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Raptors host Celtics, look to move up in playoff picture: Preview, start time and more

The Raptors look to solidify their 6th seed spot as they face the Boston Celtics tonight.

Toronto Raptors vs Boston Celtics Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Tonight’s game is not just a random game 75 of the regular season. The Toronto Raptors have turned things around since the start of the month. They are not just looking to solidify their position outside of the play-in range; they are also knocking on the 5th seed currently held by the Chicago Bulls.

Before that, the Raptors have to go through the East’s best (for now), the Boston Celtics. It hasn’t been long since the Celtics were in a similar playoff range to the Raptors, but their resurgence, 22-3 since January 29th, catapulted them to the top of the standings.

The Raptors might catch a break, as the Celtics are crossing the border after a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves yesterday. Robert Williams III suffered a knee injury against the Wolves, which makes it worse for the Celtics as they also don’t have Al Horford for personal reasons.

News also broke just before publication time that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will also miss tonight's game.

For the Raptors, Fred VanVleet’s balky knee’s been an issue for two months now, but he was not on the injury report earlier this morning. Perhaps the rest against the Pacers helped, but he hasn’t looked 100% in a long time. Gary Trent Jr is still questionable with his toe injury, but who knows with this Raptors. OG Anunoby made a surprise comeback last week, so we have to take these injury reports with a grain of salt.

Also, it looks like Khem Birch is out tonight, so we will probably see Precious Achiuwa start.

Tonight’s game will be a good rep for Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes. Siakam historically has struggled against the Celtics, but he’s a much better player now than the last time he faced them earlier this season. If anything, Siakam looks even better than the version we saw during his All-NBA season. For ROY candidate Scottie Barnes, he’s owned the Celtics in all three games, averaging 22.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to feast against the smaller Celtics tonight.

Betting Line

Prior to Williams III’s injury news, the lines were much closer (I believe it was -1.5 for the Raptors). But with the Celtics’ injury news, the Raptors are now favoured to win this game given the circumstances (Raptors are -8).

The series between these two teams have averaged less than 200 combined points in three games. The Raptors are notorious for keeping tight games a low-scoring affair, so if you think this game could potentially be a blowout, take the over.

Where to Watch:

TSN4, 7:30 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes, Pascal SIakam

Boston — Daniel Theis, Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Luke Kornet, Grant Williams

Injuries:

Toronto — Khem Birch (knee – out), Gary Trent Jr. (toe – questionable), Malachi Flynn (hamstring – out), Isaac Bonga (Raptors 905 – out), Justin Champagnie (Raptors 905 – out), David Johnson (Raptors 905 – out), Speaker (electrical - questionable)

Boston — Robert Williams III (knee – out), Al Horford (personal reasons – out), Jayson Tatum (knee – out), Jaylen Brown (knee – out)

Line: Raptors -4, O/U 212 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

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Brooks is not just a spot-up shooter

This past weekend, the Raptors converted Armoni Brooks’s 10-day contract to a multi-year deal. Brooks will have a chance to continue to showcase what he can do for the rest of the season, work with the Raptors this off-season, and compete for a roster spot next training camp.

Armoni Brooks hasn’t really wowed us with what the team needs offensively. He’s only averaging 3.2 points while shooting 32.1% on 3.1 three-point attempts per game. However, since getting a regular rotation spot over the past four games, he managed to put up 6.5 points on 52.6% from behind the arc. Brooks is sniping from the perimeter whenever the opportunity presents itself, with only two of his 30 total shot attempts coming from inside the arc. He’s managing to convert at least two perimeter shots over that period, which is the bare minimum that we can’t consistently get from Svi Mykhailiuk, Yuta Watanabe, etc.

However, Brooks’ defensive activity is a bit of an eye-opener. He’s got the length, quickness, and enough athleticism to play the Raptors’ defensive system, but what stands out is his effort. We have all seen Brooks’ chase-down block, but watch him close out on perimeter shooters. He’s doing it with reckless abandon, but what stands out is his quick recognition and reaction, which makes his closeouts effective. On top of that, something we should keep an eye on — Brooks’ playmaking chops. He can executive a pick-and-roll, drive and draw defenders and still be capable of hitting a cutting/open teammate. More importantly, the ball doesn’t stick to his hands unnecessarily. Brooks recognized early that Precious Achiuwa was on fire against the Pacers, and he had his eye on getting Achiuwa open.

Raptors’ Transition Lineup

The Raptors looked like they were only five players deep earlier this season. Yes, they have their starters, and the production drops off after that. Coach Nick Nurse was unwilling to trust Malachi Flynn. Svi Mykhailiuk played his way to Nurse’s dog house. The coaching staff’s adjustments at the back-end of their rotations were primarily misses than hits. Yes, including Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa, who were so unpredictable and unreliable during the first few months of the season.

Fortunately for the Raptors, the duo solidified their rotation spots, and more importantly, they have found their niche on the offensive end — for the most part. Nowadays, the two would come in as a tag team unless Achiuwa starts. They are the first subs for the Raptors, and if the complexion of the game was not funky enough with the Raptors’ starters, wait until the lineup shifts to Achiuwa-Boucher-Siakam-Barnes. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s evident that this foursome needs a floor spacer with size. Small sample data shows that the five-man lineup, including Gary Trent Jr, boasts a +20 +/- and a +22.5 Net Rating over 44 minutes (best five-man lineup including those four). On the flip side, they are -18 on +/- and a -24 Net Rating with Fred VanVleet as the fifth guy.

Silver lining for VanVleet’s injury

It’s been a little painful watching Fred VanVleet play these past few games. He moves gingerly, especially if he has to go East/West. He doesn’t have the burst that he usually has. Just watch how VanVleet struggles to get up every time he hits the floor. That injured knee is problematic, but it hasn’t been to a point where the Raptors felt that they needed to shut him down for several games. Perhaps the playoff positioning plays a factor in his decision to “soldier on.” Still, it looks like we’re watching a shell of himself at times.

However, it hasn’t been all for naught. We’re starting to see a version of VanVleet that’s willing to give up the ball early as a ball handler. The assist numbers may not reflect it, but as a ballhandler, he’s looking to pass more than the shoot-first mentality that we’re accustomed to. What’s even more interesting is he’s doing all of these while playing at his own pace. The way he’s passing the ball after he fails to turn the corner is a bit of a surprise. Of course, we wish him better health, but if VanVleet can incorporate these new “tricks” into his overall bag, he can be even more dangerous.

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