Preview: Raptors at Celtics
The Boston Celtics were swept on a three-game road trip through Miami, Orlando and Brooklyn and return home with questions about the team’s consistency and cohesiveness. Ready to take advantage of the Celtics’ struggles are the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, who visit Boston on Wednesday.
Celtics star Kyrie Irving suggested after the loss to Orlando that perhaps the team was struggling under the weight of higher expectations and it looked like he was right for over three quarters on Monday until the team found a spark and turned a 27-point deficit into a 109-102 loss to the Nets. Boston will get a chance to figure things out at home with seven of the next eight games in its own arena, where they already own one win over Toronto this season. The Raptors, who dropped a 123-116 overtime decision at the Celtics on Nov. 16, brought their latest winning streak to five straight by outlasting the Washington Wizards 140-138 in double-overtime on Sunday. Star forward Kawhi Leonard collected 41 points and 11 rebounds in the victory and the team earned two full days of rest after asking each starter to log 41 minutes or more.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, TSN (Toronto), NBCS Boston
ABOUT THE RAPTORS (33-12): Leonard was named the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 30.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in three wins, capped by Sunday’s star turn. “Kawhi really led us, took over the game,” point guard Kyle Lowry told reporters. “Some unbelievable rebounding, strongman stuff. He did some strongman stuff.” Lowry picked up his own double-double with 12 points and 11 assists against the Wizards but was 4-of-15 from the floor and is shooting 28.6 percent from 3-point range over the last four games.
ABOUT THE CELTICS (25-18): Irving sat out Monday to rest a sore quadriceps muscle but was in his teammates’ ears after the game, imploring them to find that gear they closed the game with and sustain it. “(If) we play (full) out the whole game we’ll be pretty tough to beat,” Boston forward Jayson Tatum told reporters of Irving’s message. “It’s tough being down 27 and trying to make a comeback in this league. Guys are just too good. It can happen, but it’s very rare. So, we’ve got to start out the gate like that and not dig a hole for ourselves.” Tatum finished with a team-high 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting while Jaylen Brown sprang for 22 points in the loss.
1. Celtics G Marcus Smart (illness) sat out Monday and is day-to-day.
2. Toronto PG Fred VanVleet missed Sunday’s win with a thigh contusion and is questionable for Wednesday.
3. The home team took each of the last nine in the series.