The Celtics have a huge game tonight against the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are currently 2 games ahead of the Celtics for not only the second overall seed in the East but the top team in the division as well. Sadly, for the Celtics they are going to have to do it without All-Star Point Guard Isaiah Thomas. Let me get one quick thing off my chest before I go on with this post.
The Celtics are not better without Isaiah Thomas. If you are going to watch us play one game against the Magic and make an assumption like that then maybe you should be drug tested. Isaiah is the consistency on this team and the guy who is going to score 20+ everytime he suits up. What the Celtics did last night is not only something that they couldn’t maintain over an entire season without Thomas but is something that will not lead to them making any deep playoff run.
With that off my chest we can get back to tonight’s game. The Celtics will miss Isaiah but certainly have the talent to win games without him. With the depth this team has if they work together they can fill the void he leaves behind. Let’s look at what the rest of the Celtics need to do to fill that void.
Marcus Smart needs to be a floor general:
With Thomas out a huge work load is going to fall onto Marcus Smart. He isn’t going to be necessarily called on to score a ton but he is going to need to be the point guard for this team. He will be called onto to be a leader of this team and make sure their offense is efficient. Against the Magic he played the most complete game I have seen him play all year. Not only was he as good defensively but his composure offensively was something I have been waiting a long time for him to show. Far too many times we see Marcus shoot to many threes and just play way to fast on offense. Now I don’t mind him shooting threes I’m just looking for him to be an efficient offensive player. He was exactly that against the Magic. He shot 71.4% from the field and although he only had 3 assists did a great job of controlling tempo and getting Celtics good shots. The Celtics don’t need Smart to try and be Isaiah Thomas, they need Smart to be the best version of himself he can be. They need Smart to continue to be the floor general of this offense and make all of the players around him better.
The Celtics bench needs to step up:
Against the Magic and Rockets this bench came up huge. In both games they helped spark runs that lead to a win against the Magic and them almost stealing one from the Rockets in Houston. With Thomas out the bench becomes even more important. Guys like Olynyk, Jerebko, Rozier and Brown need to come in full of energy. They don’t necessarily all need to shoot the ball amazingly but they certainly need to find some way to impact the game. Olynyk and Jerebko both need to focus on not doing too much. Olynyk can score the ball very well and be a viable playermaker when he lets the game come to him. It is when he forces it that he leaves us Celtics fans scratching our heads and wondering why he is in the game. Jerebko is someone who makes an impact that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. I love watching him make crafty plays that lead to extra Celtics possessions. He just always seems to be at the right place at the right time and Boston is going to need that spark tonight. Rozier and Brown just need to bring energy. Both have played amazing as of late and their contributions will be needed tonight. Rozier needs to continue to play with the confidence he has as of late. His confidence has allowed him to be a more then serviceable backup point guard for Boston. He is not only giving all-out effort on defense but he is making the right decisions on offense. Brown is a guy that I really don’t know what to expect from. He is showing signs of being able to be something really special. He has a NBA ready body even as a rookie and has used that to make an impact early. His athleticism is allowing him to make plays that no one else on this roster can make. If he can play like he did against the Magic again tonight he will give them a huge boost.
Al Horford needs to do a little bit of everything:
Al Horford is really settling into his role with this Celtics team. That role has been doing a little bit of everything. He has done his fair share of scoring this year but has also filled up the stat sheet in a lot of other categories. If the Celtics want to win tonight Horford is going to need to do a little bit of everything once again. The offense runs smooth when Horford is involved and he impacts it just as much as anyone else. The Celtics love to run the high pick and roll with Horford. Horford ability to shoot keeps the defense guessing on the pick and roll and allows for the Guard to either use the lane it gives him to the rim or dump it off to Horford(He is 5th in the league averaging 4.7 screen assists per game) This adds consistency to the Celtics offense and keeps Horford involved on almost every possession. Defensively Horford has been great as well. He is averaging 2.6 blocks per game and has given the Celtics some form of rim protection. The Celtics are going to need a big game from Horford tonight and I think he’ll give It to them. I also expect Horford to get his first triple double of the year tonight as Boston is going to ask him to do a lot.
Lowry and Derozan need to be contained:
Lowry and Derozan are one of the most dangerous backcourts in the league. They are averaging 48.8 points combined per game so far this season and really do it all for this Raptors team. They score a lot and they can do it in a hurry. Luckily for the Celtics they have one of the best defensive back courts in the league. It is unrealistic to shut down both of these guys. Both of these guys are going to shoot and continue to shoot even if they are struggling. They are going to get their points one way or another. All they need to do defensively is make them earn every point. Let’s see them make DeRozan take 25-30 shots to score his 28 points. Both of these guys already are going to shoot a bunch so making sure they aren’t efficient is a key in this game.
This game is going to tell us a lot about this Celtics team. Even with their All-Star point guard out can they come together and win this extremely important game? I expect the Celtics to come out ready to play. I expect them to come out and have a whole lot of energy on the defensive end. I already know Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley can’t wait for the challenge of guarding these two Stars and are going to take pride in shutting them down. I expect this game to be close but I think the Celtics pull it out. They are finally starting to look like the team we thought we’d see and I don’t see the Raptors stopping that.
Final score: 98-96 Celtics win