Gameday: Raptors @ Celtics, Dec. 28

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“We’re all we’ve got.”

That was Fred VanVleet’s sentiment when asked about the mindset of the Toronto Raptors as they get set to play their fifth game on the bounce without Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell, a stretch during which they are currently 2-2.

There’s two ways to look how they’ve managed over this period, as on the one side it is a positive they were a Kyle Lowry step back away from being 3-1, but the flip side is that outside of the first quarter against the Washington Wizards and the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks — which they won by a combined total of 87-44 — the Raptors have been outscored by 57 in the other 173 minutes (an average of 15.8 points per 48 minutes).

For the majority of these games, the offense has had too many stretches where it has hit a standstill, depending on either Lowry or VanVleet to come up with something special either by themselves or for someone else. In the absence of Gasol and Siakam, the transition game has been a struggle. The margin for error defensively has also been far too small as Toronto has had to try and sustain maximum effort on that end of the floor including turning to a full-court press to work their way back into games but the path to success in the extended absence of some of their best talent might need something a bit more sustainable.

While acknowledging that he, Lowry and the few other key cogs (Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby) need to play better, VanVleet also expressed the need for help, specifically from Patrick McCaw.

“With three of our top five, six guys out, somebody’s gotta step up,” VanVleet said. “You don’t have to shoot the ball, but there’s ways to get guys shots and ways to be aggressive. Patrick’s very, very talented but I think sometimes he’s just a little too passive, so, hopefully getting the ball in his hands, getting him more rhythm, and getting him more reps, he can feel the game out, he can get a feel for the game. It’s not easy being in the position he’s in.”

Yes, it does indeed appear that the dependence on McCaw will carry on as the Raptors wait to get bodies back, and one can only hope that he gets better as time goes on. He’s had brief stretches of being effective on the defensive end and showing some confidence in stepping into shots early in games, but that seems to quickly fade as the game goes on.

Against the Celtics on Christmas, Toronto just didn’t have the firepower to live with a Boston team that also returned Gordon Hayward for that game, and the size and length across the wing positions also seemed to overwhelm them. They’ll be faced with the same challenge again Saturday night, and another loss to the C’s could be of consequence down the road. As far as late December games go, this one is fairly huge for the Raptors as a loss will hand Boston the tie-breaker between the two teams, something that could prove pivotal when the dust settles on the standings in April.

If there is something going Toronto’s way, it’s that they will have two days of rest going into Saturday night’s contest, while Boston will be playing the second night of a back-to-back — make what you will of whether or not it really counts as a SEGABABA since the front end of it was against the Cleveland Cavaliers at 4:00 p.m. ET Friday.

GAME INFO

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET / 4:00 p.m. PT.
TV: TSN 1, 4. Radio: TSN 1050.

RAPTORS UPDATES

Nurse confirmed at practice Friday that there are no updates to any of Siakam, Gasol or Powell and that, while they are progressing, their returns are not imminent. Matt Thomas is still active as far as non-contact drills are concerned, but has not progressed to the point where he can undertake any level of contact. Dewan Hernandez was seen in a walking boot at practice, getting close-in shots up while seated.

PG: Fred VanVleet, Terence Davis
SG: Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw
SF: Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller, Oshae Brissett, Stanley Johnson
PF: OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
C: Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
OUT: Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Dewan Hernandez

CELTICS UPDATES

Marcus Smart didn’t play Friday against the Cavs due to an eye infection and is expected to be out against the Raptors.

PG: Kemba Walker, Brad Wanamaker, Carson Edwards, Tremont Waters
SG: Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford, Javonte Green
SF: Gordon Hayward, Semi Ojeleye
PF: Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams
C: Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter
OUT: Marcus Smart

THE LINE

The Raptors are six-point underdogs and the over/under is set at 216.

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