Raptors ready for Celtic showdown

If you are looking for a deeper meaning to tomorrow’s Raptors gameagainst the Boston Celtics, Sam Mitchell isn’t about to play along.<br />

If you are looking for a deeper meaning to tomorrow’s Raptors game against the Boston Celtics, Sam Mitchell isn’t about to play along.

Instead of a test against the best team in the Eastern Conference — and, by record, the best team in the NBA — it is nothing more than one of 82, a game that is being played because it’s on the schedule, not one that carries any extra meaning.

"I don’t believe in those," he said of so-called statement games. "What’s the measuring stick? If we go in there and win, are we supposed to win the East? If you lose, does that mean you can’t make the playoffs?

"You set yourself up for a possible failure when you do that; you put undo pressure on yourself."

The last thing the Raptors need is any extra pressure as they face the Celtics, who have already beaten them three times this season. Boston, running away with the Atlantic Division, has an 18-3 record at home and is a perfect 10-0 against division opponents.

Boston is flat-out good thanks to the presence of all-stars Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

"In the beginning, I didn’t expect anything because it was hard to tell if those three guys were going to share the ball," Toronto’s Chris Bosh said of the Big Three. "But they’ve been able to share the ball pretty well, they’ve been making plays for each other and they’ve been playing well together."

The Celtics have risen to the heights of the NBA on the strength of the league’s best defence. They hold teams to the lowest field-goal mark (41.5 per cent per game) and are tenacious when allowed to set up and play teams in halfcourt sets.

The Raptors, not nearly as free-flowing or up-and-down as they were a year ago, have played right into Boston’s hands in three games this season, slowing things down to a snail’s pace and they haven’t been able to handle the Celtics.

Even without lightning-quick point guard T.J. Ford, they have to try to run tomorrow night.

"If you look at two of our three games, we were in it, they just played excellent defence," Bosh said. "That’s what helps them out. They can slow the ball down. We’ve got to spread the court out on them and make them play fast-paced basketball.

"They really don’t want to do that; they want to set their defence up against you and they have the best defence in the league, so they want to do that."

The Raptors have yet to really define who and what they are, which led to some inconsistencies in the just-completed first half of the season. Sometimes they win with defence, sometimes with three-point shooting; they have never really run a team out of a game, making it doubtful they can force their tempo on the Celtics.

"We’re winning different ways," Mitchell said. "I don’t think our team has established itself yet (on how) it’s going to win. You know how San Antonio’s going to win. You know how Dallas is going to win, you know how certain teams are going to beat you.

"We’ve only won for one season, we haven’t established our identity yet as a team ... we’re still finding ourselves in that regard."

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