Gladiator

On the second night of a home-and-home, after winning in Boston for the first time in 6 years, the Raptors can win the season series against the Celtics at home. It’s not a stretch to guess why the Raptors are 10.5 point favourites: with a handful of games left in the season, the Celtics can’t be blamed for trying to “earn” (lol) more ping pong balls in the lottery. The reality is that this team is void of talent, and Brad Stevens did a masterful job of squeezing blood out of a stone. Ainge rightfully pulled the plug on this team, replaced Doc with someone who is better suited for getting as much out of rebuilding team, while also guiding, coaching, and mentoring along the way, and ruined a divisional rival in the process. This seasons Nets squad has made me very happy, but I still don’t want to see them in the first round, so the Raptors need to handle business tonight at home.

I went back and forth with Tom Westerholm of Celtics Hub:

Sam Holako: What was the main thing you took away from the home loss about the Raptors, and how they played?

Tom Westerholm: Even though it wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve ever seen, the Raptors really look like they enjoy playing together. Several times I noticed players going out of their way to high-five one another or help each other up. That kind of thing is often undervalued, especially in the analytics community, but the Raps really look like a cohesive unit both on the floor and in the peripheral stuff. That’s going to be very important in the playoffs.

Sam: With respect to DeRozan and Ross, if you had to choose between the two, who would you prefer and why?

Tom: For what Toronto needs, I would take Ross. No disrespect to DeRozan, who is probably the better player, but Ross is still under his rookie contract, and the fact that he shoots 40 percent from 3-point range is big. Neither player is ever going to be the best (or probably the second best) player on a championship team, and I would just rather have the cheaper-but-still-quite-productive option if I was building a roster.

Sam: BUT DEROZAN’S AN ALL-STAR!!!!!

Tom: SO WAS MO WILLIAMS. I’m kidding, of course. I have no problem with DeRozan making the All-Star team, although Lowry got snubbed, and Toronto would take a significant hit without DeRozan or Ross. If I could cherry-pick a player off Toronto, though, I’d rather steal Ross.

Sam: Since you brought Lowry up; he caused a lot of problems for the Celtics, and was the key factor in the win. What will be strategy to both neutralize him and exact some sort of revenge on the road?

Tom: Yeah, he…doesn’t suck at basketball. Boston’s defense has been surprisingly good at containing penetrators at the point of attack this year, which is huge since he’s so dangerous in the pick-and-roll. I honestly think Boston’s best chance at containing Lowry is hedging hard (since Lowry punished ICE defense with 3-pointers last game) and sharpening the subsequent defensive rotations. Realistically, though, revenge isn’t likely.

Sam: Dillinger seems to not suck at basketball either, but he could stand to trim down a bit, right? In all seriousness, what’s with this obsession with these juicy power forwards you have a history of (Davis, Glen)?

Tom: Given how slender Kevin Garnett is, I think the Celtics have averaged a very normal build at power forward over the past six years. Sullinger definitely does need to trim down, but some of that extra poundage is due to all the rest he needed last year for his back problems. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Sully supplemented that rest with lean proteins and vegetables, but such is life. Given a good offseason of work, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sullinger comes into next season 15-20 pounds lighter, which will improve his defense considerably. Sullinger is quite good at verticality but bad at moving his feet.

Sam: Olynyk continues your tradition of skinny forwards, and makes an odd pairing with Sullinger in the frontcourt. How well do these two work together, and is this the pairing of the future?

Tom: You’re j

Keys to the Game

  1.  Play Lowry more than 34 minutes. While Vasquez is the current media darling, from game-to-game, and frankly play-to-play, we don’t know if we’re getting Ginobli, Kidd, Miller, or Vasquez out of him. Which is fine for what he does for the 2nd unit, but if the Raptors are trying to win games, Lowry needs to be running things.
  2. Show up. I mean, I could go through a myriad list of things (let Avery Bradly shoot the ball whenever he wants; keep Sullinger off the boards and out on the perimeter putting up threes; if Rondo’s shooting, and not passing, that’s a good thing; anything, do anything, but do it with conviction) but the reality is that all the Raptors need to do is show up, not take this team lightly, and handle business.
  3. Not so much a key to the game, but PPat is expected to play, and not a moment too soon

A win today and we secure playoffs since the last time Bosh and his raggedy dreads were trotting up and down the court. With the Playoffs around the corner, as long as the Raptors don’t spot 10 point leads to start games, there might be opportunities to give Lowry a bit of rest heading into the playoffs.

UPDATE (5:39 PM)

My take? Ask Clay Davis.