Extra Pass: East-leading Celtics take on the Raptors

Published March 28, 2022, 6:00 PMMiguel Flores

Catch the Celtics as they put their six-game streak on the line against the Raptors, 7:30 AM on NBA League Pass.

The Precarious East

The Eastern Conference standings has been a blood bath since the new year. It seems like no team can hold on to the top and the shuffling will continue until the final day of the season.

Currently, the Boston Celtics are tied for the top seed after a 4-game losing streak sent the Miami Heat hurtling. Within whisper range of those two are the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers at just 0.5 games behind.

A little lower on the standings sit the Toronto Raptors at sixth. They are occupying dangerous ground at just one game ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and essentially,  one game separating them from the play-in tournament.

Every game with an Eastern Conference team will be tense. Every one wants a home court advantage. No one wants to get buried in the play-in tournament.

Tomorrow, we get the Toronto Raptors hosting the Boston Celtics. This should be a massive encounter.

Boston strangles

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last two months, welcome back! The Boston Celtics went from a depressing team out of the playoffs to the East’s most dangerous contenders.

The Celtics have won 28 of their last 35 games, improving their record to 47-28. They’re on a six-game win streak in which they’ve been clobbering teams by 21.5 points per game. No team has played better defense than the Celtics since the All-Star break. No lineup has been better than Boston’s Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown-Marcus Smart-Al Horford quartet.

Tatum, in particular, has played at an MVP level since the new year. Averaging 28.2 points on 47.8 percent shooting with 7.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists, Tatum has cured all the ills that bogged him down at the beginning of the season. He’s way more efficient at hunting his shots while also getting his teammates involved more. He’s been lights-out in the clutch and has ironed out his relationship with Smart and Brown on the court.

The Celtics were on the brink of trading away their foundational pieces. But they didn’t, and now they might be in the best shape they’ve been in since their 2018 Eastern Conference Finals run.

Sweet summer children

If there’s any team that can give Boston a run for their money, it’s the Toronto Raptors.

They haven’t been scorching teams like the Celtics, but their recent run of eight wins in 10 games have vaulted them to a 42-32 record and out of the play-in picture.

The Raptors have one of the more interesting lineups in the league. While they don’t have any bigs, they do have the largest collection of 6-foot-9 guys in the league. Nick Nurse likes his players long.

And the Raptors have leveraged their size at most positions into a scrambling defense that fuels their high-octane offense. Pascal Siakam, their best wing, has played all positions for the Raptors and has looked great. He’s averaging 22.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists while adding a few more moves to his bag aside from his favorite spin move.

There’s a lot of fun in the Raptors lineup. While Fred VanVleet is questionable for tomorrow’s game, guys like Precious Achiuwa, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby only go at the highest gear.

Toronto has a lineup that can defend and challenge the Celtics. Given the volatile situation of the standings, this could very well be a first-round preview.

Where to watch

This game is going to be live on NBA League Pass at 7:30 AM. The Golden State Warriors play the Memphis Grizzlies live at 8:00 AM on NBA TV Philippines, available on Smart GigaPlay and Cignal TV, in what could be a fun game to watch even with Steph Curry and Ja Morant sitting out. Whichever game you tune into tomorrow, there’s going to be heavy postseason tension.