The Boston Celtics opened the season – and a three-game homestand – with a victory against the Philadelphia 76ers after having some trouble containing the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor duo. But all in all, it looked like coach Brad Stevens' team started the new season where they left off in 2014-2015.
There are still some questions surrounding the rotation, especially among the big men. Power forward Jared Sullinger looked like the odd man out from the beginning of pre-season, but he has clawed his way back into the rotation. Meanwhile Kelly Olynyk was out of the season opener with a one-game suspension coming from his altercation with Cleveland's Kevin Love in the playoff series between the two teams. So it remains to be seen who will lose minutes, as the Canadian seven-footer enters the rotation.
Among the Celtics bigs, Amir Johnson probably made the biggest impact on both ends of the floor with his physical style of play. And this is something that the opponents in tonight's game, the Toronto Raptors, are well aware of since Johnson played his previous six seasons with the club.
Last season's series was tied
The Raptors looked pretty good in the win on their home court against the Indiana Pacers. The dynamic backcourt duo of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan made 23 and 25 points, respectively, while Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas took advantage of Indiana's weakened frontcourt, scoring 21 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Toronto has won the Atlantic Division two years in a row, but the Celtics won the two last games in last season's series, both times at the buzzer, making it a 2-2 series. Tonight's game could be an early indication as to who will win the division this season, though the New York Knicks will probably also have a say in that.
The two teams make for an interesting matchup. The Boston starting backcourt with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley has their biggest strength in the defense, while the All-Star backcourt from Toronto is more offensive minded.
With the addition of DeMarre Carroll at small forward, Toronto has improved their perimeter defense a great deal since last season, while Boston has improved the interior defense by adding Amir Johnson.
Besides their hair styles, Carroll and Boston's Jae Crowder have very similar traits as players, both playing mostly off the ball at either forward position and as energetic, versatile defenders. But Carroll has so far had more success than Crowder as a "three-and-D" player because of better three-point shooting.
Boston relies on depth more than Toronto does
While Toronto mostly relies on their starters to win their games, the Celtics might have the most dangerous bench in the NBA, led by last season's Sixth Man of the Year runner up – and a favorite to win that award this season – Isaiah Thomas. He and Amir Johnson have already shown that they can be quite a handful as partners in the pick-and-roll. Thomas assisted for nine of Johnson's 15 points against Philadelphia out of pick-and-roll plays.
This game should be a close one, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Boston struggles to stay with Toronto's starters, but gets the upper hand when the substitutions come into play. Boston is probably favored to win, though, since Brad Stevens has more versatility on his team than his Toronto counterpart, Dwane Casey.
Boston's rookie guard R.J. Hunter was kept out of the lineup on Wednesday due to illness, but he was back in practice on Thursday. Otherwise the team is at full strength.
For Toronto, Carroll (elbow) and Lucas Nogueira (hamstring) are listed day-to-day.