Gameday: Raptors at Celtics

Full disclosure: I’m writing this recap with a huge smirk on my face.

I’m smirking because the hated C*ltics are on a nine-game losing streak and our beloved Dinos are winners of three straight. I’m smirking because we’re finally atop the Atlantic and the lowly C*ltics are precariously close to sole possession of last place. I’m smirking because the mean old bullies — namely Pierce and Garnett, who we beat on Drake Night — are yesterday’s news. I’m smirking because the only hint of machismo left in the building belongs to the sweaty human pit-stain known as Tommy Heinsohn, who is probably working overtime comparing the trio of Sullinger, Bass and Crash, to McHale, Parish and Bird. I’m smirking because when it comes to the NBA, these Massholes can’t gloat about their team being better than ours (although say nothing of the Red Sox over the Jays, the Bruins over the Leafs and the Patriots over the CFL as a whole).

But mostly, I’m smirking because the C*ltics dominated us during the KG-era (Raptors lost 19 of 24 games against the C*ltics between ’07-’08 and ’12-’13), and now it’s our turn to kick them while they’re down, and more importantly, we can finally avenge Jose Calderon (we miss you Jose!) for this:

Anywho, I swapped some questions with my homie Kevin Cronan from Squeeze the Orange and CelticsTalk (launching this Friday) to preview tonight’s game:

1. Ahh the tables have finally turned. Now the Raptors are atop the Atlantic and your lowly C*ltics are are on a nine-game slide right into the basement. Before you answer anything else, please acknowledge us as the new kings of the East.

I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you over the glorious rattle of ping pong balls. Fine, I will give credit where credit is due. The Raptors have been playing well and have had pretty big wins over solid teams. So congratulations, Toronto. The Craptlantic (came up with that one all on my own) is all yours, even if you are only two games above .500. I’d watch your backs though, because New York and Brooklyn are finally picking up steam.

2. Okay so more salt in the wound — why are you guys on a nine-game slide? Is Brad Stevens’ magic pixie dust wearing off or did Ainge finally tell the boys to cut out the grab-ass and demand to tank?

You mean aside from the fact that we just went on a five-game road trip and our last seven games all came against Western Conference teams vastly superior to us? Well for starters, Boston is a young team without much veteran leadership, so tough stretches like this can take a heavy toll on them. It’s easy to get discouraged when you go on long losing streaks like this. Also, Brad Stevens has been changing his lineups a lot, going with different players in crunch time seemingly every game. When you aren’t sure what your role is, it can be hard to play effectively. With Rondo returning, they should be able to right their ship somewhat and recover from this free-fall. Just feel lucky you missed his return by a game.

3. Everyone’s favorite NBA bahumbug is coming back after 29,233,380 secs away from the game. Tell me, what do you expect out of Rondo this season, how will his return impact the Celtics and what are the odds that he gets traded?

Rondo is a perfectionist, and he has stated several times that he won’t return until he’s 100%. He’ll have some rust, sure, but I’m confident that his re-assimilation will go quicker than expected. Rondo will have to shoulder a much larger load now that he’s the only remaining member of the Big 3 era, and I’m sure he’s anxious to show off his much improved jump-shot we keep hearing so much about. I think he will have a good season once he gets his legs back. A healthy Rondo could do great things for the team, provided Ainge doesn’t trade him or his supporting cast away. As for his own trade odds, all I can say is that if the right deal comes along, Ainge will trade anyone (see: Perkins, Kendrick; Pierce, Paul; Garnett, Kevin).

4. How’s our boy Kelly Olynyk doing? Is Tommy still calling him the next Dirk or has he turned out like every other tall white Canadian player and settled in as a jump-shooting role player (whaddup, Bill Wennington?)

I had a front-row seat on the Olynyk Train after his performance in summer league. Since then I have gotten off at We-could-have-drafted-Antetokounmpo Station. An ankle injury early on sidelined Kelly for several weeks and he subsequently fell out of the rotation. He’s worked his way back in since but isn’t showing the same promise we saw this summer. As of now, he’s not much else besides a role player. It’s tougher to develop without a veteran big around to show him the ropes like Sullinger had in Garnett, but he still has potential. He has a lot of work to do though before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Dirk.

5. Finally, what’s the key to stopping you guys? Contain Jeff Green and don’t let your hodge-podge of power-forwards get easy put-backs? Who’s name is circled on Dwane Casey’s whiteboard?

It’s tough to say, as there really hasn’t been any trend in our success other than “Jordan Crawford is playing way beyond everyone’s expectations”. Now that you don’t have to worry about that (Crawford is shooting 36% in the last 10 games), it pretty much comes down to making sure Jeff Green is a non-factor (not very hard) and keeping Sullinger and Humphries off the glass when on defense (a little harder). On offense, you’re in the clear, as our bigs are struggling to defend the paint lately. As for who’s circled on the whiteboard? Jerryd Bayless. Bayless was scorching in the fourth quarter against the Rockets Monday night, and Brad Stevens believes in riding the hot hand, so he’ll most likely get big minutes.  I’m sure he’d love to knock out his old team.

