The Boston Celtics look to return to their winning ways as they try to snap their two-game losing streak against the Tornoto Raptors, who they lost to earlier this season in the last ten seconds of the game.
The Celtics (24-7) were once the hottest team in the NBA, riding a 14-game winning streak into Christmas Day. However, their injuries seem to have caught up to them as they dropped the Christmas matchup to the Orlando Magic in a fourth quarter meltdown, had Kevin Garnett go down in a losing effort in Detriot, and then turned around and lost to the New Orleans Hornets 83-81 in another game that was decided late in the fourth quarter.
The Raptors (11-21) have caught the injury bug as well as they had a total of eight healthy players in their last game. Toronto defeated the Celtics back on November 21, taking the game 102-101 on two clutch Amir Johnson free throws. That loss marked the beginning of Boston's 14-game streak.
The Celtics have been without point guard Rajon Rondo for the last seven games as he continues to nurse an ankle injury he sustained a few weeks ago against the New York Knicks. Rondo was reportedly ready to go against New Orleans after going through an early morning workout and was in uniform in shoot-around. However, Celtics coach Doc Rivers decided against playing the star guard, who was later seen with his foot in a bucket of ice.
Boston will also be without Kevin Garnett for the second straight game with a strained calf muscle. The Celtics received good news on Garnett as they determined he would only miss about two weeks of action. They will now have to use Shaquille O'Neal as the primary post-up man against an undersized Toronto front court.
With both Rondo and Garnett out, the Celtics will likely have to turn to Nate Robinson and Glen Davis once again for some big minutes rather than using them in the bench roles they are used to.
Robinson is averaging 8.4 PPG, but only about four assists a game, a clear downgrade from Rondo's 13.8. Robinson has taken over the majority of the playing time vacated by Rondo at 33 MPG, but Marquis Daniels has been contributing significant time as well, with the team playing very well when the "glue man" is on the court.
Davis will likely have a tougher time adjusting, as he is smaller and will struggle to make up for KG's contributions in the rebounding action. The Celtics now have a healthy Jermaine O'Neal as well, and could use him and Shaquille O'Neal in the front court at times.
The Celtics will now have to turn to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for their primary offensive production. Allen led the Celtics with 18 points against the Hornets and nearly hit a game-winning three-pointer. He has been averaging about 16 points per game over his last five games, and played a near season high in minutes with 40 against the Hornets.
Paul Pierce struggled somewhat against New Orleans only managing 12 points and seven assists. Doc Rivers has let Pierce serve as a point forward with Rondo out, but he has only averaged about five assists in his last five games. Pierce was his own greatest critic:
"Maybe Paul Pierce has to do a better job in stepping up his game," Pierce said in third person. "I really didn’t come to play to today, evident when you look up, six turnovers, but we only lose by two. The responsibility is on the guys out on the floor."
The Celtics and Raptors tip-off at 6 p.m. EST. at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.