As you glance across the NBA landscape, for those of us who deal with teams outside of Cleveland and the Bay Area, there’s usually an opponent on the schedule that’s going to cause problems regardless of how well or woeful a team might be playing is at that point in time.
For the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors (24-13) would indeed qualify as a team that has had their number in recent years.
Including last month’s 101-94 Toronto win, the Celtics are just 4-9 against the Raptors under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.
And three of the four wins were by five points or less.
Stevens knows that throughout all levels of basketball, there are some matchups that pose a stiffer challenge than others regardless of where the respective teams are at that point in their growth.
“The end of the day, people struggle with them because they’re really good,” he said.
And the key to Toronto’s surge towards being an elite team, has been the backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Both are having impressive seasons for the Raptors, and should both be selected as all-stars.
“Lowry and DeRozan are outstanding players,” Stevens said. “Lowry has continued to make huge, game-changing plays deep in the game over and over and over. DeRozan is having a career year and that’s saying something because he was an all-star prior to this. You add on top of that the ability to go small with (Corey) Joseph and (Terrence) Ross, the way (DeMarre) Carroll is shooting the ball, bringing (Patrick) Patterson back, who I think is a huge key to their team. It’s a good team.”
And the same can be said for the Celtics (23-14) who come in having won four in a row and 10 of their last 12 games.
However, as a team with deep playoff-run expectations, Boston still has no true feel for what it will need to get over the hump and be among the last teams standing.
And games like tonight’s against the Raptors will go far in Boston’s quest to figure out where they fall in line with the handful of teams that are expected to be among the better clubs in the NBA this season.
We’ve seen the Celtics take a relatively low-key approach to games like this, trying their best not to give the game too much credence in comparison to others.
But tonight is different.
This is there first real shot since their core guys have been healthy, to play a Raptors team that will be in the mix as a power in the East.
“It’s important. We’re growing as a group,” Boston’s Al Horford told CSNNE.com. “We have a good chance to really go up there and see how much we’ve come along since the last time we played them.”
The Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season right now in terms of wins and losses, although the defense has a few areas in need of shoring up beginning tonight.
Meanwhile, the Raptors have hit a rough patch in their schedule that has resulted in them losing five of their last seven games.
While they may be traveling in opposite directions currently, these two teams seem destined to meet up not only in two more regular season meetings but also in the postseason.
Establishing any kind of potential edge from a mental standpoint, can be huge for the Celtics which is why tonight’s game is one that they take very serious.
“It’s a big one,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “We’re right where we want to be. We had a good last week; We look to have a good week this week, especially against Toronto.”