The vibes are high in Raptorland. There have been few opportunities this season where we have seen the Toronto Raptors win in dominant fashion, but at home against the Orlando Magic on Saturday was one of those games.
The Raptors are coming off a 121-108 victory, which was quite honestly a more dominant performance than 13 points. A plus-eight fourth quarter in favour of the Magic tightened up the score more than the game itself would actually indicate.
It was one of those games where a team knew they were better, and showed that they were better from beginning to end, and Toronto is going to need that as they take on the best team in the league tonight, the Boston Celtics.
Where to watch:
TSN, 7:30 pm ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Christian Koloko
Boston Celtics — Derrick White, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford
Toronto Raptors — Precious Achiuwa (Out — Ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (Out — Foot), Juancho Hernangomez (Doubtful — Ankle)
Boston Celtics — Robert Williams III (Out — Knee), Danilo Gallinari (Out — Knee), Marcus Smart (Questionable — Hip)
Can I just start off by saying that it’s nice not having to write out this extensive injury report of half the roster for the Raptors anymore. There are still some key bench pieces out, and now recently, another guy who has managed to consistently crack the rotation as of late in Juancho Hernangomez, but the Raptors do have the majority of their team back and on the court.
How does Toronto manage its rotation?
There are a few things to look for. The first one is the starting lineup. Per the good old NBA website, the projected starting lineup based on last game has rookie, Christian Koloko starting once again, and Gary Trent Jr. coming off the bench.
A look that Raptors fans didn’t expect to see for as long as we have, and still continue to remain skeptical about its longterm sustainability. Not that it doesn’t work, I actually think it’s the best look that Toronto can throw out there.
However, Trent is one of Toronto’s five best players, and starting your five best players regardless of height or position, is starting to become the more popular route in today’s NBA.
But why would Nick Nurse take the popular route? This is a head coach who has managed to send out over 10 different starting lineups through the first 23 games of the season; the same coach to run a box-and-one in his first ever NBA finals, and the same coach/team who has taken a team almost entirely full of 6’8” guys, and sent them out together with limited size.
Nick Nurse is known around the league for his creativity, and as much as bringing Trent off the bench shouldn’t necessarily be deemed creative, it does go against the grain, and creative people tend to do that in their thinking.
Another rotation piece to look out for is OG Anunoby, and how he matches up with Jayson Tatum. Tatum has been riding the top of the MVP polls all season, and Anunoby has begun to receive league wide recognition as a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
There is no question in my mind that we are prepared to see a battle between those two. The only question is, how much of a battle?
This is the type of matchup where Nurse would match Anunoby’s minutes to Tatum’s down to the second if it were a playoff series. We saw in Toronto’s championship run, him turn to this approach with Marc Gasol and Joel Embiid.
Nurse though, is known to use the regular season as a little more of an experimental approach, and one where he doesn’t like to show his full hand. We should expect a lot of Anunoby guarding Tatum, and it should be extremely fun to see that matchup, but it’ll be interesting to see how much.
Here you go Pascal, show us you belong
Anyone who denies that Pascal Siakam is playing at an MVP level has not watched enough basketball this season. Siakam was climbing his way up the MVP ladder, until an adductor injury sat him for 10 games, but it seems like he hasn’t missed a beat. He has averaged 22.7 points per game on 53.2% shooting from the field, in his four games since returning, but tonight is the real challenge.
Siakam has had the challenge of going up against many of the league’s best this season: Donovan Mitchell a couple of times, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant twice, most of a game against Luka Doncic, and Zion Williamson just this past week.
Controversial take incoming
Tonight, he faces his greatest test yet.
No matter how you break it down, Jayson Tatum has to be on your MVP ballot if the season ended today. He is the best player on the best team, he has scored 30 or more points 11 times this season, and he craves every opportunity he can get, to not only go up against one of the league’s best, but match up against them directly.
Many stories have came out about how Tatum not only receives defensive matchups of opposing all stars, but hunts for them, and essentially claims them before coach Joe Mazzulla has an opportunity to assign them.
As mentioned earlier, we probably won’t see a lot of Siakam guarding Tatum. When you have Anunoby on your team, and Nurse likes giving some of these assignments to Scottie Barnes, it just doesn’t make sense to ware Siakam down on the defensive end like that.
Tatum though, will certainly see time on Pascal, and even if they don’t necessarily guard each other, watching these two guys attempt to will their teams to victory should be very entertaining.
Small ball battle
This will be short and sweet, but this is what the Raptors want to be the best at, so let’s see it. The Celtics have been forced to play small, due to the injury of Robert Williams III. Now their biggest consistent rotation player is Al Horford, who stands at 6-9.
If you really want to get techincal, Toronto may have the size advantage, with the only guy over 6-10 to see rotation minutes, of course depending if the Celtics throw out Luke Kornet.
So here we go, the battle of the small ball, and the Raptors get the chance to beat a team who has really thrived in it this year.