The game of basketball has one simple objective; score more points than you allow your opponents to score.
If you can do that on a consistent basis, then you'll win many more games than you lose.
Currently, the Boston Celtics are the league's benchmark for this type of simplicity. The C's score on average 100 points a game, yet give up only 93 thus giving them the league's best differential, +7.3.
In spite of a myriad of injuries, the Celtcs just keep getting it done, and as a result, own the league's third best winning percentage; fractions behind Cleveland and the LA Lakers.
This afternoon, Toronto meets Boston for the third time this season, looking for its first win against their cross-border rivals. The Raps of course are coming off of a big come-from-behind win over the 76ers and haven't lost since playing these same Celts over a week ago. Boston is coming off a loss to Atlanta on Friday night, but had won it's two previous matches.
ESPN.com's "Accuscore Projection" is actually calling for a Toronto victory by a slim margin but let's dig into our usual "3 Keys" to see just what TO needs to do to put up their fourth straight W.
1) Defend the Paint.
Usually, Toronto's main issue defensively is on the perimeter where the club has a tough time keeping opposing guards in front of them. And while this will be true this afternoon, especially with Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce back in the starting line-up for Boston, I'm actually more concerned with the painted area. Between the aforementioned two players ability to get to the rim, and the problems players like Big Baby Davis and Kendrick Perkins have presented Toronto in previous matches, Toronto needs a big game from their "bigs" defensively.
In particular, the Dinos need to be a lot tougher in the paint than they were the last time these clubs met. In Toronto's 103 to 96 loss to Boston last Saturday, the Raps were bullied from the get-go, especially down low and allowed 48 points in the paint, a number that must improve if the Raptors want to end Boston's seven game winning streak at the ACC.
2) Stretch the Court.
Over the Toronto's last nine games, in which they are 8 and 1, the Raps are shooting slightly over 50 per cent from the field and averaging 24 assists a game, both Eastern Conference bests. Part of the reason for this offensive efficiency is due to the Raptors' ability to score from inside and out, thus forcing their opposition to spread their defences quite thin. Players like Andrea Bargnani and even DeMar DeRozan have been making a concerted effort to post-up and get looks in close instead of simply drifting around on the perimeter.
Combined with Toronto's deadly arsenal of outside gunners this makes for a much more difficult task for opponents defensively, and I feel this will be a huge point today. If Bosh and Bargnani are taking turns attacking from inside and out, the immobile Boston big men sans KG will have their work cut out for them. And this in turn should open things up on the outside for Toronto's wings.
But it all starts on the inside and I'm hoping Triano and his crew have emphasized this prior to the game's tip.
3) A and H.
We have a pretty good idea of what players like Chris Bosh, Jarrett Jack and Amir Johnson are going to give the Raps on a nightly basis. However for me, the two big question marks every time TO takes the court are Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani; when both are playing to the best of their capabilities, suddenly this team becomes a very tough match-up. Unfortunately, you can probably count the number of times when both of these guys have been dialed in at both ends at the same time on one hand this season.
Against a tough and gritty Boston club, even without KG, the Raps desperately need both of these guys to step it up. Andrea's been playing some great basketball of late looking especially ferocious on offense, and the club will need a lot more of that this afternoon. And after a complete no-show in Philly, it would be great for Mr. Turkoglu to provide this team with some clutch play today. After all, one of the main reasons BC brought the former Magic swingman in was to help the club against top tier competition like this.
It's not that this one is necessarily a "must-win" game, but at some point, if this Raptors' club wants to start considering itself amongst the East's elite, they need to start getting some wins over teams of this ilk.
Based on yesterday's poll, Boston, even moreso than Atlanta, is still the team no one wants to see Toronto face when the playoffs roll around, but a solid win this afternoon would go a long way in inspiring some newfound confidence should these clubs eventually meet in the post-season...