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Raptors look to stay hot against struggling Celtics: Preview, start time, and more

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Winners of five in a row, the Raptors look to extend their streak against the Celtics, who have lost their last three games.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After a 140-138 double OT win in Washington against the Wizards on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors will end their short two-game road trip against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden tonight. Both teams are polar opposites of each other as the Raptors are coming in hot on a five-game win streak while the Celtics have lost three games in a row.

Everything seems to be clicking for Toronto (other than injuries) as they look to build on their 33-12 first-place lead. More importantly, the Raptors are starting to get some runs with their usual starters in Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. Better yet, Toronto is seeing Leonard put together an impressive MVP-type calibre season. Leonard, who won last week’s East’s Player of the Week, is averaging 30.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, five assists, and 3.3 steals per game over that week. He and the team will look to continue their scorching-hot play with a showdown against the Celtics.

On the other side of things, Boston is going through some team issues. Just last week against the Miami Heat, forward Marcus Morris and guard Jaylen Brown went back and forth with each other during a timeout, resulting to Morris shoving Brown which led to Morris being held back by his teammates.

That was just the beginning of things spiralling out of control for the Celtics. The C’s found themselves in a close game against the up-and-down Orlando Magic where Boston had the ball to either tie it or win the game. In a play that seemed to be for Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward — who was inbounding the ball — passed to Jayson Tatum instead, who ended up missing the midrange jumper at the buzzer. Irving was a bit frustrated with the result.

Although failing to meet big expectations, it isn’t the end of the world for the Celtics as they are a respectable 25-18 on the year and sit fifth place in the Eastern Conference. However, with things fragile in Boston, and a tough Raptors team coming into town, things may continue to get worse for the Celtics

Toronto, meanwhile, looks to avenge last meeting’s 123-116 OT loss exactly two months ago. Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright all had trouble stopping Irving that night as he poured in 43 points on a ridiculously-efficient 18-for-26 shooting from the field to go along with 11 dimes and three steals. Although the team is firing on all cylinders, stopping Irving is no easy task. We’ll get to that and more with the keys to the game, but first here are the game details:

Where to Watch:

TSN, 8:00 p.m. EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Boston – Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Al Horford

Injuries:

Toronto – Jonas Valanciunas (OUT – Dislocated left thumb), OG Anunoby (OUT – Personal), Fred VanVleet (Questionable – Thigh), C.J. Miles (Questionable – Hip)

Boston – Marcus Smart (Questionable – Illness), Aron Baynes (Questionable – Right hand)

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Emphasis on Guards and Wings

As mentioned above, the Raptors got burned the last time against the Celtics, mainly by Irving. Toronto didn’t have an answer for every time Irving scored and that may be the same for tonight’s game. Lowry still seems to be working to get into game shape (as a back injury doesn’t magically heal), so putting him on Irving after playing 50(!) minutes against the Wizards may not be the best move. Toronto could hide Lowry by putting Green on Irving, but the Raptors would still have to watch out for Tatum, Hayward, and Brown.

With Anunoby out and if VanVleet (who is questionable for tonight) doesn’t play, that will only make it tougher for the Raptors to guard the Celtics’ guards and wings.

Stay Out and Close Out on Shooters

The Celtics are one of the top three-point shooting teams in the league. For the season, they rank third in three-point makes with 13.1, third in three-point attempts with 36.1 attempts per game, and sixth in three-point percentage as they shoot 36.4 percent per game.

Their three-point shooting success comes from their solid three-point shooters in Marcus Morris (shooting 44.8 percent), Kyrie Irving (shooting 39.7 percent), Jayson Tatum (shooting 37.3 percent), Marcus Smart (shooting 35.4 percent), Al Horford (shooting 34.9 percent), and Terry Rozier (shooting 34.3 percent).

Although Boston didn’t hit their three-point shots in the previous game against Toronto, going 9-for-26, the Raptors will still need to stay out on the Celtics’ shooters and should avoid cheating on defense so that they don’t give up open three-point shots.

Protect the Ball

The Raptors have been careless with the ball during their five-game win streak. Over the course of the last five games, Toronto ranks 24th in the league in turnovers, giving up the ball on average 15.6 times a game. The game against the Wizards was supposed to be over after the third quarter but the Raptors had four costly turnovers in the fourth quarter that ultimately gave the Wizards the opportunity to come back and force overtime.

Toronto will have to take care of the ball against this Celtics team — who average 8.8 steals per game which is best for sixth in the league. If the Raptors do cough up the ball, they’ll end up paying the price as the C’s rank sixth in the league in fastbreak points, scoring 18.8 points in transition over the last five games.