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Raptors take on streaking Celtics: Preview, start time, and more

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Can the Raptors keep their win streak going against the hottest team in the league?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night, the Raptors triumphantly toppled Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, ending the Pelicans’ win streak and beginning one of their own. Kudos to the Raptors’ big men — limiting the opposing frontcourt giants to poor shooting nights is a difficult feat to accomplish. Allowing Jrue Holiday to pour in 34 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds was certainly less than ideal, but naturally, the Raptors’ defensive holes had to show themselves somewhere. Even still, Kyle Lowry got his mojo back, at least for the time being, shooting 40% from three with sizeable volume (10 attempts).

Today, the Raptors will face off against division rival and top team in the East, the Boston Celtics. When Gordon Hayward’s infamous injury occurred in the first quarter of the season, many shrugged off the Celtics as potential Eastern Conference Champions. What most did not consider though, is that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the team’s blooming young stars, would step in beautifully to fill the void.

While Hayward’s injury shocked the world, the Celtics have stepped up and shocked the world in an equal but opposite way; where grief once struck, redemption now reigns supreme. After dropping their first two games of the season, the Celtics are now on an eleven-game win streak, aiming to thrash all their doubters along the way.

But, just when you thought the injury bug came and went, it returned for seconds. And thirds. Apparently, the Celtics should add another leaf to their logo’s clover; both Al Horford and Kyrie Irving — the team’s best backcourt and frontcourt players — have missed playing time due to concussion protocol.

Speaking to the Celtics’ resilience however, coach Brad Stevens and his loyal troops marched back from a double-digit deficit on Friday night, conquering the healthy Hornets sans Irving and Horford with impenetrable defense.

It’s looking like Horford will play in today’s game. But, even without Irving, Toronto needs to prepare to battle with a team that wears its heart on its sleeve, rebelling against the basketball Gods who struck them with no mercy.

DeMar DeRozan, as of the last four games, has been shooting 35% from the three-point line. I’m apprehensive, at the very least, to say that this is a positive trend; rather, it seems far more likely to be an anomaly. Regardless, if DeRozan is feeling his shot, you best believe he’ll take it, for better or for worse. The Celtics are host to the league’s best-ranked defense, so if they opt to leave DeMar open from three, let’s hope he can at least make some of them.

So, let’s discuss: how can the Raptors pull off a win against the hottest team in the NBA? Here are the details.

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet

3:30 p.m., EST

Starters:

Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Boston - Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Aron Baynes

Injuries:

Toronto - none

Boston – Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving (facial fracture, doubtful)

UPDATE: Al Horford was previously listed as probable, now listed as a starter.

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Grab Offensive Boards

The team ranks third in the league in defensive rebounds per game, inferring that the Raptors’ big men will need to step up. Much like he did against the Pelicans, I would expect Jakob Poeltl to play extended minutes and pounce on the offensive boards like Psycho T in the D-League. As well, in his last five games, Jonas Valanciunas has grabbed only five offensive rebounds in total – that ugly trend needs to end. There is an opportunity for Valanciunas to exploit his strengths in this game. Boston’s defense isn’t lacking in many areas, but it ranks in the bottom half of the league in opponent points in the paint. If Jonas can demonstrate his aptitude in the post, the Raptors have an opportunity to attack Boston’s weak spot.

Ball Movement

As previously mentioned, the Boston Celtics have the top defense in the NBA. To that end, credit Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart for stepping into high-pressure roles and capitalizing on the opportunity. The team ranks near the top of the league in steals per game, so the Raptors’ guards need to be careful. Old habits die hard, and while DeRozan may be averaging a career-high in assists per game (4.2), he often reverts to hero ball when the game is on the line. I would expect the Celtics to give DeRozan trouble in those types of situations, either with impeccable one-on-one defense, or by sending in another wing to double him. Either way, DeRozan must look to pass out of unfavourable situations like these, as turnovers are inevitable. Jakob Poeltl is a talented roll man — with soft hands in the paint, he can torch the Celtics with finesse, assuming the Raptors’ guards can find him.

Three-Point Shooting

The Raptors are gunning threes at a never-before-seen rate (32 attempts per game, up front last season’s 24). However, their three-point field goal percentage has decreased (33% in 2017-2018, versus 36% in 2016-2017). To compete with the best teams in the league, their efficiency must surge. Norman Powell is shooting just under 31% from three this year, and Delon Wright is shooting under 29%. As well, CJ Miles, the Raptors’ best three-point shooter (36%), is only playing around 18 minutes per game. It’s early in the season, and Dwane Casey is still figuring out optimal lineups. At some point, CJ Miles is going to play more minutes, and hopefully, some of the Raptors’ poorer three-point shooters will inch closer to the team average, in terms of efficiency.