By Sheila C

In their first matchup of the season, the Toronto Raptors travel to TD Garden to take on the Boston Celtics. Despite splitting the season series last year, Boston faces an uphill battle without Kyrie Irving, who was the difference maker in both Celtic wins over the Raptors last season.

Going into Friday’s game, Toronto looks to continue building on the strong performances of their young core. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet combined for 68 of the Raptors 130 points on Tuesday. With Kawhi Leonard choosing to return home to LA, there’s opportunity for Toronto’s young players to step into new roles. 

The most obvious change has been VanVleet’s insertion into the starting lineup. Coach Nick Nurse said, despite future matchups, he sees no reason to change Fred’s status as the teams starting SG. He has seen an increase in minutes over the last three seasons, moving from a bench role to a starter in 2019. In 44 minutes of their season-opener, VanVleet went 5/7 from three and shot 67% from the field. He, along with Siakam, represent the new-era of Raptors basketball. While Kyle Lowry continues to be the teams leader the torch is being passed to the next generation of Toronto stars. The opportunity is there. OG Anunoby also started alongside Siakam, VanVleet, Lowry and Marc Gasol. He put up 11 points and 7 rebounds in the teams Game 1 victory. If the Raptors young players continue to accept the challenge, Toronto will get the win on Friday night.

For the Celtics to have any success against the Raptors, they need to protect the paint. Toronto scored 56 points on Tuesday, while Boston gave up 58 in the restricted area enroute to their first loss of the season. Toronto grabbed 16 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second chance points. Boston will need to do a better job keeping the Raptors off the boards, while forcing them into low percentage shots.

Newly acquired Kemba Walker will also have to improve his 4 of 18 shooting performance from Game 1. Walker, who is coming off a 25.6 PPG career year in Charlotte will need to find a way to harness his last seasons success. Gordon Hayward, who is back in the starting line up after suffering a gruesome 2017 leg injury, will also have to step up for the young team. Before missing the entire 2017 season to his injury, he averaged 21.9 PPG on 47% shooting. He scored 25 points in their Game 1 loss. For Boston to steal a win, they will need both their vets to show up.
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Tip off is 7pm at TD Garden.

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