The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics enter Thursday’s matchup at TD Garden headed in very different directions.
The Celtics are riding a three-game winning streak and moved up to fourth in the Eastern Conference after a big win over the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night. The Raptors have lost three of four and suffered their most lopsided defeat of the season Wednesday night at the hands of the lowly Detroit Pistons while playing without a third of their roster and almost all of their coaching staff due to health and safety protocols.

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Sure, the Raptors were shorthanded, but so were the Pistons, who were missing leading scorer Jerami Grant and guards Delon Wright and Killian Hayes.

"No excuses," said assistant coach Sergio Scariolo, who led the Raptors for the second straight outing with head coach Nick Nurse unavailable. "We had, for sure, enough players and coaches to have played a better game than this one."

The Raptors let the last-place Pistons make a season-high 20 three-pointers, eight of which came from journeyman Wayne Ellington. Detroit out-shot, out-rebounded, out-assisted and won the turnover battle against Toronto as they cruised to a 129-105 victory.

Missing three regulars in the starting lineup, Toronto went with Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Yuta Watanabe and Aron Baynes to begin the game and got mixed results. Lowry and Powell combined for 57 points, but Davis and Watanabe teamed up for just six on 2-14 shooting.

“It was a tough night, a tough night,” Lowry told reporters.

Tough night? More like a tough week.

Until late last week, the Raptors had been virtually untouched by COVID-19 outside of their temporary dwelling for the season in Tampa. And then, mere hours before last Friday’s game against the Houston Rockets, they were hit hard. Six of their primary coaches and Pascal Siakam were thrust into the NBA’s health and safety protocols and over the course of the next few days it got worse with the postponement of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls.

OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn were all unavailable for the Raptors Wednesday – a game that was originally scheduled for Tuesday but had to be pushed back – and have not been cleared to return against the Celtics.

“This is the first time we’ve had to deal with [positive tests and postponements], so now it’s kind of like we’re trying to figure out how to manoeuvre and navigate it,” Lowry told reporters after the loss. “It’s a little bit difficult. It’s unfortunate it happened and whatever happens we just got to make sure we compete a little bit better on the basketball floor.”

Boston has won both of their meetings with the Raps this season by double digits. The first came in Tampa on Jan. 4 behind an efficient 40 points on 19 shots from Jayson Tatum. The second saw four of the five Celtics starters reach double figures en route to a 14-point Boston victory on Feb. 11. Just like their loss to the Pistons on Wednesday, Toronto allowed the Celtics to make 20 threes, including six off the bench from rookie Payton Pritchard. 

The Raptors have had trouble with point guard Kemba Walker in the past and it looks like the old Kemba is back after a knee injury to begin the season and some rust working his way into form. During the Celtics’ last three victories, Walker is averaging 26.0 points per game shooting 45 per cent from beyond the arc to go with nearly 7.0 assists a night.

Marcus Smart, who did not play in the clubs’ previous two meeting this season, remains out for the Celtics as he continues to battle a calf injury. This will be the final game before the All-Star break for both teams and a chance for the Raptors to pull even with the Celtics in the standings at 18-18.