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Raptors host the Celtics in final meeting of the season: Preview, start time, and more

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With first place still up for grabs, the Raptors are looking to tie up the season series with the Celtics, lock in home court advantage for the playoffs, and avoid three losses in a row.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In what may be the most important game of the season, the Toronto Raptors find themselves in a must-win situation when they take on the Boston Celtics tonight.

The two teams will square for the final meeting of the season series and the second time in four days. The Celtics won 110-99 back on Mar. 31. It was a disappointing loss to say the least, as Boston has been decimated by injuries and were without their star point guard in Kyrie Irving. But still, Toronto couldn’t pull out a victory.

It was a game in which the Raptors looked somewhat great (the starters specifically) as they played to their standards and up-tempo style. However, it only lasted for three quarters. Near the end of the third quarter and all of the fourth, it all came crashing down for Toronto. The Celtics were able to slow down the game, forced several turnovers, and muscle the game to their favour. Toronto led 84-82 to the begin the fourth but the league’s top defensive team held the Raptors to just 15 points in the quarter, ultimately winning by 11.

Unfortunately for Toronto, their sluggish play didn’t end in Boston as it carried over to last night’s 112-106 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the Raptors first two-game losing streak since Jan. 13.

A loss tonight won’t really break the Raptors season, but it will add to the doubts people have with the team, giving more weight to the idea that the Raps can’t get it done when it really matters. Holding on to the one-seed is also no small thing.

With adversity at an all-time high for Toronto, let’s see how they will respond.

Here are the details for tonight’s game:

Where to Watch:

TSN 4/5, 8:00 p.m. ET

Lineups:

Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Boston – Kadeem Allen, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Aron Baynes

Injuries:

Toronto – None

Boston – Kyrie Irving (OUT – Left knee surgery), Terry Rozier III (Questionable – Sore ankle), Shane Larkin (Questionable – Illness), Marcus Smart (OUT – Torn thumb tendon), Daniel Theis (OUT – Torn meniscus ), Gordon Hayward (OUT – Fractured ankle)

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A Lot at Stake

The Raptors need to get back on track and a win tonight against the Celtics on their home floor would do just that. Luckily for Toronto, Boston lost last night as well to the Milwaukee Bucks so nothing changed in the standings. The Raptors are still the first-seeded team in the East with a record of 55-22 and they lead the Celtics by two games, who are 53-24 on the season.

There is a lot at stake for tonight’s game as if the Raptors lose, not only will they lose their cushion to hold onto the No. 1 seed in the East but will also lose the season series 3-1.

Season series:

Boston 95 - Toronto 94 | Toronto 110 - Boston 91 | Boston 110 - Toronto 99 | Tonight: ?

Now, let’s say the Raptors go 3-2 in their final five games and the Celtics finish 5-0, then both will tie for first place with identical records of 58-24. But who gets the No. 1 seed? Well, if Boston wins tonight, they will end up with the first seed because they win the season series against Toronto.

However, if the Raptors do in fact win tonight, they will tie the season series at two games apiece, and the next tiebreaker category to determine who would be the No. 1 seed would be which team had the better division record. This would also mean the Raptors would have to finish 2-3 and the Celtics finish 4-1 in order for a tie. As it currently stands, Toronto is 11-4 against their opponents in the Atlantic Division and Boston is 11-3, with two divisional games remaining in tonight’s game and their last game of season against the Brooklyn Nets.

Lastly, even if the Celtics lose, they still have a chance to tie the Raptors’ divisional record which would be 12-4, but in the event of a tie in overall record and divisional record, Toronto will be the No. 1 seed as the next tiebreaker category is whichever teams has the better record in their conference, and that is Toronto. They are currently 36-11 against opponents in the Eastern Conference and the Celtics are 31-16, which dismisses any chance of Boston being the No. 1 seed if they tie with the Raptors in overall record and division record.

Upcoming games for Toronto: Boston, Indiana, Orlando, at Detroit, at Miami

Upcoming games for Boston: at Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, at Washington, Brooklyn

Toronto must go 4-1 or better to avoid tying with the Celtics at season’s end because if Boston wins tonight, they have a good chance going 5-0 in their final five games of the season. To add, not only will the Raptors retain the No. 1 seed but it avoids a possible second-round playoff matchup with the Cavaliers, if Cleveland holds onto the third seed.

Stick to your Roots

Run, run, run. The Raptors must play an up-tempo pace for the entire game. They did so in the previous meeting against the Celtics but it was only for the three quarters of the game. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were key in that game because they kept the rock moving. Although Lowry didn’t contribute as much in scoring like DeRozan, both kept the Raptors’ offense free-flowing. Lowry finished with 11 points and nine assists and DeRozan finished with 32 points on an efficient 12-for-19 shooting to go along with and seven rebounds and seven assists. Both will need to carry out the attack early on offense so the Celtics adapt to the Raptors’ game and not the other way around.

Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas were solid in the previous match up as well, with Ibaka recording 15 points and 10 rebounds and JV recording 13 points and 11 rebounds. If DeRozan and Lowry start off the game well, the bigs will need to be the third and fourth options if Boston doubles Lowry and DeRozan.

And for the bench? Well, they haven’t been as good as they have been during this recent two-game stretch. The usual suspects in C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl have been quiet the past two games. A big game like tonight should hopefully get them back into rhythm and to support the starters (or sometimes carrying them).

Kyle Lowry is Due for a Breakout Game

The Raptors are coming off an ugly performance against the Cavaliers, losing 112-106. The entire team struggled but Kyle Lowry really held them back with his performance. Some would have expected him to be all energetic after coming back from San Antonio as the Villanova Wildcats, his alma mater, won the National Championship against the Michigan Wolverines on Monday night. However, that wasn’t the case. There simply was no jump in his step from the get-go. Lowry missed wide-open looks and struggled to make plays for the team, finishing the game with five points on 2-for-11 shooting in 29 minutes of action.

The one thing Raptors fans can hope for is a big game out of Lowry as he hasn’t been himself on the offensive end the previous four games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, the Celtics and last night against the Cavaliers. He put up 11 points in three of the four games but what’s worse is his field-goal percentage. Lowry is shooting a combined 14-for-44 (31 percent) from the field and 9-for-30 from deep (30 percent) during that stretch and if there is one thing for sure, it’s that a bounce-back game has never been needed more than tonight.