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Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors: Who’s the Cavs’ Biggest Challenger

The Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors have been vying for the East’s second place since the offseason. A quick scour online will quickly tell you that a load of discussions have been made on the matter. Who deserves to be Cleveland’s opponent for this year’s Conference Finals: Beantown or the North?

Well, the Raptors and Celtics just squared off for the second time in the season tonight. And though the Raptors have been floundering, and the Celtics surging, over the last couple of weeks, it was Toronto that took home the win. They now lead the season series 2-0. Does this mean the East’s second spot belongs solely to the Toronto Raptors?

A Healthy Rivalry

Tonight’s match-up featured what Toronto Head Coach Dwane Casey called a “healthy rivalry”. Besides the obvious 2nd seed in dispute, the two also share the Atlantic Division. Part of this so-called rivalry must include the backcourts. The two teams have some of the finest and most dynamic tandems of guards in the League: DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in red, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley in green.

On Jan. 10, it was DeRozan who lit up the Celtics for 41 points – 31 of them in the second half. However, Boston will be quick to point out that Thomas was out for their first match up for the season while Bradley is out with an illness for tonight’s. A healthy duel between the two back courts has yet to be made; Bradley is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, and had he been there to contain DeRozan, we might have seen a different result.

DeMar up to 14p & 5r early in Q3. #WeTheNorth

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The front court, though, is a different story. Jonas Valanciunas will have his way with a weak rebounding team like the Celtics on any day. This shows in the 23 rebounds he grabbed tonight. Even with DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson having subpar games, the Toronto frontcourt can and will outdo Boston’s. Al Horford certainly helps the Celtics, but it’s hard to control the flow games when you can’t control the rebounds.

Trade On The Way?

Right now, over advantage looks squarely in the Raptors’ favor. Conducting the League’s 3rd best offense helps, while managing a solid 14th place in defense (Boston ranks 9th and 15th, respectively). Still, there’s one half of a season to go. As mentioned, we’ve yet to see a Raptors-Celtics game with a fully healthy Celtics starting backcourt.

Meanwhile, rumors continue to float that the Celtics are gunning for forwards like Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, and (brace for it) DeMarcus Cousins. They’re all unlikely trades, but if GM Danny Ainge could get a real rebounder on board for the Celtics, then this rivalry could change entirely. The Celtics have one obvious hole to fill – grabbing those boards – and they’d otherwise be able to hang in there with the Toronto Raptors. Which team would you bet on in a 7-Game series? Hit us in the comments below and let us hear it!

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