Pre-Game

Gameday: Raptors at Celtics, March 23

Toronto Raptors close their season series versus the Celtics looking to clinch a playoff berth.

The fourth and final meeting of the regular season series between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors comes just five days after their  last game. Notably the Celtics have been struggling to finish the season while the Raptors boast the best Eastern Conference record (tied with Hornets) since the All Star Break.

Dissecting the teams’ records over the past ten games offers insight into the direct contrast of how they are finishing the season.  Boston are .500 but the 5 wins feature just 2 versus playoff squads and those came against a Blazer team playing on the second night of a back to back series and their fifth game in seven nights and an injury riddled Memphis squad. Toronto meanwhile are 8-2 in this period, often playing without key contributors and have been showcasing an improved defense.

Raps power rank w.o. Mar 21

Note: The above rating is where John Schuhmann of nba.com ranks the Raptors this week behind only the Spurs and Warriors, along with a nifty Bismack Biyombo stat.

Regardless of the teams current performances the Celtics remain a tough out at home having won 15 of 17 since January 13th. So despite the Raptors relatively easy victory at the ACC, winning to secure their playoff berth tonight won’t be a forgone conclusion.

With that, let’s look at the particulars:

Game Details:

Venue: TD Garden – Boston, Massachusetts

Game Time: 7:30 PM ET

TV: Sportsnet One and CSNHD

Radio: TSN Radio 1050 Toronto, 98.5 The Sports Hub/ Sirius:213(Internet H:881/A:907)

Walking wounded:

Celtics:

  • Jae Crowder remains out with a high ankle sprain, rotoworld lists him as targeting a late March return, while CBS Sports lists him out until at least April 1st.

Raptors:

  • *Patrick Patterson, hurt his ankle in the last Celtics game and sat out Sunday, he’s listed as questionable
  • * James Johnson has been suffering from plantar fasciitis and is listed as questionable
  • *Jonas Valanciunas hurt his hand in the first of the Raptors 5 games last week 9 minutes in. He missed the next 4 games and is listed as questionable
  • DeMarre Carroll – knee, (arthroscopic surgery). While there has been no formal word (again as per Blake’s article) CBS Sports lists a possible return date as March 25th.

*Blake’s article Tuesday noted all 3 Raptors practiced with the team, so their presence may be more certain than not. And, as Blake so succinctly points out anyone who doesn’t play tonight will get the benefit of 4 additional days rest as the Raptors don’t play again until Friday in Houston.  Given the Raptors went through the hellish 5 game week without a full roster, either due to injury or resting players it’s conceivable Casey will rest at least one player.

Certainly Kyle Lowry feels like the appropriate player over due to get that relief. Then again, with the squad needing just one more win to clinch their playoff berth, will Casey acquiesce or continue to play Lowry until they do. In addition, the games Casey rested players (Bucks, Magic) were versus non-playoff teams, so he may consider this a statement game especially since their only loss within the Atlantic Division came courtesy of missed calls for a traveling and out of bounds Carmelo Anthony.

Projected rotation:

Celtics:

Point Guard: Isaiah ThomasMarcus Smart, Terry Rozier 

Shooting Guard: Evan Turner, R.J. Hunter

Small Forward: Avery Bradley, James Young,  Coty Clarke

Power Forward: Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey

Center: Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller

Raptors:

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph,  Delon Wright
Shooting Guard: Norman Powell, Terrence Ross,
Small ForwardDeMar DeRozan, (James Johnson),  Bruno Caboclo
Power Forward: Luis Scola, (Patrick Patterson), Jason Thompson
CenterBismack Biyombo, (Jonas Valanciunas), Lucas Nogueira

Given Patterson, Valanciunas and Johnson all practiced it’s feasible the first two play, but likely Valanciunas may come off the bench to get the rust off.

