Much of the talk in the Eastern Conference has been about the Boston Celtics taking center stage in the East while the prohibitive favorite Cleveland Cavaliers continue their nightly disappearing act.
And then there’s Toronto (36-16) which is having a strong but stealth-like season with a ton of wins – they trail Boston (39-15) by just two games in the East – with little to no fanfare along the way.
They may be having a sneaky-good season, but the Celtics are well aware of who they are and how difficult it will be to come away with a road win tonight in Toronto.
“They’re playing extremely well,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “Their bench is playing well, their starters … We have our hands full.”
The Raptors feel the same way.
But Toronto also knows that for them to achieve one of their goals this season which is to be the top seed in the East, they’ll likely have to go through Boston.
“We are the two best teams in our conference,” Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan told reporters recently. “And every competitor wants to fight for that top spot. They’re in front of us, it’s one of them things that’s going to be a challenge and you look forward to (those) challenges and you get up for them types of games.”
While both teams have found success, each has taken their own unique path to get there.
Boston’s success is deeply rooted in their defense which has allowed 99.8 points per 100 possessions which has them tops in the league in defensive rating.
Meanwhile, the Raptors have been lighting teams up with a high-powered offense led by DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Toronto averages 111.4 points per game which ranks third in the NBA this season.
Toronto has found success scoring against most teams in the NBA.
But the Raptors know Boston’s defense is on a different than most teams in the NBA.
“You can’t tiptoe into this one or think you are going to go one-on-one, fifteen dribbles and think you are going to get a shot,” Raptors coach Dwayne Casey told reporters. “The ball has to change from side to side. You have to set screens. You have to space against that team and most of all you want to have pace in that game. You don’t want to have a slug-fest.”
Toronto has been-there, done that when these two met earlier this season and the Celtics escaped with a 95-94 win, a victory that came about with Kyrie Irving out due to a minor facial fracture injury.
Irving, who has missed Boston’s last three games due to a right quadriceps bruise, is questionable for tonight’s game.
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Casey believes one of the keys to victory is to stay on the attack from the opening tip until the final horn sounds.
“You can’t be at a three-quarters gait and think you’re going to go by them or score against their length and the way they play defense,” Casey said.
“It’s got to be one of those games where we have to be very disciplined on the defensive end because (DeMar) DeRozan makes you pay, Kyle Lowry has that ability as well,” Horford said. “We just have to be locked in defensively. That will give us our best chance to go in there and win the game.”
Jaylen Brown added, “We have to do the little things. I think we’ll be alright.”