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It’s one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the young season. Well, it was, until Kyrie Irving was ruled out after sustaining a broken bone in his face. The Toronto Raptors (7-4) travel to Beantown to face the East-leading Boston Celtics (11-2) at TD Garden.
With or without Irving, the Raptors are in for a ginormous test, one that should test their character in every way imaginable. The C’s enter this afternoon’s game riding a league-best 11 game winning streak. Even with Irving unlikely to dress, Boston still has the depth and momentum right now to grind out a win against an Atlantic division rival, at home no less.
The fact Boston has been so successful right out of the gates is incredible, considering how many new faces are on the roster. Only four players (Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart) remain from last season. The typical adjustment period for new players joining a new team seems not to apply to the Celtics.
Aside from Irving, rookie Jayson Tatum has been the team’s most reliable scoring option. The former Duke standout is averaging 13.7 PPG in 30 minutes per game. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field and from three-point range, and gets to the free throw line four times per game as well. Safe to say the Celtics are thrilled with their decision to trade back in the draft for their new stud small forward.
Toronto is on a mini two-game winning streak of its own, with wins over Chicago and New Orleans. Expect the Dinos to be fresh this afternoon, as they haven’t played since November 9. This is the first of three meetings with Boston. You can bet the Raps are looking to make a statement with a big win. Almost everyone labelled the Celtics as the strongest Atlantic division team for a second consecutive season. The Raptors want to prove the doubter wrong and show that with a revamped offensive focus, they mean business and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Dwane Casey called out his team’s defence in their 122-118 win against the Pelicans. Expect a stronger effort on that end against the Celtics for 48 minutes. With Irving out of the lineup, that should make matters a little bit less hectic for Toronto.
Kyle Lowry is coming into his own of late. The three-time all-star has shot 7 of 13 from the field in consecutive games and seems to be acclimating himself to his new role in the Raps offence. Lowry doesn’t have the ball as often as in seasons past, especially in isolation sets, so it took him some time to accept playing off the ball more. In recent games, he’s been picking his spots well, scoring and attacking the rim when his team needs it most. Expect another strong outing from Lowry, especially with the chance to make a statement on the line. You can only keep a proven all-star down so long.
Tip-off is set for 3:30PM ET.
Projected starting lineups:
- PG Kyle Lowry
- SG DeMar DeRozan
- SF Norman Powell
- PF Serge Ibaka
- C Jonas Valanciunas
- PG Terry Rozier
- SG Jaylen Brown
- SF Jayson Tatum
- PF Marcus Morris
- C Al Horford (probable) – Baynes would replace Horford if he’s out of lineup.