The Raptors (55-22) and the Celtics (53-24) are engaged in a two-team battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and will face one another in Toronto on Wednesday. The home team currently has a two game buffer over Boston, and could all but sew up top spot if they can earn themselves a victory in this game.
Both sides are coming off losses, the Raptors having gone down 106-112 against Cleveland yesterday. Too few players contributed for Toronto, with DeMar DeRozan leading their scorers with 19 points.
Boston also had a loss yesterday, a 102-106 defeat at the hands of the Bucks. Young stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined for 44 points, but it wasn’t enough against a Milwaukee side led by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 29 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Three keys to the game
Last time they met - Last time these sides met was just last weekend, and the Celtics won it pretty easily. It was close for much of the game, but on the back of a 28-15 final quarter, Boston earned themselves a 110-99 victory. That game was in Boston though, and at home the Raptors are a different prospect; they are 31-7 in Canada this season.
Kyle Lowry’s scoring form - Lowry has had a down year in terms of scoring this season, averaging 16.4 points per game, six points fewer than last season. Despite battling his way back into form since the All-Star break, he has once again regressed in the past few games. He hasn’t scored more than 11 points in any of his past four games, and averages just 9.5 points per game in this time.
Defense - Both sides have earned themselves a top two seed on the back of being an excellent defensive team this season, particularly the Celtics. They have the best defensive rating in the league throughout 2017/18, allowing just 101.4 points per 100 possessions. The Raptors aren’t far behind with a defensive rating of 103.9, sixth best in the league, and the team which is the most locked in defensively in this game may well end up victorious.
Matchup to watch
Jaylen Brown vs DeMar DeRozan - DeRozan has cooled off a little after his All-Star-caliber first half of the season, but he is still a highly dangerous player as he showed Boston last weekend. In that game he went 12-for-19 from the field for 32 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out seven assists. Boston’s number three pick from the 2016 draft will be hoping to redeem himself at both ends of the floor this time around, having scored just four points himself in the last game against Toronto. Brown bounced back yesterday to put up 24 points against the Bucks, and will be hoping for a similar performance in this one against a player he could be facing in the Eastern Conference finals in a few weeks time.
Toronto Raptors predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka | C - Jonas Valanciunas
Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup
PG - Terry Rozier | SG - Jaylen Brown | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford | C - Aron Brynes
As mentioned, it was DeRozan who hurt the Celtics the most in their most recent matchup, even if it wasn’t enough to get Toronto over the line. His 32 points were a game high, and his seven assists were more than any other player in the game with the exception of Lowry. In his career against Boston, the Raptors shooting guard averages 20.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Boston have been given a 7.5-point head start in this game, and though they probably won’t win, they’ll be able to keep it close enough to cover this margin. Both sides will be motivated to put in a good performance, and when the Celtics play their best defense it’s hard to beat them by a lot. Back them to cover the line.
Toronto will get redemption for Saturday’s loss in this game, proving to the league that they are deserving of the number one seed in the east. Rozier is under an injury cloud, but even if he plays, and as good as he has been since Irving’s injury, he and Brown are nowhere near the caliber of backcourt that the experienced Lowry and DeRozan are.
Combined with the Raptors' incredible depth on the bench, this will be enough to earn them a valuable home victory. It will be close, but Toronto will send the Celtics home with a 101-106 defeat.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.