Celtics-Raptors review: C's rally in fourth

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Celtics-Raptors review: C's rally in fourth

TORONTO For most of Wednesday's game against Toronto, the Raptors were the better team.
They played with more energy, more speed, more effort.
And then the fourth quarter rolled around, and the Boston Celtics?
They just started to roll all over the Raptors as the C's rallied for a 99-95 win after going into the fourth quarter looking up at a double-digit deficit.
"We didn't play our best game tonight," said Celtics guard Jason Terry.
And more often than not, that spells D-E-F-E-A-T for the C's (25-23), winners of five in a row.
"It shows that you're very resilient as a group, and when things aren't going good, you can still dig deeper and find a way to get it done," Terry said.
Although the Celtics were relatively close to the Raptors most of the game, Doc Rivers did not like what he was seeing from his club.
"I just didn't think we played with a lot of speed and a lot of force," Rivers said. "Give them credit. Some of it was them, too."
"This was a good win for us," he added. "We didn't have it at stages and we just kind of kept looking for the right lineup, the right group."
Rivers finally stumbled upon the right combination in the fourth, a group that was led by Leandro Barbosa who scored 12 of his 14 points off the C's bench in the fourth quarter.
"Great lift" was how Avery Bradley described Barbosa's fourth quarter scoring binge.
"LB played very good today," Bradley said. "It just shows no matter who Doc puts on the floor, everybody is always prepared and ready to give their all every time they're put on the floor, no matter what position. We just go out there and compete."
And lately, win. Boston (25-23) has now strung together five straight wins heading into the always-intense battle with Cross-coast rival, the Los Angeles Lakers.
But before all the attention shifts towards the Lakers, here's a recap of the keys outlined prior to Boston's win over Toronto, and how those factors contributed to the game's outcome.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics will be challenged to keep this from becoming a track meet in high tops. Boston wants to get out and run, but so do the more athletic Raptors. Keeping the game in the low-to-mid 90s would be in Boston's best interest.
WHAT WE SAW: The game's tempo was indeed to the Celtics' liking, even if their play for the most part left a lot to be desired. A strong fourth quarter at both ends of the floor was just enough to squeak out the victory for the C's.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kyle Lowry: Bradley's defense in many ways is predicated on him being physical with opponents, a tough task against Lowry who has Bradley by (at least) 25 pounds. Look for Bradley to pick his spots more than usual when it comes to pressuring Lowry.
WHAT WE SAW: Bradley had a solid game offensively (11 points), but Lowry proved why the Raptors were so willing to trade away Jose Calderon and hand over the offense to Lowry. He finished with a near triple-double of 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in addition to four steals.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Amir Johnson is a high-energy player, the kind that in the past has caused problems for the Celtics. As a starter for Toronto, he's averaging 14.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and has had double digit rebounds in three of their last five games.
WHAT WE SAW: He continues to produce as a starter, tallying 16 points and 12 rebounds on Wednesday. But like the rest of the Raptors big men, his inability to limit Kevin Garnett in the post and from the perimeter, proved to be the difference in the game.

STAT TO TRACK: Defensive rebounds are always important, but they have been especially valuable to these two teams. During its four game winning streak, the Celtics have ranked 8th in the NBA in defensive rebounds (32.8) per game. As for the Raptors, they are 11-4 this season when they win the defensive boards battle.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston continues to be one of the league's better defensive rebounding clubs during their winning streak, grabbing 35 defensive boards compared to 31 for the Raptors. The Celtics' work on the defensive boards really paid off in the fourth. It allowed them to get out in transition quicker, which led to seven of Boston's 10 fast-break points for the game. And while Toronto had 18 fast-break points on Wednesday, only two came in the decisive fourth quarter.

NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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From now until training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the NBA and the upcoming season. Today: Who will be the NBA MVP?

BOSTON – It’ll be months before we have a feel for who the best players in the NBA will be this season.
 
But it’s never too soon to start looking at potential NBA candidates, is it?

This year’s MVP race will have plenty of contenders of course, some being familiar faces while there’s likely to be at least one or two who emerge as the season progresses.
 
