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3 in the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Celtics

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It’s interesting in many ways that the Toronto Raptors first game in the second half of their 2007-08 regular season is their last against the Boston Celtics.

After all many, myself included, refused to believe the hype in terms of Boston’s Big 3 to start the season and felt that Toronto’s depth would win out in the end.

And you know something, I still do in many ways.

Had Andrea Bargnani taken his game to another level and the Raptors had a healthy TJ Ford and Jorge Garbajosa, things might have been quite different. Instead of the Raptors looking for their first win in four tries against the C’s, maybe they’d be looking at a sweep.

We all know though that what’s done is done though and now the key for Toronto is to focus on not just tonight’s match, but on the rest of the season, one which will probably be a fight to the finish in terms of playoff seeding. Orlando might be tough to catch for third in the East but fourth, fifth and sixth are key spots in terms of avoiding a first-round match with the boys in green or the hardhat sporters from the D.

And whether you believed the hype or not about the Celtics, it’s not as if this team is completely invincible. Witness Boston’s recent losses to Charlotte and Washington and you’ll see more than just hope for the Raptors. Both teams played up-tempo, slashing styles and pressured Boston’s ball-handlers, keys to giving the Celtics difficulties.

Both coincidentally things we’ll be watching tonight:

1) Style of play. I think this is going to be the single biggest factor for Toronto this evening. If the Raptors can get up and down in transition, pressure Rondo and House into turnovers, and play loose and to their strengths (long range shots), they’ve got a great chance of preventing a Celtics shutout on the season. However if Boston is allowed to slowly dribble to half, and run their half-court offence, I think it’s going to be another long night for Raptors’ fans.

2) Toughness. Closely linked to our first key is this one. Since the last time these teams met before Christmas, Toronto has shown that it can take multiple jabs and keep punching away. The double OT win over Portland was a perfect example and the recent win over Atlanta as well. Even the team’s last loss to Philly showed how the Raptors can fight back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit (granted it was against the lowly 76ers.) Therefore I’m looking to see that fight come out tonight. Doesn’t mean that the Raps need to start actually swinging; but given the C’s penchant for talking trash, I hope Toronto, especially players like Bargnani and Humphries, have their elbows sharpened and their tongues ready to wag.

Let the trash talk begin...

Let the trash talk begin...

3) Match-ups. The Bosh vs. KG is always a good one for starters, but what about Bargnani (or whomever if Andrea continues to enjoy picking up two fouls in the first 9 nanoseconds) versus Perkins? After seeing Perkins almost single-handily destroy a Knicks frontcourt featuring two of the beefiest players around on Monday, it’s evident that Toronto needs to keep him in check. In fact to get this win I really think that the Raptors need to win each individual battle whether it be Pierce versus. Moon or House versus Dixon.

Toronto has had a few much-needed days of rest to prepare for this game so another blowout loss is really inexcusable. The Celtics may have more talent at present, but the Raptors should be able to make tonight’s game as close an affair as the first time the teams played this year. To do this of course the Raptors have to be honed in and prepared on each possession as you know the Celtics aren’t going to take the night off.

FRANCHISE