Fresh off Thursday’s contest with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Toronto Raptors won’t have any time to catch their collective breath as a road date with the division rival Boston Celtics is on tap for Friday.
Entering the campaign, expectations were high for the Celtics. Boston already possessed one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, an enviable amount of depth and a roster that seemed like it was on the verge of making a deep playoff run.
They landed coveted big man Al Horford in free agency and drafted Cal standout Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick due to the hilariously lopsided Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. The Celtics are currently third in the Eastern Conference at 13-9, but it’s been a rocky start to the season in Beantown.
In Vegas, the C’s were the undisputed favourites to win the Atlantic Division when the season tipped-off. Since then, the Raps have relinquished the role and likely won’t give it up any time soon.
Here are three things to watch out for in the tilt:
Pound the glass
Horford has battled injuries since arriving in Boston and hasn’t been on the floor much as a result, but it seems like he’s brought Atlanta’s defensive rebounding issues with him. As of Thursday, the Celtics were 28th in the Association in defensive rebounding percentage. That’s a huge mismatch Jonas Valanciunas and the rest of the Raptors bigs will look to exploit at TD Garden.
To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man
Boston has been great against weaker teams while struggling against stronger ones. In the wake of Wednesday’s win over the Orlando Magic, the Celtics are 9-3 vs. teams with losing records and 4-6 when facing clubs possessing winning records.
In 2015-16, the Celtics were 25-9 against sub-.500 teams and 23-25 vs. squads with winning records. Needless to say, that’s a trend working in the Raptors’ favour.
The Walking Dead 2.0
Injuries have greatly impacted the 2016-17 Boston Celtics, which is a big reason why they haven’t been able to fully take off so far. Isaiah Thomas was sidelined on Wednesday and has ruled himself out for tonight’s game, which means Boston has already used six different starting lineups – none of which lasted longer for more than five consecutive affairs.
In fact, the preferred starting five of Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Horford has been on the court together for only 113 minutes through 10 games. Boston is beating opponents by 11.3 points per game per 100 possessions when that group is in action. That’s a problem down the road for the Dinos, but the Celtics will need to get fully healthy first before that becomes a reality.
Where to watch: 7:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One