The one thing that bothers me is when people chirp/comment about how “It’s only Month X this game doesn’t matter”. I don’t know why, it’s not even that big a deal but for some reason it gets under my skin. I got a lot of this when the Celtics went up to Toronto on October 19th for their second game of the season and ultimately collapsed late. Let me be as clear as I possibly can. Every single game this season against the Toronto Raptors matters. It doesn’t matter if it was playing in October, November, when they play again in January or February. When these two teams match up, there is extra importance that comes along with it. How the Celtics to H2H against this team will matter when it comes to playoff seeding, even if its not even Thanksgiving yet. We just saw last year how an early head to head win can help shape things come the Spring (just ask MIN), and for two teams that many think will be competing for that spot in the Finals, I would say home court is pretty important, maybe perhaps more important for the Celtics than it is for TOR. So yeah, just like their first meeting was a big test that the Celtics ultimately failed, tonight gives them another opportunity to not only show progress against a real opponent, but to even things up against a team they will be battling all year with.
So in preparation for tonight’s game, I went back and looked at some areas where I’m going to need Brad & Co to focus on if they plan on pulling this one out. Don’t let this little slide from TOR fool you, they are 5-1 on the road this year, and even though those wins are WSH/PHX/LAL/UTA/SAC you cannot take them lightly. You do that, you die.
For the love of God please guard Serge Ibaka
This is easier said than done. There have been a bunch of Raptors that have had strong starts to their season, but few have been as good as Ibaka. You remember him from that first game, he went 10-14 for 21 points and was a player the Celtics in no way could stop. Many thought it was just a rare fluke performance, but now that it’s been about a month since then we’ve learned that it was most definitely NOT a fluke. Ibaka has been incredible this season, he’s shooting 57% from the floor averaging 17/8, and so far in November he’s feeling it, averaging 64/41% splits with 1.2 3PM a night. I’m looking at you Al Horford, I need you to nut up and win this matchup. That didn’t happen the first time around and it made a huge difference. This is not a player that you can even leave open for a 16 footer or something, he’s going to make it. I’m going to need stellar individual defense from Horford where the Celts will not have to help. Stopping Ibaka is the first step to taking down this giant.
If you watched that first matchup, the biggest problem was they allowed Ibaka to live in the paint. He had only 3 FGM that came from outside that area, and for a team that gives up the 7th fewest points in the paint, I need the Celtics to show up in this area.
Stop being afraid and get to the goddamn line
This isn’t a new problem, any Celtics fan can tell you this team avoids the FT line like the plague, but I can’t stress enough how important it’s going to be last night. In their first meeting, just 6.9% (nice but not nice) of their points came from the FT line. For TOR they almost doubled that. The Celts are still 29th in FTr so this isn’t really something they’ve shown they can do, but I’m going to need Kyrie to actually take a FT tonight (he had 0 FTA in the first meeting), and I’m going to need the starters as a whole to take more than 6 combined FTs. Slow the game down, be aggressive, and get guys in foul trouble. I’m looking at you Jayson and Jaylen.
Shot selection is everything
When you’re playing a great team like TOR, every possession matters. A bad shot may as well be a turnover against this team, and that’s not what we want. Who was the biggest culprit of this in the first meeting? Jayson Tatum. We can’t have another shot chart like this tonight
It’s simply not going to cut it. This is where I need Brad to wake up and put these guys in spots where they can be successful. Between that one and then how Jaylen approached the first game
we need our wings to take the Kawhi approach. You remember how unstoppable it seemed like Kawhi was when he was on his way to 31? It’s not rocket science why, look at his approach
You can’t tell me this team doesn’t have the type of players that can make their way into the paint for high percentage looks. I will not accept that answer. They can, they just settle and don’t, and when that happens things go to hell.
Defend the three point line
This is something that shouldn’t really be all that hard, because few teams guard the three better than the Celts. They are 1st in the league in opponent 3P% so we know they can do it. The Raptors made 13 in the first meeting which is 3 more than the average BOS gives up, and the one adjustment they need to make is they need to remember Kyle Lowry is hunting for those big momentum threes from like 28 feet. You have to extend your coverage a step or two further than you think because not only is he a threat to shoot, but he’s going to make it. He’s like Kyrie in that regard
If you remember, the Celtics ultimately lost the first matchup after some miscommunication with Hayward on the defensive end where he lost Danny Green for a split second, who then hit the dagger corner three to seal it. If the Celtics are able to control the three point line that’s going to make a huge difference.
Don’t close the game like assholes
When you play TOR, they take any mistake you make and immediately make you pay for it. When you start to panic and turn the ball over, or lose focus because you aren’t making shots, it’s a wrap for you. That’s what happened in the fourth quarter in the first game. It went from a 3 point game to a double digit game in the blink of an eye. Poor shot selection led to sloppy play which led to poor defense which led to 48/37% shooting for the Raptors in the final frame which TOR won by 9 points. The Celtics are currently the 11th best 4th quarter scoring team in the NBA (TOR is 19th) in terms of points, but 20th in terms of FG%. So far this season they’ve done a good job of holding onto the ball in the final 12 minutes where they rank 6th in TOs, and they have the 7th best fourth quarter defense so far this season. Show up in that quarter, hell maybe go nuts and play a full 48 minutes, and just see what happens.
Win the bench battle
As I write this I’m not sure if Mook is playing, but regardless the Celtics have to win the second unit battle. This did not happen in the first meeting, and if you subscribe to the theory that role players play better at home, I’m going to need Terry/Smart to not be dickheads and be efficient in their shooting, I’m going to need Morris if he plays to just keep doing what he’s been doing all year, and I’m going to need whatever backup big that’s out there to make sure they fucking box out Valanciunas. This really goes for everyone now that I think about it. I need everyone to box out. Stop giving Serge Ibaka a handful of offensive rebounds.
But back to the bench. The first go around we saw Mook/Smart/Rozier combine for 6-20 shooting. That’s not going to cut it.
Remember, this time around we have Haircut Kyrie, so I fully expect him to be much better, and Tatum’s shot has drastically improved since the first meeting. It’s still going to be a battle and the Celtics will have to be nearly flawless to pull it out, but I feel much more confident this time around. They hung with TOR for 3/4 of that game while still not being able to shoot, so hopefully they can ride the momentum from CHI and pull this out. Make no mistake, going down 0-2 H2H against this team would result in this team being in a pretty big pickle given all the potential tie breakers. The Celts need this one so they can tie things up in the division, tie things up in conference wins, and then obviously tie up the H2H. If the Celtics want to show us they are for real turning a corner after their slow start, it starts tonight against the Raptors
Show me you’re improving. Show me you really are working towards being the best in the East. Now’s your chance.