Celtics

Celtics-Raptors preview: C's face true test in Toronto

Celtics-Raptors preview: C's face true test in Toronto

As you glance across the NBA landscape, for those of us who deal with teams outside of Cleveland and the Bay Area, there’s usually an opponent on the schedule that’s going to cause problems regardless of how well or woeful a team might be playing is at that point in time.

For the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors (24-13) would indeed qualify as a team that has had their number in recent years.

Including last month’s 101-94 Toronto win, the Celtics are just 4-9 against the Raptors under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

And three of the four wins were by five points or less.

Stevens knows that throughout all levels of basketball, there are some matchups that pose a stiffer challenge than others regardless of where the respective teams are at that point in their growth.

“The end of the day, people struggle with them because they’re really good,” he said.

And the key to Toronto’s surge towards being an elite team, has been the backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Both are having impressive seasons for the Raptors, and should both be selected as all-stars.

“Lowry and DeRozan are outstanding players,” Stevens said. “Lowry has continued to make huge, game-changing plays deep in the game over and over and over. DeRozan is having a career year and that’s saying something because he was an all-star prior to this. You add on top of that the ability to go small with (Corey) Joseph and (Terrence) Ross, the way (DeMarre) Carroll is shooting the ball, bringing (Patrick) Patterson back, who I think is a huge key to their team. It’s a good team.”

And the same can be said for the Celtics (23-14) who come in having won four in a row and 10 of their last 12 games.

However, as a team with deep playoff-run expectations, Boston still has no true feel for what it will need to get over the hump and be among the last teams standing.

And games like tonight’s against the Raptors will go far in Boston’s quest to figure out where they fall in line with the handful of teams that are expected to be among the better clubs in the NBA this season.

We’ve seen the Celtics take a relatively low-key approach to games like this, trying their best not to give the game too much credence in comparison to others.

But tonight is different.

This is there first real shot since their core guys have been healthy, to play a Raptors team that will be in the mix as a power in the East.

“It’s important. We’re growing as a group,” Boston’s Al Horford told CSNNE.com. “We have a good chance to really go up there and see how much we’ve come along since the last time we played them.”

The Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season right now in terms of wins and losses, although the defense has a few areas in need of shoring up beginning tonight.

Meanwhile, the Raptors have hit a rough patch in their schedule that has resulted in them losing five of their last seven games.

While they may be traveling in opposite directions currently, these two teams seem destined to meet up not only in two more regular season meetings but also in the postseason.

Establishing any kind of potential edge from a mental standpoint, can be huge for the Celtics which is why tonight’s game is one that they take very serious.

“It’s a big one,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “We’re right where we want to be. We had a good last week; We look to have a good week this week, especially against Toronto.”

Marcus Smart upgrade to questionable for Game 5

Marcus Smart upgrade to questionable for Game 5

BOSTON –  Once considered a long shot to return by Game 7 of Boston’s first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, Marcus Smart may be on the floor as soon as Tuesday night's Game 5 matchup.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said there was no update on Smart following the team’s practice on Monday, but the team has since upgraded Smart's status to “questionable” for Game 5 – the first time he has been listed as anything other than “out” since he had his right thumb surgically repaired last month.

In the past couple of weeks, Smart has increased his workload and made it clear that he was inching closer to getting back on the floor possibly ahead of schedule. 

Prior to Boston’s Game 4 loss, Smart discussed his potential return. 

“I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there,” Smart said at the time. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”

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It appears his most recent visit to the doctor went as planned with Smart now likely cleared to practice – and with that clearance, available to play. 

The return of Smart would be a huge plus for a Celtics team that has struggled mightily in this first-round series against Milwaukee from a defensive standpoint. 

During the regular season, Boston had a league-best defensive rating of 101.5. But against the Bucks, Boston’s defense has slipped to second-to-last among playoff teams which has heavily factored into the series now being tied at two games apiece. 

You can count Boston's Jaylen Brown among the Celtics eager to get Smart back into the fold. 

“When he gets in there he changes the whole game on defense,” Brown said. “He’s definitely missed so when he comes back that’ll make a lot of our jobs a whole lot easier.”

Stevens had similar sentiments about Smart. 

“Marcus is one of our most reliable players for the last four years,” Stevens said. “No question Marcus as been a huge part of us.”

Smart has appeared in 54 games for the Celtics this season, averaging 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds while playing 29.9 minutes per game.

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Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

BOSTON -- The NBA’s two-minute report on Boston’s Game 4 loss at Milwaukee revealed a trio of incorrect non-calls in the closing moments of play, two of which went against the Celtics in their 104-102 loss. 

With Boston ahead 100-99 with less than a minute to play, Jaylen Brown lost the ball on a driving lay-up attempt. 

No call was made on the play, one that Brown thought he was fouled on. 

The two-minute report confirmed “that (Khris) Middleton makes contact to Brown's arm that affects his driving shot attempt.”

Had the call been made, Brown would have gone to the free throw line with 43.5 seconds to play with the Celtics already ahead by one point. 

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But on the ensuing Milwaukee possession following the non-call, Malcolm Brogdon drained a 3-pointer that put the Bucks ahead 102-100.

With 47.9 seconds to play, the two-minute report also indicated that an offensive foul should have been called against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-minute report indicated that, “Antetokounmpo extends his arm and wards off (Semi) Ojeleye's arm, affecting his ability to contest the shot attempt.”

And with 1:14 to play, Antetokounmpo was fouled by Jayson Tatum although no call was made. On the play, the two-minute report says that, “Tatum clamps Antetokounmpo's arm and pushes him, affecting his (freedom of movement) and ability to receive the pass.

On the ensuing possession following the non-call, Tatum hit a jumper that put the Celtics ahead 100-99 with 52.4 seconds to play. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been asked about officiating quite a bit in the last few days. And his response in each instance remains relatively the same.

"I'm not going to ever say anything bad about referees because they have a really tough job," Stevens said. 

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