Preview: Raptors at Celtics
|11.26.10 at 12:52 pm ET|
In the five days since the Celtics were embarrassed in a Sunday afternoon matinee in Toronto, they regained their swagger in Atlanta, gutted out a win over New Jersey and lost one of their most indispensable reserves in Delonte West.
West’s injury casts a pall over the C’s, and there are no easy solutions for them right now. The immediate plan seems to be to stand pat with what they have, which means more playing time for Von Wafer and an accelerated learning curve for rookie Avery Bradley. This also means an increased role for Marquis Daniels, who was just getting comfortable as the backup small forward. he now has to return to being the team’s most versatile reserve.
These are tough times for the Celtics who didn’t begin to suffer team-wide injury breakdowns until after the new year last season. If they can survive this stretch, and continue to win games, it will serve them well in the second half of the season when Doc Rivers will likely ease off on his veterans. That luxury doesn’t exist right now, and so it will be up to Wafer, Daniels and Bradley to fill in the gaps.
The Raptors have won four straight after a dreadful start and serve as a strong test to the Celtics resolve.
RAPTORS (6-9, 5-5 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 106.2 (15)
Defensive Rating: 107.7 (19)
Pace: 94.6 (8)
Likely Starters: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans, Andrea Bargnani
CELTICS (11-4, 7-3 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 108.2 (11)
Defensive Rating: 100.5 (3)
Pace: 90.4 (26)
Likely Starters: Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal
Injuries: Rajon Rondo (Hamstring, questionable), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out)
KEY MATCHUP: Andrea Bargnani vs. Kevin Garnett
The much-maligned former No. 1 pick torched the Celtics for 29 points last Sunday, and more importantly, managed to get the entire C’s front line into foul trouble. In his fifth season Bargnani has come into his own as a primary offensive threat. He is averaging almost 22 points per game, shooting 44 percent from 3-point range and he is using more possessions.
He may never be a true franchise player — his rebounding numbers are still not up to par for a 7-footer — but he has established himself as viable scoring threat. If Garnett can shut him down the Raps will have to look elsewhere for their offense and they don’t yet have a legitimate second scorer.
KEY NUMBER: Rebounds
The Raptors are a good offensive rebounding team, with most of the second chances coming from Reggie Evans and Amir Johnson off the bench. When the Celtics are committed to rebounding (see the Hawks game Monday) they are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league.
But they are still susceptible to bad habits, like not blocking out, and they can be exploited on the glass if the spirit doesn’t move them. To a man the Celtics were angry at themselves for their sloppy performance against Toronto last weekend. Unlike some teams, they actually have the ability to clean those problems up when they want. Keeping the Raptors off the boards and limiting second chances is a good place to start.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Celtics are 6-0 at TD Garden this season and establishing homecourt is high on their list of priorities. This is another game they should win at home, but Toronto won’t make it easy on them. The key will be getting off to a strong start, and that generally means establishing Shaquille O’Neal early. The Raptors don’t have anyone who can keep him out of the paint and that would be a good place for the Celtics to start, and maybe get Toronto into early foul trouble.