The Toronto Raptors head into Boston on Thursday night for the second game of their unscheduled, pre-All-Star back-to-back set to face the Celtics. This time, they’re hoping to bounce back from last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons and end the season’s first half on a positive note.
For the Raptors, it’s been a tough week. Like many teams this season, the Raptors have been hit hard by the effects of operating a season amidst a pandemic. Things took a turn last Friday, when, under the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Nick Nurse, five assistants and Pascal Siakam had to miss their game against the Houston Rockets. Then on Sunday, Toronto’s game against the Chicago Bulls was postponed when several more players were placed in the protocols for contact tracing, and shortly after that, Tuesday’s game against the Pistons was rescheduled to Wednesday.
When the Raptors and Pistons finally tipped off, the Raptors were thus missing many key pieces, like Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Nick Nurse and more. Unfortunately, the lack of core players in the rotation proved to be their downfall and the Raptors suffered a blowout loss at the hands of the Pistons, 129-105.
Tonight, the Raptors will look to test their misfortunes one last time. Missing three starters and a head coach for yet another game definitely stings, especially when one of the losses is VanVleet, who was playing at an All-Star level (despite not making the All-Star game). Fortunately, the All-Star break begins on Friday and the Raptors will buy some much-needed time to hopefully get some players back in the lineup.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics (18-17) are coming off a victory against the Los Angeles Clippers with a day of rest in between. Boston, who sits fourth in the East, are just 5-5 in their last 10 games, but are currently on a three game win streak. They’ll surely be looking to take advantage of that confidence against a shorthanded Raptors squad.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:00 pm EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis, Norman Powell, Yuta Watanabe, Aron Baynes
Boston - Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson
Toronto – Pascal Siakam (out – health and safety protocols), Fred VanVleet (out – health and safety protocols), OG Anunoby (out – health and safety protocols), Patrick McCaw (out – health and safety protocols), Malachi Flynn (out – health and safety protocols)
Boston – Marcus Smart (out – calf), Romeo Langford (out – wrist)
The Raptors have struggled with consistency this season after seeing many changes to the team’s lineup. While the team has been continuously working to find a winning combination, Norman Powell has been utilizing his opportunities all season long. Watching Powell’s progression into a full-time, consistent offensive starter has been one of the best parts of this season.
Despite Wednesday’s forgettable loss to the Pistons, Powell had another strong showing, leading the Raptors with a season-high 36 points. On top of this, he shot a very impressive 70 percent from the field and even made 5-of-8 of his three pointers. These are outstanding numbers for any player, but to know that he’s been doing this consistently this season has been amazing to see.
Norm has been having his best season to date and is making it impossible to even think about trading him or losing him in any capacity. Expect Powell to step up once again — his stellar play is one of the keys to a Raptors victory.
One of the biggest disappointments that contributed to the Raptors’ offensive failures on Wednesday night was their lack of bench scoring. Outside of Chris Boucher’s 18 points, only Matt Thomas made any type of impact with 11 points. Watanabe, Stanley Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry and Paul Watson were all held scoreless.
Sure, the Raptors best players were out, but that’s when a team’s depth has to come through. They may not be the team’s go-to scorers, but they were underwhelming in a game where their performances should have been highlighted.
Scariolo on the Raptors' underperforming bench: "I'm a little surprised because I know them and I know that they're better players, for sure. They will have other opportunities and I'm confident that they'll seize those opportunities. Tonight was not their night."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 4, 2021
Safety is the Priority
While the Raptors may have been having a tough stretch on the court, it’s safe to say basketball isn’t always top of mind. While the league conducts its health and safety measures, the Raptors have made sure to keep safety the priority.
Lowry on teammates in the protocols: "They're your brothers, they're your friends. You want to make sure that they're healthy. Whatever it is, if they're in contact tracing, you just want to make sure that you talk to them, just check on them and make sure their mind is strong."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 4, 2021
Whether the Raptors come out on top or not on Thursday night, it’s good to see them handling the overall situation responsibly. In this weird season that we’ve all had to experience, all we can do is hope for the best off the court as much as on the court.