Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Gameday: Celtics @ Raptors, Oct. 19

It's litmus test time!

Imagine yourself as a child scanning the Christmas tree and honing in on one special package. Reviewing the 2018-19 NBA schedules this second Raptors’ game represented that gift I couldn’t wait to unwrap.

Tonight is the first of four contests between the Raptors and Celtics in a season series which will finish relatively early (Nov. 16, Jan. 16, Feb. 26). Each meeting will serve as a measuring stick to test strategies and compare matchups. Head coaches Nick Nurse and Brad Stevens will try not to give away all their secrets in lieu of hopefully reconvening in the Conference Finals. Still, this first game will serve as a litmus test of precisely how the Raptors measure up to the team predominantly favored to reach the 2019 NBA Finals.

Just as the Celtics are considered the East’s best, similarly a healthy Kawhi Leonard is arguably the best player in the Conference. To suggest either squad will approach this  as ‘just another game‘ would be under playing the situation. Still, the team who draws first blood will garner bragging rights in what is sure to be a season long divertissement.

With that, let’s examine the dynamics of the matchup approaching tip off.

It’s only one game but…

With one victory in the books (plus preseason) to draw from there are a few early takeaways:

Jayson Tatum is on the fast track to stardom:

Watch the second year player for five minutes and you’ll come away muttering ‘smooth‘. And, it’s not just his shot. Everything about Tatum’s game is smooth, his shot, his movement even his defensive close outs. This kid is special, as he rapidly approaches top 10-15 NBA player ranking.

Siakam  is very ‘Spicy“:

Long a favorite or yours truly, the Camaroonian is ready to take the next step this season. An article from the Morning Coffee suggested the Raptors should trade Siakam (and Ibaka) to obtain Jimmy Butler. With all due respect to the writer, other than Leonard the only untouchables on the Raptors are likely Siakam, Anunoby, Lowry and VanVleet. I include Lowry with the assumption Masai Ujiri won’t trade a star while trying to retain Leonard and Freddy because he is being groomed as Lowry’s future replacement.

Siakam’s steady growth isn’t surprising, but the numerous areas he’s improved simultaneously are. For this reason he’s drawing comparison to Draymond Green. It may be too soon for this assessment, but there is no denying  his impact to any unit he’s on the floor with. Invariably, I find aspects of his game summon memories of former Swiss Army knife players such as a pre-troubled Lamar Odom and the best version of Latrell Spreewell. Other than Kawhi Leonard‘s integration, Siakam’s journey this season is what I’m most looking forward to.

The road back from injury:

Although Kawhi Leonard’s first in season game in months produced 24 points his shot mechanics and leaping are still a tad rusty. Albeit the adrenaline surge thanks to the robust Scotiabank crowd welcome likely contributed. Likewise, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are working their way back from injury and also experienced off evenings. While both had poor shooting performances Hayward demonstrated his overall mobility and range haven’t returned to 100 percent.

Leonard shot 9-22 (40.9%), Irving 2-14 (14.2%) and Hayward shot 4-12 (33.3%).  All three players will be looking to improve upon their season debuts with the stakes much higher given the opponent.

Depth:

Of all the Eastern Conference teams (arguably in the Association) these two squads best represent position-less ball and rotational fluidity. Boston’s bench outscored the 76ers 44-26. J.J. Redick and Marcus Morris cancelled each other out with 16 points, with the remainder of the Celtics reserves outscoring Philly 28-10. Toronto’s reserve unit lost the scoring battle by a single point, which might be reflective of Siakam starting and Delon Wright‘s absence.

Danny Green much more than a throw in:

Anyone assuming Danny Green was simply a byproduct of the DeMar DeRozan trade to obtain Kawhi Leonard is underestimating his value. Predecessors Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll were wings the franchise earmarked to provide above average defense, perimeter scoring and additional playmaking. Green is clearly no longer affected by the groin injury he was hobbled by last season. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but Green is delivering on both sides of the hardwood. Of the trio mentioned, Green has the potential to best fulfill this role. Moreover he’s an economical win given his salary of $10M is the cheapest of the trio – Carroll – $15.4M and Ross – $10.5M.