Here’s a look at five players who should emerge as league MVP candidates this season:
 

5. Damian Lillard, Portland
 
Only 26 years old, the former rookie of the year award winner has been selected to a pair of All-Star games. But that’s not what will make him an MVP candidate this season. He plays for the Blazers, a team whose rebuild following LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure to San Antonio, has taken off quicker than expected.
 
Expectations were extremely low for a Portland team that shocked the NBA world and finished with the fifth-best record in the West and advanced to the second round last season.
 
Terry Stotts emerged as one of the league’s better coaches and guard C.J. McCollum garnered the league’s Most Improved Player award.
 
But the engine that makes the Blazers go is Lillard.
 
The 6-foot-2 guard’s ability to score from the perimeter, off the dribble and all points on the floor, makes him an extremely difficult cover.
 
And while the addition of ex-Celtic Evan Turner will help take some of the playmaking pressure off Lillard, this is still his team and will go only as far as he can lead them.
 

4. LeBron James, Cleveland
 
As we saw in Cleveland’s run towards the franchise’s first NBA title last season, James can become the most dominant player at both ends of the floor when the game matters most. And while those qualities will certainly make him one of the best in the game, James isn’t likely to be as dominant as we’ve seen in past years.
 
And the reason can be summed up in two words: Kyrie Irving.
 
Irving really had a coming out of sorts in the NBA Finals when he outplayed two-time league MVP Stephen Curry which was one of the biggest reasons for Cleveland’s championship aspirations coming to fruition.
 
And let’s face it.
 
James can win this award every year and those who vote for him would have plenty of legitimate reasons to do so.
 
But this season, James will likely be sharing more of the limelight than ever with Irving who may be called upon to pick up more of the offensive slack depending on how things play out with free agent J.R. Smith.
 

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State
 
As the reigning league MVP each of the past two seasons, it will be difficult for Curry to do enough to garner a 3-peat.
 
When he won his first MVP award, Golden State was poised to win its first NBA title in 40 years. And last season’s MVP hardware came at the tail-end of an unprecedented season in which Golden State became the gold standard for regular season success with 73 wins.

But this regular season will be one in which Curry’s numbers are likely to take a dip with the arrival of Kevin Durant.

Still, Curry will continue to be the player most of the league’s shooting guards are measured against and far more often than not, fall short in their efforts to be as good as Curry.
 
The addition of Durant will certainly shift some of the immense on-the-floor attention Curry usually gets, which should make for an easier time for Curry.
 
But here’s the thing.
 
Just like opponents will be focusing more attention towards Durant, the same holds true for the media and fans which means Curry may in fact become a more efficient player this year with fewer folks actually recognizing it.
 

2. Paul George, Indiana
 
With a year back in the game following a horrific knee injury, Paul George is poised to re-enter the league MVP race with a vengeance.
 
The 6-9 George comes into this season with a number of factors working out in his favor to at least give his candidacy a legitimate shot of getting started.
 
For starters, he’s as healthy as he has been in years. In the past few years, that has been one of the biggest factors that has kept him from being in the league MVP conversation. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird has assembled a talented group whose collective strengths work well with what George brings to the game.
 
And speaking of the Pacers, those additions along with George’s ability should lift Indiana into being among the top five or six teams in the East. The closer to the top they finish, the better George’s chances become.
 

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State

Even though Durant has joined a Golden State team that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons, he will come in and immediately become the alpha male of this team.

Durant probably won't wind up winning a fifth scoring title, but he will still be among the leagues’ top scorers and lead the Warriors offensively.
 
And while the success of Golden State will hinge heavily on the contributions of many, their regular season success will be credited in large part to the addition of Durant which can only enhance his chances of winning league MVP for a second time in his career.
 
He will be the first to tell you that his focus going into this season has absolutely nothing to do with being the NBA’s MVP.
 
And I believe him.
 
Durant signed with Golden State to win a championship; it’s that simple.
 
And in doing so, he bypassed the comfort of staying with Oklahoma City or penning a new narrative in his basketball journey by joining a team trending towards a championship but not quite there yet.
 
But for him to win a championship, it would mean continuing to be a dominant force while meshing his skills with an even more talented group of teammates.
 
For Durant to put up numbers similar to those he has in the past AND win more games towards a title, will be more than enough to assert his place among the game’s top players.
 
It’s what you would expect from the MVP.