Game Notes:

  • With Bismack Biyombo registering 25 rebounds last week versus Indiana, it’s worthy of noting the last player to grab 20 rebounds and net 25 points against Toronto was Jared Sullinger of the Celtics on  January 15, 2014
  • Kyle Lowry enters the game as Eastern Conference Player of the Week having averaged 27.2 points, 6.8 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals. He shot 46.8% from the field, 47% from beyond the arc and averaged 11.8 trips to the free throw line connecting on 9.2 or 78%. He also led the NBA in fourth quarter scoring with 10.8 points in the final frame. In the game versus Boston his shooting percentage exceeded his week averages scoring 32 points, 64% from the field and 62% from three.
  • Further, Lowry has 189 three point field goals this season, his next will tie the record he set last season for most 3 pointers in a single Raptors season (190). He ranks fifth in the Association for 3-pointers made.
  • In arguably his best 5 games as a Raptor, Bismack Biyombo averaged 13.2 rebounds, 3.6 blocks, 10.2 points while shooting 69% from the field. Of note his worst game offensively came against Boston.
  • Toronto’s 18-6 record versus the top 12 teams in the NBA is second only to Golden State who are 22-1
  • A win tonight (or a loss by Chicago /Detroit) will secure Toronto’s playoff berth and will be just the second time in the franchise’s history they have done so in 3 consecutive seasons (2000-2002)
  • As per Toronto’s media notes on nba.com the Raptors have been on a tear in their last 12 games scoring  100 or more points in each game (second all time) .
  • Perusing the Boston Celtic media notes offered an extremely interesting stat. It’s meant to highlight a Celtic strength of having two players (Thomas and Crowder) in the top 11 of  plus/minus (+/-) standings cumulatively on court this season. Closer examination however showcases the Raptors have 4 players ranked in the top ten! Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry rank two three while Cory Jospeh is eighth and Terrence Ross is tenth.

Plus Minus Stats Toronto

Comparison:

Review of the teams stats on the year are somewhat misleading given the Raptors numbers have been improving and they definitely hold the advantage in their 3 prior meetings this season.

Boston versus Toronto

Toronto has dominated every statistical category in the teams 3 previous meetings. Even their weakest category (assists per game) is much higher when facing the Celtics.

Toronto vs Boston, head to head stats

Also of note, the teams appear to be headed in different directions in the two key categories of offensive and defensive rating:

Ratings Raps vs Celts

Three keys to the win:

Hold Celtics under 100 points:  This is a double benefit as the Raptors are 33-0  when they hold teams under 100 points, and the Celtics are 4-12 when they score between 90 and 99 points. Conversely when the Celtics hold teams under 100-points they are 23-2.

Control the pace: Boston is very similar to the Raptors squad of a couple seasons ago in that they won’t stop coming at you on either end regardless of the score. To offset their college-like mindset (especially on offense) a key will be to control the pace of the game. For the Raptors to successfully accomplish this feat, controlling the boards and limiting their turnovers is key. *Boston force the second most turnovers in the NBA though the Raptors are strong in this category coughing up the ball the sixth fewest times in the Association.

Limit Boston’s bench production: In each of the three previous games the Celtics reserves have had the upper hand:

  • October 30: Celtics scored 61 points to Raptors 40 (Ross scored 21)
  • January 20: Celtics scored 47 to Raptors 25
  • March 18: Celtics scored 39 to Raptors 27

The line:

EDITED TO UPDATE: The odds makers favor the Celtics by 1 point which is almost a nod to the Raptors given the typical 3 points automatically given to home teams. The over – under is 207 points with early action on the Celtics.

In Closing:

Though a sweep of the Celtics would serve to clinch a playoff berth and send a message to a potential post season opponent, to reiterate the Celtics have been lethal at home having won 15 of their past 17 games at the Garden. That said, while the Raptors have flourished regardless of who is dressed, the Celtics have discovered exactly how valuable Jae Crowder is to their success.

If Lowry plays my bet is the game will be close with the Raptors prevailing, however if Lowry rests I think the Celtics edge the Raptors.

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