Celtics arguably grittiest team in Association:

Whether it’s Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris or Daniel Theis mixing it up the Celtics play with a toughness and aggression few teams can match.

Keys to victory:

  • Grab the Windex: the team who wins defensive rebounds will have the best shot at controlling pace. After losing this battle vs. the Cavaliers it’s important every Raptor is crashing the glass.
  • Tempo: Tying into the above, both teams will attempt to slow each other in transition and push offensive pace. While the Celtics ranked in the lower tier of pace last season through preseason and game one they’ve increased their tempo. Despite the small sample size Boston haven’t excelled in the fast break whereas the Raptors rank second.
  • Perimeter: The Celtics shot 29.7% from behind the arc in their opener and 24.6% through the preseason whereas the Raptors shot 42.4% against the Cavs and 36.9% in preseason. Toronto should take advantage of this dynamic by inviting more shots than drives and test the Celtics perimeter defense.
  • Paint me a picture: 16 rules — Boston were outscored by 16 in the paint while the Raptors bested the Cavs by the same number. Granted, the Celtics are a superior defense, but balancing the paint attack with perimeter scoring should be the goal of the Raptors.
  • Be battle ready: Toronto need to match the Celtics aggression, especially the tough reserves who’ll be more than happy to mix it up.
  • Completed homework: Boston is loaded with talent, but there are specific player tendencies to capitalize on:
    • Attack Irving in the pick and roll.
    • Force Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart to shoot.
    • Test Hayward’s lateral movement.
  • Monroe sighting? Don’t  be surprised if Nurse taps Greg Monroe for minutes versus his former club. Having spent last season in Boston he’ll be familiar with player tendencies and could be an x-factor in the game.
  • Wright – right? Likewise, if Delon can go his length would be a valuable asset to utilize against Rozier.

Toronto Raptors Rotation:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, (Delon Wright), Lorenzo Brown
SG: Danny Green, C.J. Miles, Norman Powell, Jordan Loyd
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Malachi Richardson
PF: (OG Anunoby), Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Greg Monroe, (Chris Boucher)
Injury: 

  • Delon Wright listed as day to day. (thigh)
  • OG Anunoby listed as probable after suffering an orbital contusion in the opener. Blake Murphy tweeted OG practiced and should be good to play.
  • Chris Boucher listed as questionable (head)

Injury updates as per rotoworld and ESPN injury report

NOTES: Presumably Serge Ibaka starts at center given the matchup is Al Horford. The big question will be who starts at power forward and whether Anunoby’s bruised orbital shifts Nurse to starting Siakam. I’m leaning toward OG starting based on the Celtics running out Brown, Tatum and Hayward. Furthermore, as impressive as Siakam played in the opener he adds a component to the bench which affords them more ball handling and scoring potential.

Boston Celtics Rotation:

PG: Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, Brad Wanamaker
SG: Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum,
PF: Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Daniel TheisGuerschon Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye
C: Al Horford, Aron Baynes
Injury: Jabari Bird listed as out. Bird may face suspension due to an off court incident.

Notes: I plugged Brown, Tatum and Hayward in SG, SF, PF positionally, but they are all interchangeable. Stevens views his lineups as ballhandlers, wings or bigs. As such, the trio could start with a specific defensive assignment and shift  throughout the game.

Game Details:

Date: Friday October 19
Time: 8:00 PM EST
Venue: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
TV: ESPN and Sportsnet One in Canada
Radio: TSN Radio 1050

The line: As of posting the line favors the Raptors by -3.0 points a likely product of the teams having won on their own courts dating back through the last seven meetings. The over/under  is 207.5.

Closing Thought:

There was a buzz in the city on Tuesday akin to playoff time as Raptors fans sense the difference this season. With LeBron James out west attempting to reinvent Showtime the window is wide open in the East. Toronto recognize the opportunity and are laser focused on NBA Finals or bust. Correspondingly the Celtics are the prohibitive favorites and equally focused. And while this dance won’t culminate for months, the hope is as the Raptors untie this first bow that it turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving.

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