The Raptors travel to my neck of the woods to face the Celtics in what (I hope) should be an extremely competitive game. With the Raptors trailing the Celtics by just a half-game for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, it should not be understated how important this game is in terms of momentum. So with that, here are - what I believe to be - the keys to tonight's game.
i. In Lowry We Trust: Kyle Lowry put on an outstanding performance in last night's game against the Pelicans. Aside from showing great leadership and at times complete selflessness on the court (more on this later), he drove the dagger with a game winning shot that no one thought would go in. Playing approximately 45 minutes, he was 11/21 in the field, 6/14 from deep, 5/7 from the line, and was a +9 for the game. Although the minutes have been much higher than we're probably comfortable with when it comes to Lowry, without DeRozan sharing the back-court, along with Cory Joseph not playing very well at all (understatement, I know), his playing time is simply a necessity if the Raptors want to win games. Lowry needs to show these same leadership qualities tonight in Boston if the Raptors stand a chance.
ii. Defens... sorry, Defence: The Raptors really need to step up their defense if they want to start winning ball games consistently, let alone tonight. Beside the fact that the Celtics seem to be on a tear, the lack of defense and complete reliance on their offense is really exposing the Raptors. Tonight, the Raptors must hustle and get back from transition much sharper. Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford have been destroying teams as of late. However, if JV can put up a performance much like he did last night against Anthony Davis, and perhaps have Powell cover IT for the better part of the game, the Raptors should do enough to disrupt the Celtics and get the W. And speaking of Powell...
iii. #NormToTheFuture: That's right, I'm making this a fucking thing. Hate on it if you must, but it's a thing, goddamnit! Norman Powell is the future of the Raptors. That part where I mentioned Lowry's selflessness earlier? Yeah, even he kept feeding the ball to Powell. I'M SAYIN'!
With the absence of DeRozan, Norman Powell has shown that he has more than earned far more than 9 minutes on the floor. Although he can get a little bottled up when driving in the lane, there's no question that Norm has the right amount of aggressiveness to completely shift the momentum (as shown last night). He has simply fearless. I mean, have you seen THIS?!
Just fucking unreal. Having said that, though, Norm's vision needs to expand a little bit, as it is becoming increasingly obvious that he plans on driving to the lane and attacking defenders. If he can collapse the opposing defense and kick the ball out to one of Ross, Patterson, or Lowry, the Raptors will have a better opportunity to hit shots from deep. That and, well, Norm seems to be allergic to layups lately.... yyyeeaaaahhhh.....
iv: Get Big, JV: Jonas Valanciunas proved that he can matchup with Anthony Davis on both ends of the court. He played with aggression and was a key contributor for the Raptors' victory last night over the Pelicans. He's going to have to harness that same energy tonight against Al Horford and play equally as aggressive. I understand that the Casey still wants to keep giving Lucas Nogueira minutes to give him that experience, but with a game as important as this against the Celtics, Jonas should be in for a big night.
v. Short Leashes: As mentioned, Cory Joseph has been less than stellar lately, especially on defense. Add Terrence Ross to that list, too. The bench really needs to step up with DeRozan side-lined, allowing Lowry the opportunity to rest his body given all the minutes he's been logging. If CoJo can just stick to his defender and not be so "all over the place," while at the same time Ross being able to put up those shots from deep, it will serve the Celtics well while the starters in their lineups take some time to rest. This is critical.
So that's all I got. Living in New England and having these fucking Green Teamers everywhere, sticking their noses up to the Raptors (who THEY HAVEN'T EVEN BEATEN YET THIS SEASON!), I would REALLY love to see the Raptors take this one. ESPECIALLY without DeRozan.
Plus, c'mon... get Dwane Casey the opportunity to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars.