Toronto Raptors (11-18) vs. Boston Celtics (24-6) Game #31 12/29/23

The Celtics host the division rival Toronto Raptors for the 3rd of 4 games this season. The Celtics beat them 117-94 in Boston on November 11th and also beat them 108-105 in Toronto on November 17th. They will meet once more in Toronto on January 15. The Celtics won the series 4-0 last season. They are 68-41 all-time overall and 40-14 in games played in Boston.

This is the first back-to-back for Toronto and the second of a 3-game road trip. They will then play Detroit and then Cleveland at home before heading out on a 6-game Western road trip. It’s the second straight game for the Celtics after an overtime win over the Pistons on Thursday. They will play in San Antonio on New Year’s Day and then OKC on January 2nd.

The Celtics remain first in the East, 1.5 games ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee, 3 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 6 games ahead of 4th place Miami and 5th place Orlando. They are 15-0 at home and 9-1 in their last 10 games. They are 20-4 against Eastern Conference opponents and 9-1 against Atlantic Division teams. They have won their last 4 matches.

The Raptors are 11th in the East. They are 1 game behind Chicago in 10th place and the final playoff spot. They are 5.5 games behind Cleveland in 6th place and the final guaranteed playoff spot. They are tied with Atlanta for 12th, but own the win over them. They are 4-9 on the road and 3-7 in their last 10 games. They are 8-15 against other Eastern Conference teams and 0-8 against Atlantic Division teams. They are coming off a win in their last game.

Al Horford is out as this is the second game and he played Thursday against the Pistons. Jaylen Brown is questionable with a back injury. Jayson Tatum is questionable for sprained ankle treatment. Kristaps Porzingis is questionable for treatment of a calf injury. Jrue Holiday is questionable with an elbow injury.

For the Raptors, Christian Koloko is out with a respiratory illness. Gareth Temple is questionable with an ankle injury. With all the questionable players, I’m not sure who will play and who will be out. I’m just listing the normal starters because if they all go out, I have no idea who will start.

Probable Celtics starters

Celtics Reserves
Delano Banton
Osha Brissett
Sam Houser
Luke Cornett
All Mihailyuk
Peyton Pritchard
Lamar Stevens
Jordan Walsh

Two-way players
JD Davison
Drew Peterson
Nehemiah Quetta

Injuries/Out
Al Horford (rest) out
Jaylen Brown (back) questionable
Jrue Holiday (elbow) questionable
Kristaps Porzingis (calf injury treatment) questionable
Jayson Tatum (ankle injury treatment) questionable

Head coach
Joe Mazzula

Raptors likely starters

Reserves Raptors
Precious Achiuwa
Chris Boucher
Grady Dick
Malachi Flynn
Jaylen McDaniels
Otto Porter, Jr
Gary Trent, Jr
Thaddeus Young

Two-way players
Javon Freeman-Liberty
Jontay Porter
Marquis Nowell

Injuries/Out
Christian Koloko (illness) out
Garrett Temple (ankle) questionable

Head coach
Darko Rajakovic

Key matches

Jayson Tatum vs. Pascal Siakam
Siakam is averaging 21.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5 assists. He shot 50.7% from the field and 24.1% from the arc. Against Boston this season, he is averaging 20 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 0 percent from three. He struggles somewhat with 3s, but if left alone he is very capable of hitting them.

Derrick White vs. Scotty Barnes
Barnes is averaging 20.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. He shot 49% from the field and 38.9% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 12 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 block. He shot 32.1% from the field and 26.7% from beyond the arc. Although he has struggled against the Celtics so far this season, he has been Toronto’s best and most consistent player and it will be important for the Celtics to defend him well.

Honorable mention
Jaylen Brown vs. OG Anunoby
Anunoby is averaging 15.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He shot 48.6% from the field and 37.1% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics, he averaged 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. He shot 23.1% from the field and 25.3% from beyond the arc. Jaylen Brown may or may not play, but whoever plays here should continue to limit Anunoby’s impact on the game.

Game keys
Protection – Defense will always be the key to victory. The Celtics are 5th with a defensive rating of 110.5, while the Raptors are 17th with a defensive rating of 115.2. If the Celtics hope to win this game, it has to come first with defense. The Raptors are 6th with 53.7 points per game. The Celtics should try to keep them out of the paint and force them to play out of their comfort zone.

Bounce – The Raptors average 44.9 rebounds per game (7th), while the Celtics average 47.0 rebounds per game (2nd). Rebounds are very important to limit second chance baskets and fast breaks. The Raptors are 11th with 15.7 second chance points per game and 2nd with 17.3 fast break points per game. The Celtics were outscored 68-47 by the Pistons and it almost cost them the game. A lot of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics need to do more to beat the Raptors.

Move the ball – The Celtics play best when the ball is moving and players are moving to find the best shots. When the ball sticks, the offense is at a standstill and the Celtics struggle to score. They need to make good passes and keep the ball moving instead of becoming the hero ball.

Bench game – The Celtics are on the second night of back-to-back games and played a very tough overtime game on Thursday, so fatigue could set in, especially for the starters. They need the reserves to come in and contribute to give the starters a break without giving up the play on the court.

X-factors
Back to back – The Celtics are playing in their fifth game this season. Meanwhile, the Raptors haven’t played since Tuesday. The Celtics are 3-1 in back-to-back nights, including a win over the Raptors, so we expect them to play well in this one. Hopefully the reserves will play well enough to give the starters enough rest to finish the game strong.

Judging – Although refereeing is rarely the reason for a win or loss, it can always be the x-factor. Each game is called differently. Some games are called tight and some games can be more physical. The Celtics need to adjust to how the play is called and focus on the play and not the calls that are or aren’t being made.

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