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Christmastime in the City! The Celtics are here to take on the champs: Preview, start time, and more

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The NBA comes to Canada for Christmas. Can the Raptors deliver Christmas cheer to their fans — and coal in the Celtics’ stockings?

Toronto Raptors vs. Boston Celtics Christmas Day: Preview, start time, and more, Kemba Walker, OG Anunoby Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

I’ve been a Raptors fan for a long time, and I like to think I have a good memory for the big games. But I have no recollection of December 25, 2001, the last time the Raptors played on Christmas Day. BAsketball- Reference tells me they lost to the Knicks in New York, 102-94, and that Vince Carter scored 15 points on 20 shots in 46(!) minutes.

A lot has changed since then, which may be the understatement of the decade. The Raptors were a (potentially) up-and-coming contender in 2001 (little did we know how that team would turn out), which warranted the Christmas Day start. And now? They’re the world champs! Which means not only a Christmas Day game, but a home one to boot!

Let’s preview the action:

Where to watch:

Sportsnet, 12:00pm EST

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka

Boston — Semi Ojeleye, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker

Injuries:

Toronto — Pascal Siakam (groin – out), Marc Gasol (hamstring – out), Norman Powell (shoulder – out), Matt Thomas (finger – out), Dewan Hernandez (ankle – out)

Boston — Gordon Hayward (hip – questionable), Vincent Poirier (finger – out), Marcus Smart (eye – out), Robert Williams (hip – out)

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Tough Task

We all got a kick out of piling on the Celtics last season when Kyrie was steering them into a ditch, didn’t we? For so many reasons, the Celtics are fun to root against. But this year’s team features much more complementary players and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are finally coming into their own. The Celtics currently have the third-best winning percentage in the NBA, have the third-best point differential, and rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating. Not bad right!

The Raptors aren’t too far behind (tied for the fourth-best record, sixth-best point differential, 10th in offensive rating and fourth in defensive rating) but given their injuries, you have to give the Celtics the edge in this one.

I also fear that the early start, on a day the locals aren’t used to attending a basketball game, may take away some of Toronto’s homeport advtange.

In other words, the Raptors are gonna need a lot of that “heart of a champion” energy to come out on top of this one.

Contain Tatum

Keeping the clamps on Jayson Tatum will certainly help the Raptors’ cause. Tatum is averaging 21.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, both career highs, and is coming off scoring a career high 39 in the Celtics’ blowout win over the Hornets on Sunday, where he shot 4-of-9 from downtown.

The last time these two teams played, Tatum scored 25, although it took him 22 shots to get there. Without Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell, guarding Tatum may come down to Patrick McCaw, with both Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry chipping in as well. (I’ll presume that OG Anunoby gets more of the minutes on Jaylen Brown.)

Throwing different looks at Tatum may be the best way for the Raps to reel him in. Even a few minutes of in-your-face Rondae Hollis-Jefferson D might throw Tatum off of his game.

Get Out to Shooters

The Raptors, by design, concede a lot of three-point shots. They like to pack the paint and swarm ball-handlers who dribble past the three-point line, betting that they can rotate back out to shooters to make those shots difficult.

It doesn’t always work. Case in point, on Monday against the Pacers, the Raptors, perhaps tired from theircome-from-behind efforts two games in a row, gave up a ton of open looks, and got burned: the Pacers poured in 18 threes (on 42 attempts), well above their average of 9.9 makes per game (27th in the league!).

The Celtics average 12.3 makes per night, although they shoot a slightly lower percentage than the Pacers. But recall that earlier meeting between the Celtics and Raptors: The Raptors controlled that game though 3.5 quarters, but Tatum, Brown and Gordon Hayward all buried big threes in the final 4.5 minutes to swing the game Boston’s way.

Hopefully a restful Christmas Eve has left the Raptors ready to hustle out to shooters today.