Toronto Raptors Boston Celtics January 7, 2011

What I tell you about the Cavs game? Something didn’t seem right about the line, and although they gave it a go in the first quarter, the Raptors were able to storm back, win the 2nd quarter, then take the game. Wont be so easy tonight against Boston. Seems like we play the Celtics once a week or so doesn’t it? Fortunately this is the last match-up until next season.

The Celtics are coming off a huge win against the Spurs, where they went small ball and put the Spurs in their place. Small ball is actually an option that makes me nervous for tonight’s game since it nullifies Bargnani’s ability to put the ball on the floor and take his man off the dribble. Sure he will shoot over anyone from 18 feet out, but he doesn’t post-up enough when he has a defender on his hip enough  to punish the other team.

I checked in with Ryan DeGama from CelticsHub about the Celtics and the game tonight:

With so many injuries to start the season, and currently sitting 1st in the East, you guys must be feeling good heading into the second half of the season. Will anything less than a championship be a disaster this season?
Disaster’s a big word but if the Celtics drop another Finals to the Lakers, then it might be the right one. It would be disaster-level painful for most Celtics fans, who still aren’t really over the second half collapse in game seven of last year’s Finals.

The bottom line is this team was built to win championships and this might be the best team that Danny Ainge has put together for Doc Rivers, so expectations are sky-high. The fact the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen core won one championship means they’ll be looked on favorably by history, however, a second would cement their legacies in Boston, where winning one title is only sorta, kinda impressive.

Who do you not want to play in the Eastern playoffs, and if you get there, the Finals?
Eastern Conference: Probably Miami. Also Chicago. And Orlando. The problem with this year is that to just get to The Finals, the C’s will have to go through at least two of those teams. Miami may be a year of frontcourt reinforcements away from being able to topple Boston, and Orlando may not have a true second star behind Howard, so, counter-intuitively perhaps, I’ll nominate Chicago. Rose is a matchup nightmare, and they’ve got an athletic frontline that can give Boston problems. If the Bulls can upgrade their 2-guard, they’re going to be a handful.

The Finals: The Celtics would probably be best served playing the Spurs but even though it’s a tougher matchup, I think everybody wants the Lakers (see also: revenge).

Rondo’s improved every year he’s played in the league, but to average 14 assists a game is very impressive. It seems to have come at the expense of his offense, but his improved shooting efficiency has made up for it some. What can you attribute to the big jump in playmaking for him this season?
To quibble, scoring numbers aside, I think his offense is actually a level beyond where it was last year. He has a newfound consistency of effort and result from game-to-game and he’s shooting a career high 44% from the mid-range.

His assist numbers are up for a number of reasons including: his natural peak-years evolution as playmaker, because Shaq has replaced Perkins in the starting lineup, and also because Allen and Pierce remain lethal shotmakers.

Perkins is a free agent after this year. What do you think he’s worth on the open market, and will be a Celtic come next season?
That first question may be above my pay grade, particularly with us all unsure of what the new CBA is going to look like, but as a blind guess, how about $8M per? Ainge has been reluctant to sign any player beyond 2012 except Pierce and Rondo but I think he’ll re-up Perkins to a multi-year deal after the season – lest he undercut the C’s chances for a 2012 run at the title.

Assuming there is a 2012.

(You can take that as a reference to either a potential lockout or the Mayan doomsday prophecy).

What’s going to be the plan heading into the game tonight against the Raptors?
Nothing you haven’t seen. Doesn’t it seem like these two teams are always playing each other in clusters? Over at CelticsHub, Hayes Davenport refers to it as Raptors Week.

As usual, the Celtics will test the Raptors willingness to play defense on multiple offensive options for 24-full-seconds and try to keep your athletes from crashing the offensive glass and getting to the rim.

Injuries

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Peja Stojakovich – Out
Sonny Weems – Day to day
Jerryd Bayless – Day to day
Jose Calderon – Hurting but should play

Boston
Kendrick Perkins – Out
Kevin Garnett – Out
Delonte West – Out

Match-ups

Point Guard
Rondo’s back, and he’s playing like a champ again. Wednesday against the Spurs he dropped a magnificent 12pts 10rebs 22ast 6stl 1blk gem. Can he do it tonight against the Raptors? Yes. Will he? Probably. My preference is to take away his options and force him to hit some shots, but he’s been hitting those at a 53% rate…so yea…

Jose can regain some lost ground with another monster game, but Rondo is no Mo Williams or Ramon Sessions, and plays great defense. 20pts 17ast may not be possible, but something like 17pts 10ast will help fight the good fight.
Edge: Boston

Shooting Guard
I keep saying it and saying it, and nothing, but DeMar needs to study Ray Allen and follow his lead. Sure DeMar is super athletic, but so are most shooting guards in the league; degrees of athleticism isn’t really an advantage. Regardless, DeRozan’s been on a bit of a tear of late, with a bad game for him being 13pts 3rebs 2ast…I’ll take that. Tonight will be more of the same with Ray Allen inflicting a great deal of pain on the Raptors. Barbosa wont fair any better.
Edge: Boston

Small Forward
The Truth, nuff said. Would be nice to get Julian Wrights defense on him, but it wont help.
Edge: Boston

Power Forward
As much as I loathe Glen Davis, the guy is having a great season. Against the Raptors, he’s averaging 15pts 6rebs 4ast which makes my blood boil to no end (death by 1000 cuts). With Garnett out, there’s very depth at the 4, which is where the Raptors can make up some lost ground in the match-ups. Both Amir and Ed are playing very well lately, and will give Davis a run for his money on the glass.

What has me concerned is that Doc Rivers going small ball, which will see Marquis Daniels switch to the 4 and Davis to the 5. This could pose a lot of problems for the Raptors as Daniels plays about 15ft in, pulling Amir/Ed out of the paint making help defense and rebounding that much tougher. On the offensive glass, Daniels will do zero to counter Johnson/Davis though, so there is a silver lining with this strategy.

At the end of the day, any advantage the Raptors may have here will be far outweighed by the Celtics advantage at the wing. To close, here’s Glen Davis doing the dougie:

Edge: Toronto

Center
Shaq can’t cover  Bargnani for long stretches on defense, so we will see some interesting lineups thrown at the Raptors. Bargnani will have to deal with a combination of Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis, each bringing a different challenge for him to deal with. If/when the Celtics go small ball, Bargnani will struggle with defending Davis on the perimeter and his bull-doggedness when he gets into the paint with his interesting post-play (always has these moves where I full expect him to flop to the ground and airball the layup, but it works). Unlike the power forward advantage the Raptors enjoy, if Bargnani puts up a 30+ point night, he might be able to keep things very interesting for much of the game.
Edge: Toronto

The Line

The gamblers have the Celtics as 9.5 point favourites with an over/under of 200.5. Unlike the Cavaliers game, the Raptors can’t spot the Celtics a 32-19 lead in the 1st quarter and expect to take the game. With the game in Boston, the Raptors will need to hit the ground running from the get-go and do all the little things to have a chance.

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