The Boston Celtics take on the Toronto Raptors as they try to avoid a four game losing streak
It’s been a rough couple of games without Jae Crowder for the Boston Celtics. It won’t get much easier on Friday night as they travel to Canada to take on the Toronto Raptors. These two teams are in-division rivals and also two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Boston owns a 39-29 record while Toronto has gone 46-21 thus far.
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The Raptors are coming off a hard fought win over the Indiana Pacers last night, and have won five of their last six. The Celtics are going the opposite way as they have lost three in a row, the first time since early January, and have lost four of five.
Jonas Jerebko was out on Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder due to ankle soreness, but he may return to action on Friday.
Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors’ starting center, was out last night with a hand injury, missing his second straight contest. He is considered day-to-day but should be active against the Celtics, although Bismack Biyombo filled in nicely during his absence.
Kelly Olynyk will be playing in only his second game since returning for injury. He played in 22 minutes against the Thunder on Wednesday, more than I expected. The extra minutes may have come from Jerebko being out, although it was obvious Olynyk won’t have the same impact for a while as he tries to get his legs under him.
In 22 minutes, he scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out an assist. He did shoot 6-7 from the free-throw line, but went 1-7 from the field and 0-2 from behind the arc. Being able to get to the free-throw line was a good sign, but the Celtics have missed his three-point shot and they’ll be anxiously waiting for it to return to form.
He should have a big role once again, and his shot should get better every game. Valanciunas could cause problems if on Olynyk, but besides him no one else would be able to stop him. Biyombo is a solid defender but is small for his position and Luis Scola starts because of his offensive ability. Patrick Patterson has a decent role off the bench as well, averaging 24.4 minutes per game, but he is a big body to rebound and occasionally score, not a defensive anchor.
Especially with Crowder out, Olynyk returning to form is needed even more. As good of a team as the Raptors are, they don’t hold much of a defensive front court threat to Olynyk’s deep ball. If Olynyk is able to get open and shoot an effective percentage, that would be a huge boost for Boston.
DeMar Derozan is in a contract year and he’s playing like it. Despite saying he would like to stay in Toronto, every team with the money will be trying to get his services.
After being a game-time decision against the Indiana Pacers, he went off for 28 points in 44 minutes. He did miss their game against the Milwaukee Bucks, however, he has averaged 29.7 points per game in March, including shooting 49.2 percent from the field. He also has four 30-point games in the month, playing in eight.
DeRozan is averaging a career-high 23.8 points per game, although only shoots 44.7 percent from the field on the year. He doesn’t shoot a terrible percentage but when he gets cold he isn’t afraid to continue jacking up shots. Averaging 17.8 shot attempts per game leads the team by a good margin.
With Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart in the Celtics’ back court, the chance DeRozan isn’t as hot as the sierra desert in the middle of the summer is possible. DeRozan will find a way to get his points, the question is how long and how many shots it will take. Bradley and Smart should cause problems, although he’s averaging 28.5 points per game on 45 percent shooting this season against Boston.
He has hurt Boston this season and with Crowder out, it could happen again. He has good size but Bradley and Smart will have to stick on him like glue to make sure he doesn’t go off for a big game.
The Celtics look bad since the Crowder injury, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. Toronto is one of the best teams in the NBA and clearly the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. Having a game last night may fatigue the Raptors a little, however, they’re still a deep team with one of the best back courts in the league.
Brad Stevens still needs to figure out his rotation for the next couple of weeks and until he does that, Boston will continue to struggle. I would like to think Boston could spark some magic considering it’s an in-division rival, but it’s too hard to imagine when considering how well Toronto has played this season.