Celtics

Celtics-Raptors preview: Elite defense meets high-powered offense

Celtics-Raptors preview: Elite defense meets high-powered offense

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.

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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.”

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Report: Knicks given slight edge over Celtics as Kyrie's free-agent destination

Report: Knicks given slight edge over Celtics as Kyrie's free-agent destination

Those pesky Kyrie-to-the-Knicks rumors have been around even before Yahoo's Chris Mannix mentioned the Celtics were "scared" of Kyrie Irving heading there next summer. They picked up steam this week with another report of The Big Apple as a destination for Irving and Jimmy Butler to join forces.

Now, ESPN's NBA Forecast Panel gives the Knicks a slight edge over the Celtics to land Irving, 46.9 percent to  43.8 percent.

Here's part of the panel's explanation on ESPN's "The Jump": 

It would take some salary-cap machinations for New York to lure Irving to play close to where he grew up in West Orange, N.J. They would likely have to risk losing Kristaps Porzingis in free agency next summer by not giving him a big-money extension this season. 

There's also a potential pursuit of Kevin Durant in free agency next summer as the Knicks - playoff-less since 2013 and title-less for 45 years - make another attempt to spend their way back to relevance. 

Irving has made it clear he's not going to cost himself millions by signing an extension with the C's this season ("Contractually, financially, it just doesn’t make any sense”) and is headed to free agency, so, with training camp more than a month away, get used to a season full of questions about his future. And expect the Knicks speculation to heat up before the four C's-Knicks games (Oct. 20 and Feb. 6 in New York and Nov. 21 and Dec. 6 in Boston). 

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Danny Ainge has got the jokes...aimed at Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown

Danny Ainge has got the jokes...aimed at Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown

Danny Ainge was busy on Twitter late last night poking a little fun at a couple of his players.

Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, wondered where the defense was in a video of "Scary" Terry Rozier playing in a pickup game with Wizards guard John Wall and other NBAers. 

A little good-natured payback for Rozier's FaceTime interruption of Ainge's drafting of Robert Williams back in June?

A few minutes before his Rozier tweet, Ainge saw a video tweeted by Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton of Jaylen Brown showing his skills on the piano at the Berkeley campus' Sproul Plaza. Brown spent a year at Cal before being drafted by Boston in 2016.

Ainge couldn't resist a jab at Brown's ball-handling skills. 

So, Celtics players, post those Twitter videos at your own risk because the boss is watching.

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