so much. Based on recent history, I don’t see DeRozan contributing his due share tonight, but he can play hard, and get back on the right track with a strong defensive performance highlighted with with attacking the basket off the bounce (no jumpers, just drives).
Paul Pierce has a knack for killing you in slow motion. It must be such a treat for Celtics fan to watch dudes play ball with their heads like they are playing Risk. Pierce is one of those guys who kills you in the right way at the right time; last time against the Raptors, he got to the line 13 times hitting 9. Weems and Kleiza mint have some success defending him off the dribble, but keeping him off the line will prove tough. Staying in front of him, not falling for head fakes and making him take are what’s necessary to attempt to stop him, and even en he can kill you. At the end of the game, if we keep Pierce out of the paint and off the free throw line, I’ll be a happy camper.
Reggie is seriously playing himself out of town; come February, some playoff team is going to come calling for his rebounding and expiring contract. While he’s here, his work on the glass is protecting Bargnani far more than many of us would want to believe. Last week, Reggie out rebounded both Shaq and the big fat baby (the highlight of the win over Boston for me was Davis getting chopped in the face and rolling around the ground in pain; hate that guy) quite handedly. What would have changed in a week, especially after Evans pulled down 22 against the Sixers two-nights ago? Nothing, that’s what. I like Reggie to dominate the boards and hopefully catch Davis in that fat nose of his with an errant elbow or something equally unfortunate.
Amir’s athleticism and rebounding will be crucial off the bench. He’s had some foul troubles the last few games (even fouled out against the Sixers), but has been uber productive otherwise. Davis does a lot for a fat bastard, and Reggie will have trouble guarding him. I like Amir on Davis much better as a match-up. Shaq I’m not too worried about either way; he’s going to have a couple possessions where he’s unguardable, then he’s going to stink.
it’s not that Bargnani is a better player than Bosh for handling Garnett as he did last week, it’s that he handled Garnett like a little girl last week on-route to win over an elite team that’s the important thing to take away from that game. Il Mago is the perfect player to shut Garnett up: he’s long, athletic, shoots the crap out of the ball and pulls KG away from the paint and glass where he is most needed by the Celtics.
That said, I’m worried about this match-up tonight since KG can just decide to stick to Bargs like sauce on pasta, and not let him get going at all. This would absolutely change Boston’s defensive rotations and rebounding assignments, but could also prove the right recipe to shutting down the Raptor offense by stopping the one guy who can carry this team on his back; when he feels like it of course.
Keys to the Game
A key to the win against the Celtics was grabbing 10 offensive rebounds, resulting in 5 more possessions. Without Perkins/O’Neal and Garnett out on the perimeter defending Bargnani, the Raptors need to crash the boards and clean up some of the missed shots. The Raptors scored two-thirds of their points on the perimeter, and need a couple of those cheap put-backs to compensate for the offensive execution the Celtics are going to ram down their throats.
The Celtics really had a hard time with the Raptors athleticism all over the court. Without Rondo, they don’t a very key part of their team who can run the court, as well as play the half-court. Another problem with Rondo being out for the Celtics is that he was the first line of defense. Without him, and West, Nate Robinson is helpless against the Raptor offense. Toronto needs to attack every single possession, and just wear this team down, especially with no elite perimeter defender to stop the ball, and their defensive anchor getting schooled on the perimeter by Bargnani.
Dig a Little Deeper
You know what’s better than 4-wins in a row? 5-wins in a row. With the Hawks and Thunder both coming up in the next week, would be nice to have a little cushion, especially since we get the Wizards on Wednesday, and can extract some revenge after a brutally listless showing the last time they played.
The Celtics are 10 point favourites, which is absurd considering their injury situation and the fact that we already beat them…however…and I say this with conviction: this game can go terribly wrong for the Raptors quickly. If Garnett and Pierce are motivated tonight, it will get ugly. The Raptors don’t have an answer for the type of fire these guys can spit.
If I were Triano, I would look to Bargnani early to keep Garnett out of the paint, and hope the shots fall. A lot will rest on Calderon leading the break, and owning Nate off the dribble in the half-court, which he definitely can do. That said, I am not very optimistic about tonight’s game.
Photo Credit: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
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