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PREVIEW: Boston Celtics head home to face sizzling Raptors

Feb 9, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) shoots the ball during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) shoots the ball during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

A disappointing West Coast swing behind them, the Boston Celtics face no easy task in returning home to face the red-hot Toronto Raptors on Thursday night.

The Celtics went 2-3 on their road trip and are 4-8 in their past 12 games overall. Boston has dropped each of its past two contests, including a 122-108 defeat against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

The Raptors, meanwhile, have won five of their past six as they prepare to wrap up their six-game road trip. Toronto will be playing the second night of a back-to-back after routing the Washington Wizards 137-115 on Wednesday.

The matchup Thursday marks the second of three meetings between the Atlantic Division rivals this season. The Celtics won the first game 126-114 on Jan. 4.

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That victory came during a five-game winning streak for Boston that preceded its recent rut. The team was without star forward Jayson Tatum for two weeks due to COVID-19, and his top scoring partner, Jaylen Brown, missed two games with a knee injury before returning to score 33 points in the loss against NBA-leading Utah.

“The way (the Jazz) played, the freedom, the flow they have to their team is really good right now, and we’ve got to find a better flow for ourselves,” Brown said after the game. “We had some disconnectedness at times, and the game almost seems a little harder than it should be.

“If we just trust each other, we’re in the right spots and things like that, the game will be a lot easier than it has been for us.”

The Celtics had been within striking distance, down 108-104 with 3:10 left before collapsing down the stretch.

“As a leader of this team, I take responsibility for how we respond and how we come out,” Brown said. “And in that fourth quarter, it just wasn’t there for us.”

Read More: RECAP: Utah Jazz top Celtics for 16th win in 17 games

A complete effort will be necessary against a Raptors team that has finally hit its stride following a slow start to the season. A win Thursday would even Toronto’s record after a 2-8 start.

Against the Wizards on Wednesday, the Raptors drained 19 3-pointers, Kyle Lowry leading the way with five. Norman Powell scored 28 points and Pascal Siakam added 26 for Toronto, which led by as many as 24 points in the dominant victory.

“We’re shooting the three a lot better,” Lowry said. “Pascal getting back into a groove helps, Norm has played unbelievably great every game he’s been starting. … We’re just in such a good groove.”

The Raptors have surpassed 120 points in each of their past five games.

“The offense is growing,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “We’re not going through too many lulls.”

Toronto has played its past eight contests without OG Anunoby, who has been sidelined by a calf strain. Nurse said it was “50-50” whether the forward would be available against Boston.

The Celtics will be without guard Marcus Smart (calf) for the sixth straight game.

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–Field Level Media