Boston at Toronto
Time: 7 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: TOR -4
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Toronto Raptors made some waves at the trade deadline in acquiring forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Terrence Ross and a first round pick. The Raptors then acquired P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Jared Sullinger and two second round picks, and also picked up Mike Scott from the Atlanta Hawks for the rights to Cenk Akyol and a top-55 protected 2017 pick. The Raptors added some valuable depth, and Ibaka will be penciled in at the starting 4-spot, which had been a weak point for the Raptors this season.
Toronto is 33-24 but has won just four of its past 10 games and is 14-14 on the road this year. The Raptors needed to switch things up, having fallen to No. 4 in the East, behind surging red-hot Washington in the Eastern Conference standings now. The Raptors were able to defeat the Charlotte Hornets last time out 90-85, but Charlotte has been having host of struggles in its own right. Prior to that victory, the Raptors had lost three-straight to lowly Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota.
Favored tonight by 4-points, this should be a chance for Toronto to get back on track with its new additions in the lineup. Tucker is unlikely to start, but will be a valuable bench cog behind the offensively-limited DeMarre Carroll in the starting lineup. The Raptors will undoubtedly seek to get offense from Ibaka, who will function as a stretch-4 alongside vaunted big man Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors get 12.4 points and 9.8 rebounds from Valanciunas, but he is scarcely an impact at the rim this year blocking under one shot per game.
The Raptors strength remains in its backcourt All-Star tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but Ibaka should be a strong No. 3 option behind those guards. The loss of Terrence Ross’ shooting stroke off the bench may initially hurt Toronto, but Cory Joseph could see an increased role as a 39.4 percent three-point shooter and Tucker is a respectable 33 percent from behind the arc. Ibaka’s shooting should adequately compensate for the loss of Ross, though, all things said.
Toronto becomes a better team, and it needed the roster upgrade if it is to keep pace with Boston, Washington, or even the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason. If Toronto is to occupy the 4th seed, it means an eventual second-round matchup with the Cavaliers, so perhaps making a surge in the standings to put that off until the Conference Finals is instrumental for Toronto at this point.
Boston has surged to the No. 2 spot in the East and trails No. 1 Cleveland by 3.5 games. The Celtics have won eight of its past 10 overall and are 17-12 on the road this season and 24-10 against Eastern Conference opponents. Boston has a +2.8 point differential, while the No. 4 seeded Raptors actually better that at +4.1 points.
Boston has been sacrificing a lot of leads and relying on point guard Isaiah Thomas to bail them out in the fourth quarter. By and large, he has been up to the challenge. Thomas is averaging 29.9 points per game this season to go with 6.3 assists and a PER of 27.7.
The Celtics are loaded in the backcourt, with its second-leading scorer and superb defender Avery Bradley having a career season. Bradley is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds per game from the 2-guard position, with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown both backing up Bradley at the 2/3 spots. Smart has proven to be an elite defender, even against much taller opponents in switches, and he gives Boston that premier isolation defender it will need to counter hot swingmen. That statement applies doubly to workhorse Jae Crowder, who Boston went as far as to make untouchable in any
That statement applies doubly to workhorse Jae Crowder, who Boston went as far as to make untouchable in any negotiations with the Bulls for one Jimmy Butler. Crowder’s billing is that high with GM Danny Ainge, and it is not on the basis of his 13.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Crowder’s energy and non-statistical impacts range atop the list of what he brings to Boston, a tough team that has a lot of veteran savvy, even with an underachieving Al Horford. Horford has largely been a disappointment despite decent per game averages of 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The former Atlanta Hawk is not getting at the glass, and it is not infrequent that Thomas out-rebounds Horford from the point guard position.
The Celtics need some interior toughness and had been linked to Andre Drummond and Serge Ibaka at the deadline, but clearly, nothing transpired there. Instead, the C’s will need a lot more aggressiveness from Horford and will also count on the sustained play of Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson.
Boston has sufficient depth and a rounded roster, but it is really tough to imagine them challenging Cleveland in a seven game series. For now, the focus must be on the Raptors, and this game is something of a statement game for both teams vying for that No. 2 spot behind Cleveland in the East. The Raptors ostensibly have better top-end talent, but Boston is more well-coached and has superior depth.