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Raptors host Celtics, begin seven-game homestand: Preview, start time and more

After closing out a six-game road trip with a 2-4 record, the Raptors return to Toronto to take on the Boston Celtics.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After a gruelling, six-game road trip from which the team emerged with just two wins, the Toronto Raptors will finally return home to face off against their division rivals the Boston Celtics. With numerous injuries to some of Toronto’s most versatile and helpful defenders piling up, the team is hoping to regain some footing in the coming days with some of these players’ imminent returns approaching.

The Celtics have similarly seen some ups and downs as a team this year, coming into today’s matchup on a two-game losing streak after having put together some strong performances prior. They currently sit at 10th in the Eastern Conference, while the Raptors are in 12th.

Fred VanVleet has had himself quite the season — the best of his career — and has emerged as a consistent leader in the wake of injuries to the team’s other top two talents, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. I’m interested to see if Fred can bolster his All-Star credentials with a strong performance against Boston, a team against which he has struggled this year.

The Raptors’ first two matchups with the Celtics this season resulted in wildly different outcomes. After an early-season blowout victory for the Raptors, the Celtics hit back a few weeks later with a strong showing of their own.

Hopefully a couple of key pieces can return to the hardwood in Toronto tonight after relatively lengthy absences. If the Raptors’ roster is healthy and rested enough, they can finally begin again to more seriously compete with the league’s most talented teams. The Celtics are immensely talented, and despite their struggles, they seem to love putting it all together against the Raptors. Let’s watch together and see if a return to Toronto has the team in better spirits.

Here are tonight’s game details:

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet One, 6:00 PM EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Svi Mykhailiuk, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa

Boston – Dennis Schroder, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford

Injuries:

Toronto – OG Anunoby (hip – questionable), Gary Trent Jr. (calf – questionable), Khem Birch (knee – out)

Boston – Robert Williams III (illness – out), Josh Richardson (illness – questionable)

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Carry for Gary

Gary Trent Jr. exited last game early with calf tightness, and if he misses time, it will be up to some of the other guys to take on his scoring load and make opportunities for themselves. Gary has been on a roll lately, shooting at an exceptionally efficient rate for the difficulty of shots he’s taking. Typically, these shots would be looked down upon for stalling an otherwise flowing offense; however, oftentimes, the Raptors struggle to get any open looks at all. In these scenarios, it’s been incredibly beneficial to have Trent Jr.’s creation and shot-making prowess at the team’s disposal.

If Gary is unable to play, I’d like to see Scottie Barnes take a couple of extra threes per game, as well as force his way into the paint with regularity. He has incredible body control and strength for a rookie, so he’s easily capable of catching opposing wings off-guard with some old-fashioned bully ball. Barnes tends to score in bursts, gaining confidence quickly after watching a couple of shots fall through the hoop. If he can take his scoring role to another level in Gary’s absence, that would be ideal from both a team-performance and personal-development perspective.

Where’s the Defense?

As previously mentioned, this Celtics team employs some extraordinarily talented players, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown providing much of the scoring. If OG Anunoby is out again tonight, it may prove difficult to stop them, seeing as both Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam have struggled defensively thus far. While Scottie’s struggles stem mostly from an unfamiliarity with the Raptors’ defensive schemes, I suspect Pascal’s struggles can mostly be attributed to his prior injury, and his continuous journey to get back into game shape.

There are, however, some glimmers of hope. When he locks in, Siakam has looked far better defensively as of late, and Scottie will only learn and get better from here. As well, Yuta Watanabe’s return will provide a much-needed steadying presence for the Raptors, who are prone to stretches of shakiness and generally being out-of-sorts on the defensive end. Khem Birch’s extended absence is troubling though, and Chris Boucher will need to perform well against Boston’s interior for the Raptors to stand a chance.

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

That’s right, the Raptors are back home in Toronto after an exhausting six-game road trip. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that this team could use some reinvigorating. Torontonian basketball fans have been waiting anxiously for the team’s return, and are sure to provide Scotiabank Arena with the exciting, raucous atmosphere the Raptors’ players are used to.

Moreover, this and the team’s following six games are all to be hosted in Toronto, meaning they can stay in Toronto for an extended period and get settled until their next away game on December 14th against the Brooklyn Nets. This stretch, wherein the team will see several notable defenders return to the floor, will provide a nice runway for the Raptors’ defense to takeoff after a rocky period amplified by injuries. Hopefully the team can get off on the right foot tonight.