3 things to watch for as Raptors host Celtics on Sportsnet

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) drives against Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart (36) during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

The last time the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics faced off was in their back-and-forth seven-game second-round playoff series about four months ago.

The Celtics, of course, emerged victorious in that series with the star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown proving to be a little too much for Toronto in the end, but not before some memorable Raptors moments highlighted by OG Anunoby’s buzzer-beating triple in Game 3.

On Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and Sportsnet ONE, the Atlantic Division rivals will square off for the first time since that series.

Here’s a look at three things to watch for as you get ready to take in the game.

Celtics off to slow start, too

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the plight of the Raptors on this particular website, and while they may not be as pronounced as the struggles Toronto’s been experiencing out of the gate, at 4-3, Boston isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire to begin the season, either.

Without all-star point guard Kemba Walker, who is still out recovering from a knee ailment, and as they work to implement a new piece in Tristan Thompson, the Celtics have been spotty.

In particular, Boston has been a shadow of the defensive juggernaut it was last season, with a poor defensive rating of 112 and allowing teams to shoot 37.2 per cent from deep against them.

While it’s true the Raptors haven’t been very good to start the season, given Boston’s vulnerability on defence — particularly when it comes to defending the three-point line — this could prove to be just the kind of matchup Toronto needs to get itself going in a groove offensively early and often.

The Raptors are attempting the most triples per game this season and if they continues to fire away from outside like they have so far, the percentage that Boston gives up from there favours them.

With that said, Boston’s been a good team offensively to begin the 2020-21 campaign and the Raptors can ill afford to see their trend of being good on just one side of the ball lest they repeat mistakes we’ve seen before. But with the kind of focus on the three-ball Toronto has had, it certainly looks like there’s opportunity there for them to begin playing more consistent, winning basketball.

Siakam’s revenge?

It’s been well-documented that Pascal Siakam has been struggling to start the season in similar fashion to the way he struggled in the Orlando bubble.

In particular, Siakam’s poor play was impossible to miss in Toronto’s second-round series with Boston, when he averaged 14.9 points per game on 38.2 per cent shooting from the floor and an abysmal 12.5 per cent from three-point range.

So bad was Siakam in that series that there were times when it looked like he was actively hurting his team with his inability to score the basketball, and though it obviously wasn’t all on him, he fell on the sword and took the blame himself for the Raptors’ early playoff exit.

Playing the Celtics for the first time this season, there’s no way Siakam could have forgotten the veritable hell they put him through but, as mentioned before, this isn’t the same Celtics team that shut him down in the post-season and is going through some defensive issues.

This all adds up to a good-looking recipe for some Siakam-served revenge on his playoff tormentors as he should be extra motivated against them in addition to wanting to silence all the noise he’s likely heard and read non-stop about his poor early play. The fact Boston hasn’t looked like itself defensively is just the cherry on top of this delicious dish.

Monday night looks like the perfect opportunity for Siakam to quiet all the critics -- at least temporarily.

Time for Raptors jumbo lineup?

In the off-season, the Celtics added veteran Canadian centre Thompson in free agency and so far Boston head coach Brad Stevens has been experimenting with using him in the starting lineup, sliding the previous season’s starting five, Daniel Theis, to the four spot.

This gives the Celtics a larger front-court than most and could present a problem for the Raptors given the smaller personnel Nick Nurse has generally rolled with this season.

There’s a good chance Monday the Raptors will try to make the Celtics match their smaller look, but in the event that doesn’t work out they may want to try out their jumbo lineup, perhaps using a combination of two of the three centres on the roster.

Saturday’s game with New Orleans saw some of this with Chris Boucher exploding for 24 points off the bench, primarily playing alongside another big, so there’s some precedent that doing this may work out for the Raptors.

At the very least, going big should help on the glass, something that will be an issue as Thompson is a monster on the offensive boards, and keeping him off of them will be important if the Raptors are going to walk out of Monday’s contest with a win.

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