When the Celtics played their home opener against the Raptors on Oct. 22, the night started with plenty of buzz and curiosity. It was the first regular-season packed house for the Celtics at TD Garden since March 2020, and fans got their first look at this new-look team.
But by night’s end, the Celtics were being booed off the court after the Raptors made their time on it quite uncomfortable. Toronto stormed to a 115-83 win and essentially did as it pleased. The gap in physicality was obvious, and the Raptors held a 60-42 rebounding edge, including 21 offensive boards.
“That game left a nasty taste in our mouths,” Celtics center Robert Williams said.
Added coach Ime Udoka: “It showed areas that we can improve on. That probably was the low-effort game of the year at that point.
“I think it was the first time we had our full lineup back with Al [Horford] back playing. The effort wasn’t great that night.”
The good news for the Celtics is that they did not have to wait long for a chance at redemption against Toronto. The teams will meet in Boston on Wednesday night. There are some differences since that first meeting, however, and they are not in the Celtics’ favor.
All-Star forward Jaylen Brown will miss the game because of a hamstring injury, and the Raptors have welcomed back former All-Star forward Pascal Siakam, who did not play in last month’s game.
At the start of this season, the Raptors were widely viewed as a lottery team in an improved Eastern Conference. They finished just 27-45 last year, and then franchise cornerstone Kyle Lowry went to the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal.
But Toronto has been reinvigorated by energetic rookie Scottie Barnes, and it enters Wednesday’s game with a 6-5 record that includes wins over the Knicks, Pacers, and Wizards (twice).
“They’re one of the more physical, aggressive teams,” Udoka said. “They’re one of the top offensive rebounding teams. They’ll really junk it up. They’re one of the top transition teams offensively, isolation teams, I think third overall. So we’ve got to be ready to guard.”
On defense, Udoka said, the Raptors thrive with randomness and unpredictability. Sometimes they’ll switch on screens, sometimes they’ll blitz ball-handlers, and sometimes they’ll try to confuse offenses with odd rotations.
“Have to be strong with the ball knowing that they’re coming at random angles,” Udoka said, “and try to pick it apart like we have in other games.”
Udoka said that point guard Dennis Schröder will remain in the starting lineup in place of Brown. The veteran had 20 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds in the Celtics’ loss to the Mavericks Saturday night.
“He’s done a great job with whoever’s been out, multiple guys this year so far,” Udoka said. “He just kind of plugs the gap and does a lot of things. Another guy that can initiate and score the ball. It kind of solidifies our younger guys on the bench.”
Also, the Celtics recalled rookie two-way-contract player Sam Hauser from their G League affiliate in Maine to provide extra depth with Brown sidelined. Hauser averaged 22 points and 6.5 rebounds in Maine’s wins last weekend. He is scheduled to return to the G League for this weekend’s games in Portland.
“I’m excited to be back and be around these guys,” Hauser said. “Every time I get an opportunity to be here, I’m just trying to make the most of it and enjoy the process as a whole.”
Brown did not take part in Tuesday’s practice. When the session was opened to the media, he was seen doing some light movement drills with assistant coach Tony Dobbins. He is expected to be sidelined 1-2 weeks.
“We’ve got a full roster,” Williams said. “Next man up. We’ve got great players on our team. No doubt in my mind, they’ll step up. Obviously there’s a lot of opportunity, a lot of chances for a lot of the guys, so hopefully they can make the best of it.”