After a very successful road swing that saw the Raptors win 3 of their last 4 games, the Hawks took it upon themselves to humble our boys; they are good at that.

Ryan Degama, from Celtics Hub, James Herbert and AltRaps answered three of my burning questions:

Read an interesting trade scenario on ESPN (Insider required) with Garnett going to Denver for Afflalo, Miller and Mozgov; good trade personally. Why hasn’t Ainge began breaking up the big three, and getting picks/prospects for them while he can?

Ryan: There are a few reasons nothing has happened yet. Part of it is that teams are still evaluating what they need and part of it is that you nail the expected return: picks and prospects. That’s a serious bounty and Boston’s early performance has done little to strengthen Ainge’s negotiating position. Now that Paul Pierce has returned to all-star form, Ainge has more to work with, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get an offer he considers palatable. It’s possible Boston will ride out the season as is.

Alt: I’ve hated Ainge my whole life. Hated him as a Blue Jay and as soon as he became a Celtic, well, it was all over. So, in short, he hasn’t moved on anything because he can’t cross a street without calling someone for help. Much like when we traded Carter, Danny knows that what he gets in return for any of these guys will show what kind of a gunslinger he is. The fact he was willing to part with Rondo before any of these guys tells you something. He will make a move closer to the deadline, especially as the Sixers get further and further ahead of them. You’ll see a desperate perennial playoff team give up some good picks and current talent for one of the two. Pierce is untouchable.

James: Ainge has directly said that he would break this team up if he received a good enough offer. Who’s going after these guys, though? You’re only taking one of them if you’re a contender, and what contender has spare young players that would actually help the Celtics? Maybe some team would like to shed salary for Garnett’s $21 million expiring contract, but would Boston want a bunch of overpaid guys? Would Ainge want Joe Johnson? I doubt it.

Can the Celtics, as presently constructed, still win a championship?

Ryan: Their offense is on the wrong side of mediocre and their rebounding is bottom third in the league. Those two factors guarantee an early round exit come playoff time. Add the team’s collective age and inclination to injury and it’s all over unless you really want to delve deep into “everything goes right” scenarios. Those haven’t been hallmarks of the last few years in Boston.

Alt: If they were able to pull out series wins in 4-5 games, yes. They would get a breather between sets (presumably) and it gives their coaching staff time to get them working on the possible next opponent. Give that time to an Allen, a Garnett, a Rondo, then you have a shot. The real hitch is beating the West in the final. Good luck with that.

James: Can they? Yeah. In the same way that Portland or Denver can if a lot of things go their way. The Celtics are not contenders, barring a major injury elsewhere. They’ll be better come playoff time and we shouldn’t forget how bad they looked during some parts of 2009-2010 before making it to the Finals, but as constructed they are not in the same class as Miami, Chicago, and Oklahoma City.

Will it be a bar fight tonight?

Ryan: Feels like it could be a rough one after Kleiza smacked down Rondo last time. But I don’t think it will be a close one if the Celtics are interested in playing defense (sometimes they’re not) and moving the ball on offense, like they did against the Cavs last night.

Alt: Casey has these guys playing scrappy. You throw Scarborough out there to lay some shoulders and I envision some chippiness. If it’s a close game you know they will zero in on Jose’s touchiness and, especially without Andrea playing cold hand Luke, he could fall for it. That’s okay, though…we have Kleiza who has taken the role of the NBA’s version of a viper.

James: I just watched the Raptors get blown out by the Hawks at home and it wasn’t for a lack of effort. They’ll fight, but without Bargnani they’re going to struggle to put points up against this Boston defense. It all depends on if Toronto can contain Pierce, the Celtics’ primary creator in the absence of Rajon Rondo — if it’s a blowout, it’s not a bar fight.

Injuries

Toronto
Bargnani – Calf, out indefinitely

Boston
Rondo – Wrist, day-to-day
Dooling – Hip, day-to-day
O’Neal – Knee, day-to-day

Match-ups

Point Guard
I’m really liking the effort Bayless has been putting up since his return from injury; what helps most is he’s protecting the ball much better. Calderon’s been consistent. I realize he’s been starting at the 2 the last two games, but I just don’t see DeRozan covering Paul Pierce and James Johnson taking on Kevin Garnett. So with Rondo out (probably out), Bayless will be backing up Calderon and playing some shooting guard in relief of DeRozan while Colangelo sorts out a trade for Barbosa.
Edge: Raptors

Shooting Guard
I took a lot of heat when I said DeRozan’s game against the Nets wasn’t that great (especially getting to the foul line 16 times against a D-league level team). When you such dramatic swings from game-to-game, you don’t get love from this corner of the interwebs when you make a pretty against a weak-ass team. Head-to-head against Ray Allen, DeRozan’s been mediocre for a few seasons, I’m not saying Ray-Ray is going to drop 30, but he will do 15-20; mix that with DeRozan’s love affair with the jumper and Boston’s defensive resurgence (4th in defensive efficiency)…it’s going to be a long night for the prodigal son.
Edge: Celtics

Small Forward
Paul Pierce may be old, but his game was never dependant on his athleticism; it’s that slow-motion first step that’s killer. JJ and Kleiza have been playing nice, but if their combined production matches Pierce’s, I’ll be surprised.
Edge: Celtics

Power Forward
I’d like to see Amir or Magloire nail Garnett in the face with an elbow tonight, then have Calderon bark in his ear about it. This would be a win for me.
Edge: Celtics

Center
All my match-up assumptions were based on the Raptors not going small ball because of the bad mis-matches at the 2 and 3 if they do. Maybe they go that route, in which case half of what I’ll be watching the Chicago/Philly game (I’ll be watching that game anyways, Love D-Rose), but maybe they try and match-up a bit smarter, and not let Allen and Pierce take it easy on the bench in the 2nd half because they built up a 20 point 1st half lead.
Edge: Even, but who really cares

Keys to the Game

  • Ball movement: the Celtics are a damn good defensive team, but they are old. The Raptors need to make them work on the defensive end of the court and really attack the paint; Garnett and O’Neal aren’t what they used to be. Don’t settle for jumpers!
  • Tight defensive rotations: with Rondo out, the Celtics don’t have a guy who can consistently break down the defense and create for the rest of the team. Can’t give Allen and Pierce open looks from the perimeter (the Raptors have done a great job of allowing this this season) or they will kill us; I can’t stress this enough.
  • Get into Garnett’s head: this wont win us the game, but I want to see someone mess the SOB a bit…hate him…

The Line

There’s no line at time of publishing, but I’ll go ahead and put a line in the sand: Celtics  by 13.

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