TORONTO There are certain games that, regardless of how teams actually leading up to them are, present an added degree of difficulty. Tonight is one of those games for the Boston Celtics. After a hard-fought 88-87 nationally televised loss to the Los Angeles, the C's (14-11) must turn around less than 24 hours to face a Toronto team, on the road, who has been home since Tuesday.
And when you sprinkle in the fact that Boston hosts Eastern Conference-leading Chicago (22-6) on Sunday afternoon, you can see why Celtics head coach Doc Rivers refers to tonight's matchup as a "trap" game.
Boston is the better team. You won't find any argument along those lines.
But there's no question Toronto's chances of winning are heightened by factors that have absolutely nothing to do with their own preparation.
Here are some other factors to consider as the Celtics try to get back on track against the Raptors.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Celtics' ball movement has actually been pretty good all season. More than 65 percent of their made baskets come via an assist, which is tops in the NBA. In the Lakers loss, 22 of their 38 made baskets, or 57.9 percent, came by way of an assist. When you talk about ball movement and assists with the Celtics, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce are the keys. Injuries have limited them to playing in just 14 games together this season, with Boston going 8-6 with them both in the lineup. In those eight wins, they combine to average 16.9 assists. In the six losses, that number drops to 12.3.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs. DeMar DeRozan: The two best scorers for their respective teams, this is a matchup Pierce should win all day. But the thing about DeRozan is he, like a lot of young players, plays better at home. On the road, he averages 14 points per game. At home, that number jumps to 16.2. The biggest factor? He shoots the ball better. On the road, he connects on 36.5 percent of his shots. At home, he shoots 43 percent.
PLAYER TO WATCH - We all know Kevin Garnett shot the ball poorly Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, and research afterward showed that it was historically bad by KG standards. In going 6-for-23 from the field, KG missed his last nine shots - the first time he missed that many consecutive shots as a member of the Boston Celtics. In addition, it was only the second time in his NBA career (at Cleveland, Jan. 29, 2002, then with Minnesota) that he missed his final nine shots of a game. Look for the C's to try and establish him down on the post early, just to get him into a better rhythm shooting the ball.
STAT TO TRACK - The Boston Celtics have been one of the NBA's worst teams at getting to the free throw line, which is another indictment of how they have a team that relies heavily - arguably, too heavily - on jump-shots. Boston averages 19.6 free throw attempts per game, which ranks 27th in the NBA. They don't necessarily have to get more attempts than that to beat Toronto, but another five free attempt night like the one we saw against the Lakers will make for yet another game in which the Celtics made harder than it needed to be.