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3 In The Key - Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Boston

It was a nice vacation while it lasted.  The Raptors managed to take advantage of their easy schedule, but now face three of the the toughest teams in the NBA.  Up first are the Boston Celtics.

Put away that Christmas tree and pour out that left over champagne.  Finish off that half-carton of egg nog in your fridge and get your kid's toys away from in front of the TV.

All that holiday fun is now out the door and we, like the Raptors, have to get back to business.

Of course, the NBA schedulers have not made it any easier to start off 2010.  To start off, the Raptors will play a back-to-back that will see them face Boston on a cold, Saturday night before flying back home to face the tough San Antonio Spurs.  Kinda makes it hard for any of us bloggers to have time with our families, especially if we are already working over the course of the holidays.

Thanks a bunch, NBA.

However, if there were ever a time for the Raptors to face the Celtics, this may be the time.  Having lost three in a row, the Celtics have had difficulties since having to deal with some injuries.  Both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are nursing some injuries and as a result, the Celtics have lost to the Clippers, Warriors, and Suns respectively.  With the Raptors having won five in a row, they'll have the momentum heading into tonight's game, but  they'll definitely need to keep their focus if they hope to extend their winning streak into the New Year.  Here are the keys to make sure that 2010 starts off with a bang:

1) Make up for the absence of Chris Bosh
No, Chris Bosh is not injured, but against Rasheed Wallace, you sometimes believe that the Raptors might be better off thinking that he was.  There have always been some players who have out played Chris Bosh over the years, and Rasheed Wallace may be the kryptonite to Chris Bosh's normal efficiency.  It will definitely be up to the rest of the team to pick up some of Chris Bosh's slack if his newly added strength doesn't help him against Wallace.  Guys like Andrea Bargnani, Sonny Weems, and Marco Belinelli must step it up, especially if Hedo Turkoglu is unavailable as well. 

2) Cherish every possession
If there's one thing the Celtics have been known for in the past couple of years since their acquirement of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, it's been their defense.  Thanks in large part to the intensity and intimidation factor of Garnett and Kendrick Perkins in the middle, the Celtics have always been a top defensive team in the league.  Regardless if Pierce or Garnett play, the Raptors will be facing one of the tougher defensive teams in the NBA and they have to make sure to minimize their turnovers and questionable shots.  The Raptors must make the most of their second chance opportunities and must run out for easy baskets whenever they can.  It will be up to Jarrett Jack and Marcus Banks to make sure the Raptors stay on pace and do not waiver from their gameplan due to the Celtics defensive pressure. 

3) Play Raptors basketball
The biggest help to the Raptors are that they have discovered some of their keys to success over the past few games.  They know that they should be aggressive on defense while continuing to score from a variety of offensive weapons.  The Raptors have also discovered a new commitment to go to the basket thanks to Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, and Marco Belinelli.  None of these things should change.  The Raptors must keep attacking the Celtics on both sides of the court and play their game to their pacing.  The Celtics thrive on intimidating other teams to play their style and always get into their opponent's heads.  That just can't be allowed and showing mental fortitude will be yet another step towards making sure our Raptors team continues to take steps in the right direction.

Update - As reported by Matt Devlin, Pierce, KG, Rondo, Davis are all out.  If the Raptors don't pull off a win, this will be one of the worst lost opportunities of the year.  Worse than that Spurs loss earlier this year.