BOSTON – Following the Celtics' 97-94 win at Utah on Wednesday, Shane Larkin and Terry Rozier did their postgame interview together.
It was a fitting image when you consider the impact of losing Kyrie Irving (left knee) for the remainder of the regular season and how the combined efforts of Larkin and Rozier have helped the Celtics get by to the tune of five consecutive wins.
Their play will once again be front-and-center tonight when the Celtics host the East-leading Toronto Raptors.
Boston (52-23) comes in trailing the Raptors (55-20) by three games for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
For the Celtics to keep winning, they will need many to step up – that includes Larkin and Rozier.
Rozier will be tasked with doing it as a starter, a role the third-year guard seems quite comfortable in.
With the first unit, Rozier is averaging 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
Although Rozier only has 11 starts in the NBA, there are only a handful of players who have put up numbers as good as Rozier this season.
That list includes Cleveland's LeBron James, Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, Golden State's Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, New Orleans' DeMarcus Cousins and Blake Griffin of Detroit.
Rozier only had 13 points against the Jazz, but he scored 11 of those in the fourth quarter.
- MORE CELTICS - C's youthful core keeping them afloat
“I just got it going,” Rozier said. “I was just more happy that we stayed in the game and we fought the whole game. I didn't really care about the individual stats. I was over there cheering and we fought the whole game.”
Larkin added, “We're a bunch of fighters on this team. We play together. Whenever somebody goes down, it's next man up mentality."
Here are five under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on in tonight as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference meet:
Strong bench play has been a critical component of both Boston and Toronto this season. Boston comes into tonight’s game averaging 41.1 points off the bench which ranks 10th in the league since the All-Star break. The Raptors have been even better with an average of 46.2 bench points per game, which trails only the Miami Heat (48.8)
The Raptors have won 50 or more games for the third straight season. On the surface that may not seem like that a big deal, but it really is. In the franchise’s previous 20 years of existence, the team had never won more than 49 games in a season.
Boston has been among the top teams in the Eastern Conference and will have home-court advantage, but...is it really an advantage? Lately, the Celtics have struggled to find victories in front of the TD Garden faithful. Since Dec. 15, Boston is 11-11 at home, which includes them losing five of their last eight. For the season, Boston's 24-13 record at home ranks 12th in the NBA.
GREEN LIGHT SHOOTING
Boston’s success on its recent Western trip was fueled by putting together some historical shooting performances. In the Celtics’ past four games, they've made at least 10 three-pointers while shooting at least 48 percent from 3-point range. They join this season’s Utah Jazz team as the only teams in NBA history to achieve those benchmarks for shooting, in four consecutive games.
THE (UNEXPECTED) CLOSERS
One of the most talked-about storylines surrounding the Celtics this season has been how injuries have led to some seldom-used players now finding themselves in different, more prominent roles. This has certainly been the Celtics way of late. In their past six games, the team’s leaders in minutes played in the fourth quarter are Shane Larkin (52) and Semi Ojeleye (47).