A not-so-brief (and slightly gratuitous) ramble before I get into the meat of this preview...
We -- fans, beat-writers, bloggers, Drake and friends -- have debated, ad nauseam, on the merits of tanking vs. playing for a playoff spot. That debate will continue as the season goes on; and further down the line, as the consequences of the chosen policy bears fruit (or not) in the years to come. Both sides make very valid and completely logical points; but from the perspective of someone who writes about the team -- a slightly selfish perspective, I might add --the current course the Raptors are on is infinitely preferable.
Covering a team that loses week after week -- whether it's all part of some executive master plan, or otherwise -- is brutal. Brutal and soul-destroying.
We all have our laughs at the expense of Raptors broadcast team, Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong, -- and yes, sometimes their homerism and antiquated views quickly lead me to the mute button -- but I've got to respect the consistent enthusiasm they've brought to the broadcast, in-spite of all the losing. Now granted, that's their job; but covering a losing team -- a team that usually has little to play for by the time the All-Star break rolls around -- must wear heavy on even the most
delusional positive of team employees.
But covering the Raptors right now -- whether you're the official play-by-play guy, or just a barely-read blogger, like myself -- is fun. In fact, it's one of the best parts of my week. Long may that continue.
And may that continue tonight when the Raptors play the struggling Boston Celtics. The Raps are in Boston after a very successful 3 game home stand that saw them comfortably triumph over the Pistons, Nets, and woeful Milwaukee Bucks -- a team currently carrying out the most successful organic tank in NBA history.
Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack Ain't Walkin' Through that Door!
The Celtics are better than those Bucks (everyone is), particularly in the coaching department, where rookie head-coach Brad Stevens has done his upmost to make chicken salad out of you-know-what. But after a very promising opening to the season, during which Danny Ainge was probably tempted to kidnap Stevens and send him on that one-way trip to Mars (Get with the damn plan, Brad!!), the Celtics have regressed to the depressing, but throughly expected, mean. The team has lost their last 9 games, and the early-season euphoria (see the clip below) probably feels like a lifetime ago for Celtics fans. Jeff Green was hitting game winners while Rudy Gay was making Raptors fans gouge their eyes out with blunt instruments. A lifetime ago.
Yep, that's pretty much as good as it's going to get for the Celtics this season.
Here are 3 keys to tonight's match-up for the Raps:
Take Advantage of an undersized Celtics team
The Celtics have been undersized for a few years now, and because of that, they've been a very poor rebounding team during that time. Although they've improved slightly this season they're still vulnerable inside, as Dwight Howard illustrated in his obliteration of Stevens' boys on Monday night. Jared Sullinger, who's a solid player, but who might be wider than he is tall, has played at centre for Boston this season, and that should be something that the likes of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas look to exploit.
Pressure the ball-handler
Rajon Rondo sent out a cryptic tweet on Monday that has led people to believe that he'll return to the lineup when his team meet the Lakers on Friday. For some great insight into what he brings to the Celtics check out Jeff Clark's piece on SB Nation's Celtics Blog.
Without Rondo this season the Celtics have been forced to play guys at point-guard who aren't exactly suited to the job. Avery Bradley's done an admirable job, but he's much better playing off the ball, as is Jordan Crawford. The Raptors backcourt -- Kyle Lowry in particular -- should look to pressure the Celtics' less-than-stellar ball-handlers and force them into mistakes. And if Bradley's the ball-handler on their pick-n-rolls the Raps probably want to go over screens and force him to drive or pass. Bradley's shooting very well from mid-range at the present moment, and it'll be important not to allow him open looks.
Don't get complacent
Kelly Olynyk probably isn't the next Dirk Nowitzki (Sorry Tommy), Gerald Wallace is the perimeter version of Kendrick Perkins (seriously, does any player talk a bigger game while not having one discernible NBA skill?!) and the Celtics are a bad basketball team overall. But -- yes, there's a but -- they're well-coached and are comprised of scrappy young players, and prideful veterans (Kris Humphries excluded) who definitely won't want to lose their 10th straight game on home court. The Raps will need to continue their ruthless foot on the throat-type dismantling of the Eastern Conference duds in order to come out with the W tonight.
Update: Literally a minute before this preview was scheduled for publication the all-seeing, all-knowing Woj announced that the Celtics traded Crawford and MarShon Brooks to the Warriors...which changes nothing about tonight as far as the Raps are concerned.