The championship rings have been given out, the championship banner has been unveiled, and the season opener concluded with a win. The season couldn’t have started any better for the reigning NBA champions, Toronto Raptors, as they look to keep the good times rolling when they take on the Boston Celtics tonight.
The Raps are coming off a gritty 130-122 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night. They needed huge night from Pascal Siakam, who recorded 34 points, 18 rebounds, and five assists, and Fred VanVleet, who had a career-best 34 points on 12-for-18 shooting from the field to go along with seven assists and five rebounds.
The hope is for another repeat performance from the two tonight but all Toronto can hope for is a healthy VanVleet. During the third quarter of Tuesday’s contest, VanVleet tripped over a cameraman on the baseline and headed to the locker room in what appeared to be an ankle injury. He told reporters on Thursday that his ankle is still sore and will suit up to play tonight if he’s feeling healthy. If VanVleet were to be held out, expect Norman Powell to replace him.
VanVleet said his ankle feels better than he thought it would when he turned it. Still sore but sounds like he'll try to play through it in Boston. "I'm not sure it's a friendly place to try to go out with a bum ankle so I'll try to make sure I'm good before I step out there"— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) October 24, 2019
To add to Toronto’s injury front, Patrick McCaw and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could also miss tonight’s game. McCaw is dealing with a knee injury and Hollis-Jefferson is nursing a groin injury. Both were held out of the season opener.
McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson are close to a return. Not cleared yet but questionable for Friday. Sounds like McCaw might bump Davis to 9th guy when healthy.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 24, 2019
For the Celtics, they come into their home opener after a 107-93 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. Their star point guard, Kemba Walker, who they signed in free agency, struggled mightily on the offensive end, recording 12 points on 4-for-18 shooting from the field and nothing else of significance to show for it. However, as talented as Walker is, part of his offensive struggles came from the 76ers’ defense as Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, and rookie Matisse Thybulle made it difficult for him to produce. Outside of Walker, both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown also had subpar performances, so look for them to try for bounce-back games in their home debut.
Adding to the league’s early-season injury woes is centre Enes Kanter. He will be held out of tonight’s contest with a left knee contusion.
The Celtics have ruled out Enes Kanter for tomorrow night’s game against the Raptors with a left knee contusion. Kanter banged his knee in the second half of last night’s loss in Philly.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) October 24, 2019
Although Kanter isn’t a exactly superior post defender, this means the Celtics’ already thin frontcourt gets even thinner. Expect the Raptors to look for Siakam to attack the paint once again as well as Marc Gasol, as he looks to get back on track following a shaky performance on Tuesday. More on this below.
Now that we’re all caught up, let’s get right into the game details followed by the keys to the game.
Where to Watch:
TSN4, 7 p.m. EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Boston — Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
Toronto — Fred VanVleet (Day-to-day — Sore ankle), Patrick McCaw (Doubtful — Knee), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Questionable — Groin)
Boston — Enes Kanter (Out — Left knee contusion), Tacko Fall (OUT — NBA Concussion Protocol), Romeo Langford (OUT — Sore right knee)
Expect Change in the Rotation
Coach Nick Nurse played a really tight rotation in Tuesday’s game against the Pelicans, running with only eight players in the 130-122 overtime win. Those eight were the starters in Kyle Lowry, VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Siakam, Gasol plus three key bench players in Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and Terence Davis. To a degree, all eight except Gasol for the most part, played well but there were also several guys playing more minutes than warranted in a regular season game.
Regardless of whether McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson are cleared to play, expect coach Nurse to expand his rotation to at least nine to 10 players. While McCaw (if healthy) may get the eighth spot in the rotation over Terence Davis, who has impressed the team, it may not last. Either way, Nurse will have to trust his players in the deep bench because he can’t afford to ride with eight players night in and night out, especially when this is only game two of 82.
Now, that’s easier said than done because the bench — including McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson — have struggled, as we saw in the preseason. What it all comes down to is five players looking to land the nine and 10 spots in the rotation. As Nurse said before the season started, those spots are open, but it’s going to take solid play from both ends of the floor, especially on defense. Tonight would be a good test for any of those five players to provide those five to 10 solid minutes.
Context of McCaw as 8th. Nurse asked about Miller as potential 9th man: "When I go to a ninth guy - well now if we get Pat back, it'll be Terence still at the ninth - but if I go to the next guy down the line, it could be any one of five guys."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 24, 2019
Spicy P Looking to Stay Hot
Fresh off his four-year, $130-million contract extension, Pascal Siakam showed everyone why he is worth every penny from that deal with his performance against the Pelicans. He made all the right plays on offense by attacking the paint, making plays in transition, and hitting a couple of shots from outside. But more importantly, he was active on the boards — Spicy P grabbed 18 rebounds, six of them offensive. It was the difference maker for the Raptors on Tuesday night.
With the Celtics housing a thin frontcourt, expect Siakam to be all over the paint either scoring/creating plays down low or grabbing rebounds for extra possessions over forwards Tatum and Gordon Hayward, and centres Daniel Theis and Robert Williams III. If Siakam can guard his man without fouling (he got the DQ against the Pelicans), we could see another big performance from him.
Battle of the Boards
Although the Raps won the rebounding edge over the Pelicans 57 to 53, there were quite a few possessions where Toronto failed to secure what should have been easy defensive rebounds. Instead, they gave up 16 offensive rebounds to New Orleans, which, fortunately, led to only nine second-chance points.
are the raptors aware that rebounding is an aspect of basketball?— (@SnellSZN) October 23, 2019
With only four rebounds in that game, Gasol has to leverage his size more against the Celtics. But really, all of the Raptors have to make sure they box-out well and are in a good position to secure the boards tonight. The Celtics aren’t a good rebounding team to begin with (they were out-rebounded 62-41 against the Sixers) and are thin in the frontcourt, so they would be shooting themselves in the foot by potentially giving them extra possessions.