It was clear that their first-ever Christmas game at home against Boston was going to be their toughest test yet since losing their three key players in Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell to injuries. Although Toronto jumped out to a 10-0 start, it all turned sour when Boston finished the remaining 10 minutes of the opening frame on a 28-9 run.
The Raps played catch-up the entire second quarter and they essentially lost the game in the third quarter when the C’s pulled away and led by 19 near the end of the frame. Toronto eventually fell 118-102 with Jaylen Brown leading all scorers with 30 points while only missing three shots, going 10-for-13 from the field.
For Toronto, Fred VanVleet led the way with 27 points, but the one bright spot for the team was Chris Boucher. The kid from Montreal put up a career-high 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting along with six rebounds and two blocked shots. His energy and defense were felt throughout the entire game, but the team as a whole was missing those two key components after the first two minutes of the game.
Keeping Up With The Canadians— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) December 26, 2019
Chris Boucher | vs. @celtics
3 THREE POINTERS
2 BLOCKS#WeTheNorth | @Raptors
Keeping Up With The Canadians is presented by @McDonaldsCanada. pic.twitter.com/BHUyd4ASOO
Fast forward to tonight and the Raps look to get back on track tonight after being off two full days. There aren’t any updates regarding the injuries to Siakam, Gasol, and Powell, however, Stanley Johnson made his return on Christmas after missing the previous 17 games due to a groin injury. In the process, he showed flashes in the mere four minutes he played, scoring six points, and bringing the energy and defense in garbage time. The two main plays that stood out: Johnson went coast-to-coast to score a layup, and picking off a pass from Tremont Waters to score a fastbreak layup. With Toronto’s roster limited, Johnson could see more action tonight.
Alright alright. Stanley Johnson it is. pic.twitter.com/xzF9EU9A0G— Jordan (@416Basketball) December 26, 2019
Meanwhile, the Celtics are coming off a 129-117 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers yesterday afternoon. If lighting the Raptors for 30 points wasn’t enough, Brown followed that up by scoring a career-high 34 points on an efficient 13-for-20 shooting from the field to go along with nine rebounds in only 29 minutes of action. After having a poor shooting night in Toronto, Jayson Tatum poured in 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field in the win over the Cavs.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown become the 3rd pair of Celtics teammates to score 30 points in the same game at 23 years old or younger.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 27, 2019
They join Antoine Walker & Paul Pierce and Bill Russell & Tommy Heinsohn. pic.twitter.com/hbby3igbwI
There are plenty of things to look out for in tonight’s, so let’s get into the game details followed by the three keys to the game below.
Where to watch:
TSN4/5, 7:00 p.m.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka
Boston — Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
Toronto — Pascal Siakam (groin – out), Marc Gasol (hamstring – out), Norman Powell (shoulder – out), Matt Thomas (finger – out), Dewan Hernandez (ankle – out)
Boston — Vincent Poirier (finger – out), Robert Williams (hip – out), Marcus Smart (eye – out)
Focus on the Big 3
In Wednesday’s game, the Raptors had to pick their poison in expecting one of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, if not all three, to go off on Christmas. Luckily, it was only Brown who torched the Raps, with Walker having a solid night of his own. Toronto didn’t win, so they weren’t lucky after all, but they did hold Tatum to only 5-of-18 from the field.
As has been the case throughout the season, the Raptors’ success starts with their defense. On Christmas Day, Toronto played a 2-3 zone, which led to late closeouts on the Celtics’ shooters. Their zone defense has been good so far this season, but in Wednesday’s game the Raps were scrambling and weren’t closing out at the right time.
Another area the Raptors can improve upon is their on-ball pick-and-roll defense when Walker has the ball. The Raptors went under the screen in the open court several times during the game which led to a couple of open three-pointers by Walker. Eliminating the three-time All-Star from getting easy looks from deep takes away one of his stronger skills.
It’ll be another tough task containing those three but Raptors fans should be confident in the defensive leaders in Lowry, VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Rondae-Hollis Jefferson. They have the personnel to match Boston on the defensive end.
Let’s Hope for Rotation Changes
Coach Nick Nurse will have to readjust his rotation tonight because Wednesday’s loss was rough. The first thing that stood out is Patrick McCaw’s plus/minus of -22 in 32 minutes. Sure, some of that was played during garbage time but McCaw was a huge liability on offense. He offers very little on that end whereas Terence Davis II, who did play 22 minutes on Wednesday, has more upside there and almost the same defensive skillset McCaw provides. Nurse could go small and insert Davis II in McCaw’s spot, or he could also look to give more action to Hollis-Jefferson. If that fails, he could go with Malcolm Miller or Johnson to back up Davis or Hollis-Jefferson as the bench forwards.
Nurse has several options and has time to experiment for the time being with all the injuries, so he should look at limiting McCaw’s minutes and increasing the roles of TD2, RHJ, Stan, and Miller. Will it happen though? That’s the question.
Finish the Year Strong
The Raptors need every win they can get, that’s obvious, but looking ahead and seeing what’s at stake, they can’t afford to fall 0-3 in the season series to the Celtics. The teams are currently two games apart — second place for Boston, fourth for Toronto — and it will likely remain close till the end of the season. It may not matter, but if these two teams were to tie in the final standings, the season-series could determine who gets the tiebreaker and the higher seed come playoffs. The Raptors will need to at least win tonight.
Also, a win tonight would be huge because the Raps will have to catch a flight right after the game to return home to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on a back-to-back tomorrow at 6pm. The schedule eases off just a bit after tonight (vs. OKC, vs. CLE, at MIA, at BKN, vs. POR, at CHA, vs. SAS, at OKC, vs. WAS, at MIN, at ATL), but before the high notes of 2020, Toronto should aim to finish 2019 strong.