On one end of tonight, we have a team meeting expectations in the Toronto Raptors — they’re currently 33-12 and are the top team in the Eastern Conference.
On the other end, we have the Boston Celtics who haven’t met anywhere near expectations playing a little above .500 ball — they’re currently 25-18 and placed fifth in the East. They’re 7.0 games behind Toronto.
Here in mid-January, this was supposed to be a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Eastern Conference. We don’t quite get that, but it’s still a power matchup and a battle for playoff positioning.
For the Raptors, they’ve won five in a row. In their last game against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, they blew a 23-point lead to the Wiz. Despite that, however, Toronto had a great showing in a double-overtime thriller against a team who is trying to creep into the playoffs. The close battle will pay off for the Raptors come playoff time. Kawhi Leonard had 41 points against Washington.
For Boston, they’re returning home from a winless road trip — they went 0-3, with it ending on Monday to the Brooklyn Nets in a 109-102 loss. What makes that particular game even worse is that the Celtics defeated the Nets 10 times in a row previously — streak over.
Listed questionable before the game against Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving ended up missing that game as well due to tight right quadriceps. Tonight against Toronto, ‘Uncle Drew’ says that he will be back in action. Boston guard Marcus Smart was also out on Monday due to being ill — he’s questionable for Wednesday.
In two meetings this season, the Raptors and Celtics are tied at one apiece — both teams won their game on their home court. On October 19, Toronto won a 113-101 contest. On November 16, Boston got their revenge in a 123-116 overtime win.
In deeper history, the Raptors are 14-8 against the Celtics in the past five seasons — Toronto hasn’t lost the season series against Boston since 2012-13. Going even deeper, both teams have had success as well. Together, they’ve tallied 12 Atlantic Division championships since the 2004-05 campaign — the Celtics have more with seven.
After a losing stretch and chemistry issues, the Celtics are also dealing with a Kyrie Irving who shot-off about his teammates to the media — this coming after a frustrating 105-103 loss to the Orlando Magic last weekend.
“The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship-level team,” Irving ranted. “What it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the [NBA] Finals?”
Irving’s not lying though. He also went on to say that Boston needs to meet the high expectations that were set for them at the beginning of the season — he’s got a point considering the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals without him last year.
For the Raptors, they have the opposite problem. Sitting at 33-12 for the season and in the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference, Toronto looks to develop their play into steamroll fashion — meaning not blowing leads and keeping the heat on opposition.
For Boston, it was the complete opposite. They were getting blown out by 27 points before finishing strong in a 109-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Interesting circumstances should make for an interesting game — especially with playoff positioning at stake.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CHECK THE NUMBERS
The statistical race is a dead-heat, with neither team taking the advantage in the numbers. On the offensive side, the Toronto Raptors do hold a +3 advantage at 114.0. However, that number balances out when you look at the defensive side of things — they have a -3 disadvantage sitting at 108.5 PA. In shooting the ball, Leonard and Co. are a bit better at 47.4 FG%, coming in at +2 over the Raptors. In rebounding the ball, there’s no leverage for either team. Toronto only has a +0.4 advantage on the boards.
With neither team having the statistical advantage, and Boston being at home with Kyrie Irving back from injury, you have to give them the edge in the numbers battle — a very narrow edge. For the year, they’ve compiled a 111.7 PPG tally — that’s -3 behind the Toronto Raptors. But with the +3 advantage the Boston Celtics have on defense (105.7 PA), the offensive category then gets cancelled out. The Celtics are -2 behind the Raptors in field goal percentage at 45.7%. In rebounding the ball, it’s dead even at -0.4 with 45.0 RPG.
I mentioned it in ‘Check The Numbers’, and I have to mention it again due to how vital it is: With the statistical race being nearly identical between the two teams, you have to give the edge to Boston in this game due to being back at TD Garden with a healthy Kyrie Irving.
Not just that, but the Celtics also need to get rolling sitting 7.0 games behind the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference. Sitting at 25-18 for the season, I see a lot more motivation from Irving and Boston to win tonight’s game. I have them as my favorite at home.
That’s not to say the Toronto Raptors won’t ball through — after all, they are first place in the East with a stylish 33-12 record. Enjoy this game tonight on ESPN at 8:00 PM ET in what’s sure to be a thriller. Give me the Celtics to ride with in a dog-fight — eventually, Boston is going to get things going, you’d at least think so. I’ll take that bet tonight.