For the first time since February 7th, Toronto enters a game in fourth place, but can reclaim third with a win tonight. In fact, this home and home series offers Toronto the opportunity to control their own destiny. Winning both games would clinch Toronto’s first post season appearance in six years. Cut the irony with a knife as its also been six years since Toronto won in Beantown (January 23rd, 2008).
Speaking of irony, a Raptor win coupled with a win by Rudy Gay’s Kings (who play the Knicks) would literally cement a playoff berth for the team who traded him.
Before we break it down, Tom Westerholm of ESPN True Hoop Network and writer for Celtics Hub was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Tonight marks the first time this season Toronto will face Rajon Rondo. It was reported Rondo worked on his shot while rehabing his knee, yet the one area of his game which is significantly lower is his field goal percent (10% less than his career average). Is this due to Rondo being forced into late shot clock attempts or is there another reason for this drop off?
There are obviously a ton of factors at play here, but one of them is Rondo’s 3-point jumper. One can see the work he’s done over the off season on his stroke, and he clearly feels more comfortable taking them — he’s shooting nearly three times as many per game compared to last year. But even a career-high 29 percent from downtown (obviously not great, but an improvement) will pull one’s overall field goal percentage down.
We are also working with a small sample size and a new role as the Celtics’ top gun for Rondo, as well as a myriad of other factors that I won’t bother to get into here.
Jared Sullinger absolutely torched Toronto last game with 25 points and 20 rebounds, well above his season average of 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. Reviewing the season, his best games were against teams with 7’ centers (Cousins, Noah, Gasol and Valanciunas). Would it be fair to say he has an advantage versus big centers and why?
If Sullinger has an advantage over big centers, it’s because most of them struggle to cover bigs who can pick-and-pop. Sullinger can pick-and-pop effectively in roughly one out of every three games he plays, so if he hits his first couple shots, you may be in for a long night. You have a 2 out of 3 chance of getting a mediocre Sully game, though.
After an up and down season, Canadian Kelly Olynyk has been on fire in March from the field and 3-point line: 50% and 42.1%, respectively. He played point guard in high school, so his ability to handle the ball is a huge asset for a center. Do you envision him growing into a hybrid along the lines of Noah or Gasol with a 3-point shot?
This is going to sound like a cop-out, but Olynyk really is just Olynyk. There are going to be things he can do in the NBA (shoot, dribble, drive, rebound), and there are going to be things he can’t do (defend the rim, jump, run fast, not look like a homeless person). His lack of protection around the rim rules him out of any Gasol/Noah comparisons, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility that he could become an effective player. I’ve been thrilled with his developments in March, and I think Boston would be smart to give him as many minutes and as much of a leash as possible over the last 10+ games of the season to better gauge what he brings to the table and what would fit well around him.
Note: I couldn’t resist adding this picture after Tom’s homeless person joke. I think Olynyk resembles tennis legend: Bjorn Borg. Take a look and draw your own conclusions.
Boston beat Miami twice this season and accounted for one of Brooklyn’s 3-losses in March, so it’s safe to say this young squad gets up for seeded teams. Therefore, the Celtics will attempt to play spoiler again while the Raptors will look to re-claim third and create some space from the teams chasing them. Obviously Casey’s game plan will include containment of Green and outline a necessity to win the rebound battle to limit Sullinger’s effectiveness. What are the other keys to stopping Boston?
The biggest key to beating Boston’s offense is containing the perimeter and contesting jump shots. Avery Bradley and Jeff Green both very much prefer to launch jumper after jumper, and even Boston’s bigs (Sullinger, Olynyk, Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries) like pick-and-pop rather than rolling to the basket. If the Raptors can keep any Celtic from catching fire away from the basket, Boston won’t score much.
But honestly, even if Boston hits a bunch of jumpers, the Celtics probably aren’t going to win. Winning hurts more than it helps at this point, and those games you mentioned (Brooklyn/Miami) held special significance with Pierce/KG and LeBron vs. Rondo. As good as Toronto has been this year (and the Raps have been really good), it’s tough to imagine the Celtics being as inspired as they were against the Nets and Heat.
Point Guard — Most intriguing match-up is at the point with both Lowry and Rondo experiencing their best stats month. Lowry is averaging 22.5 points per game in the past 10 and has scored 20 in all but one (19). Both are their team’s catalyst, but following a disappointing birthday loss coupled with stomach flu, look for Lowry to come out energetic with laser focus intent on getting the Raptor offense rolling early.
March per game average:
- Lowry: 20.8 Pts, 8 Asts, 5.8 Rebs, 1.9 Stls, 41.5%-FG%, 40.5%-3-Pt%
- Rondo: 11.1 Pts, 11 Asts, 6.0 Rebs, 1.3 Stls, 33.3%-FG%, 24.3%-3-Pt%
Shooting Guard — DeRozan has had to deal with tall defenders and double-teams of late; tonight he’ll face a lock-down defender in Avery Bradley who is having his best month offensively. In March, DeRozan is averaging 9.6 trips to the line accounting for 36% of his 22.6 points per game. Prior to last night’s loss (13 points), DeRozan averaged 28.5 points the previous 4-games. He’ll need to produce a much better defensive outing to take the smell off last night.
Advantage: Slight edge Raptors
Small Forward — Until recently Ross had some of his best scoring efforts on the second night of back-to-back series and was the most energetic Raptor on both ends. Fortunately for him Green is playing his worst defense of the season (+/- of minus 7.8).
Advantage: Slight edge Raptors
Front Court — Despite his wonky ankles, Johnson is playing his best ball of the season, while Bass is having his worst month of the campaign. With the onus on the importance of winning this game expect another gutsy effort from A.J.
Valanciunas is shooting his best average from the field in March, but Humphries has played well this month. More important than offense for J.V. will be the need for him to commit to defense from the onset.
Advantage: Raptors (this type of historical victory and need for a win has Amir’s fingerprints all over it)
Bench — Patterson has been cleared to practice with contact (hallelujah). Doesn’t appear Vasquez twisted ankle is as sore as his ego so he should play; he’s averaged 16 pts in last 4. To that end, without Patterson, bench scoring is down, the overall defense has suffered but more importantly ball movement has waned. So giving de Colo extra minutes couldn’t hurt as he seems to understand the need for someone to produce scoring options for others especially with Vasquez being the primary bench scorer in Patterson’s absence.
Meanwhile the Celtics have assassin Sullinger licking his lips in wait of another big game against Toronto. Bayless and Humphries will have the added incentive of performing well against their former team.
- Toronto: 39-31 – offense- 10th, defense- 6th
- Boston: 23-47 – offense- 28th, defense- 16th
- Dick Bavetta
- Dan Crawford (oh oh)
- Courtney Kirkland
Vegas Says: Raptors favored by 3.5, over/under: 195 with public favoring Raptors by 62%
Tamberlyn Says: I tend to be slightly superstitious, but I’m also committed to my belief this team is the closest to the best Raptor team ever (2001). Raptor’s intangible is their heart and guts identity which is mirrored in its two leaders: Johnson and Lowry. This writer believes tonight will feature a focused effort led by them, specifically resulting in:
- reclaiming third seed
- benchmark 40th win
- division record of 9-3 (Brooklyn & Chicago each have 5 division losses)
- reduce magic number to 1
Get your shovels out it’s time to bury those ghosts!
Raptors by 6 (in honor of the six-year jinx)