As Kevin details, there really isn’t anything to worry about with this C*ltics team. That’s not to say the Raptors should take them lightly, because the Raptors aren’t necessarily good enough to reliably “turn it on” after a slow half like Miami or Indiana, but the cupboard is bare. As Rick Pitino would say, Bird ain’t walkin’ through that door. McHale ain’t walkin’ through that door. Not even Paul Pierce is going to walk through that door. It’s just a litter-box full of MarShon Brooks’s and Kris Humphries’s.

The C*ltics have plenty of gritty defenders shoring up the perimeter, but their efforts are offset by their porous front-line. According to Synergy Stats, the Celtics are very good at defending pick-and-rolls and spot-ups, but they also foul like crazy (opponents have the second highest FTA against the C*ltics). They boast a top-10 defense on the season, but over their last nine games, their defense ranks 25th in the NBA at 108.0 points allowed per 100 possessions, which is only 0.2 points better than the lowly Bucks, who the Raptors turned into roadkill on Monday night.

Incredibly, the C*ltics are even worse on offense. A couple of their bigs — namely Sullinger and Bass — can be effective, but they lack decent facilitators who can consistently deliver the ball to them in the right places and at the right time. Jordan Crawford is performing above expectations, but people were basically expecting him to perform like this year’s JR Smith, so that’s not saying much. Avery Bradley is nobody’s point guard and Jerryd Payless sounds like one of the regulars on Storage Wars.

Jeff Green is their leading scorer — averaging 17.2 ppg on a near-league average 53.9 TS% — but he’s prone to streakiness. From time to time his three’s will fall in buckets and he’ll drop 30+ (remember when he dropped 43 points on the Heat?), but those times are few and far between. Green does possess a size advantage over both Derozan and Ross which could be exploited should Green choose to post-up, but the Raptors bigs have done an excellent job rotating and providing timely help defense all season long, so it really shouldn’t be a problem.

Positional Match-ups

Point Guard — Lowry is playing out of his mind right now. His three’s are dropping, he’s attacking the basket, he’s making timely decisions and he’s playing superb defense. I’d favor him over just about every point guard in the East right now (yes, including Kyrie and Wall). Also, the Celtics point guards are Crawford, Bayless, Bradley and some dude named Pressey. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Advantage: Raptors

Shooting Guard — Derozan has really been impressive of late. His shooting percentages remain sub-optimal, but he’s doing a great job drawing double-teams and passing out of them for open looks on the perimeter. He’s also stepped up his rebounding and he’s flat-out carried the team for prolonged stretches. Bradley is a dogged defender but that’s the benefit of Derozan’s newfound passing ability — he’s no longer a one-dimensional player, which makes him much harder to defend.

Advantage: Raptors

Small Forward — It’s close, especially given how good Ross’ defense and shooting has been of late, but Green and Wallace are veteran performers who can be counted upon to produce night-in and night-out. Also, I really don’t trust John Salmons and his streaky iso-tendencies.

Advantage: C*ltics, barely

Front Court — I’m pretty sure every big on the Celtics is a power-forward, but fret not — they’re all pretty mediocre. Throw in the fact that 2Pat has been balling of late, and it’s really not close. Things could get a bit dicey should Jeff Green slide over to play the role of small-ball power forward, but I trust Hansbrough and Amir’s collective instincts and quickness to contain him. Also, it’s Jeff Green, not Carmelo, so I’m sure we’ll be alright. I’m looking forward to Jonas pump-faking Humphries out of his shoes before crowning him a la Blake Griffin.

Advantage: Raptors

Bench — The Celtics have an endless row of sitting ducks and middling prospects toiling away on the bench, but as Kevin mentioned earlier, their lineups are constantly fluctuating so it’s hard to project who will see the floor. Either way, so long as 2Pat, Hansbrough and Salmons  stay within their roles, their contributions should overshadow any sporadic production from the C*ltics’ bench.

Advantage: Raptors

Vegas Says: The Celtics suck and you shouldn’t bet on the NBA. Donate that money to an impoverished university student instead (like this present author). However, if you must feed your sickness, Vegas has them down for Raptors -4.0 with the o/u set at 196, which means I have no idea how Vegas lines work.

William Says: Raptors go into Boston, play a sluggish first half and fall behind by 10, before releasing the river (Treebeard style) in the second half en route to blowing out these green goblins by 15 points.  Basically, the game plays out like this gif, where Nate Robinson represents the flailing Celtics falling to their demise. Final score: 97-82.

UPDATE: Welp! The C**tics got even worse. According to Woj, Boston traded MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford to Golden State for three second rounders and Joel Anthony, which means it’s time for JayBay and Pressey! Get your popcorn ready!

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