TORONTO — The Boston Celtics take on the Toronto Raptors on Friday evening, a potential preview of the Eastern Conference finals between two of the best teams in the conference.
Here are five pre-game notes prior to the matchup.
1. Daniel Theis is feeling considerably better.
Much has been made of the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, which makes sense because they are both All-Stars. Less has been made about the return of Daniel Theis, which makes sense because he’s a very solid role player who earns his minutes with great positioning and solid defensive fundamentals.
But Theis’ health will matter as the season progresses.
“Feeling pretty good,” Theis said prior to Friday’s game against the Raptors. “The week of practice was really good for me, just getting back in rhythm, try to focus on the games.”
Now that he’s back on the floor, Theis’ next step: Explosiveness off both legs. Theis has excellent length, and his athleticism helped him protect the rim last season. He said he has been working on those aspects of his game as the regular season ramps up.
On Tuesday, Theis was greeted with a friendly roar from Celtics fans — he said he appreciated it — but he played just four minutes and recorded a single rebound. Theis said he was much more comfortable in his limited minutes than in the preseason.
“I would say it was way better than preseason,” Theis said. “The week of practice helped me a lot, get back in rhythm. Now it’s just about getting the rhythm of the game. Preseason, practice is different.”
That week of practice looked like it helped Hayward and Irving as well (although Irving was off on Tuesday). Theis said the entire team benefited.
“We played way harder (in the first game) than in preseason,” Theis said. “We had rhythm and defense, we shared the ball a lot, we didn’t make a lot of open shots, we still scored over 100 points. I think it helped our whole team, not just me, Kyrie and Gordon.”
2. Brad Stevens loves how the vets have embraced the rookies.
Prior to the game, Stevens was asked if the amount of playing time the young players have earned speaks to their skill and work ethic. Stevens credited the front office for their drafting, but also the older players for embracing their young teammates.
That isn’t always common: Older players understand that more minutes for young guys means fewer minutes for themselves. Boston’s veterans, it seems, don’t mind.
“I think we all would say that our older guys wrapping our arms around the younger guys and letting them grow, letting them make mistakes but still playing to their strengths has been a big part of their growth,” Stevens said. “It sure helps when Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, guys like that, that were left last year at the end of the year were saying, ‘Hey, we’re riding with you.’ That’s a good feeling if you’re a young guy.”
3. Nick Nurse: Toronto is trying “to get there” against the Celtics.
A quick note: Asked about Boston’s versatility, Toronto coach Nick Nurse said the Raptors dropped a slightly interesting nugget.
“They are versatile, that’s for sure, right?” Nurse said. “I think that’s one of the many things that’s made them so good. So we’re trying to get there.”
The Celtics say the Raptors are the class of the East. The Raptors say the Celtics are. This is clearly all just coaches trying to motivate their players, but it’s an interesting dynamic, and it might speak to how close these two teams actually are.
4. Brad Stevens appreciates Greg Monroe.
The Celtics brought in Greg Monroe last season using Gordon Hayward’s injury exception. Monroe didn’t get consistent minutes, but he gave some important production against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
Now, Monroe plays for the Raptors.
“I think it was great having him around,” Stevens said. “All we wanted was for him to have a great experience and be prepared to help us win. I thought he did a great job when he got the opportunity. As you know, in the playoffs, those opportunities can come and go based on the team you’re playing against. But nothing but great admiration and appreciation for his short time here. I was happy to see him land on such a good team.”
5. Starting lineups!
The Celtics will start Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. Gordon Hayward remans on a 25-minute limit.
The Raptors will start Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. In theory, Ibaka gives them versatility against the Celtics with Horford at the five. Jonas Valanciunas started Toronto’s season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers in place of Ibaka.