Friday Night Lights: Celtics welcome Raptors in Garden showdown
Friday night’s game between Toronto and Boston was supposed to be circled on the calendar as one of the early and pivotal tests of strength between two Eastern Conference powers. But as of this moment, there is only one team fulfilling that lofty promise and it isn’t the Celtics. Toronto has blazed its way to a 12-1 record as of this writing while the Celtics are struggling to stay above .500 after dropping four of their last five with Wednesday night’s battle against the Bulls still yet to be played. If Boston is to compete this season then games against teams like Chicago should be gimmes but nothing at this point can be taken for granted.
The prospect of starting this year with a healthy roster consisting of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, coupled with the immense young talent Danny Ainge has acquired through cunning and guile, set the bar championship high. However, their most recent road trip, which saw the Green drop four of their five road tilts, has fans shaking their collective heads and begging for answers. Perhaps most disconcerting was Boston’s lethargy in Sunday night’s game in Portland when they fell behind by 17 points at the half, knowing that this was the last game of what had been a spectacularly disappointing road trip. The Celtics would close the gap in the second half but it proved too little too late in the 100-94 setback.
The cure to what ails them has been speculated as anything from trading a reportedly disgruntled Terry Rozier to this gem from Kyrie Irving, "Right now I think it would be nice if we had someone that was a 15-year vet, a 14-year vet that could kind of help us race along the regular season and understand it’s a long marathon rather than just a full-on sprint."
Perhaps the Celtics do need maturity on their roster but it was essentially this same band of brothers that took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games before they bowed just six months ago. The only difference was that the maturity they suddenly seek was absent in the forms of Irving and Hayward. Now that the stars are healthy and ready to shine the team has suddenly gone dark.
Assuming the Celtics get the win on Wednesday over the woeful Chicago Bulls, the stage will be set for a formative test against last season’s Eastern Conference regular season champs. The Raptors were swept in the second round of the playoffs and have been viewed as a paper tiger of sorts coming into the season. However, the addition of Kawhi Leonard, as what could be a one-year rental, has made the Toronto more formidable and making Raptors’ fans forget all about DeMar DeRozan. Toronto has already drawn first blood in this series, scoring a 113-101 win in the second game of the year amid chants of “MVP” reverberating through Scotiabank Arena with Kawhi Leonard the object of the fans’ adoration after scoring a game-high 31 points and hauling down 10 rebounds.
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