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Kevin Garnett seems overly excited about the halfcourt trap.After meeting twice in the preseason, the Boston Celtics (4-8, 3-4 home) and Raptors (4-10, 2-6 away) meet for real Wednesday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). We go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb to preview the matchup:
1. Fact or fiction: This is a must-win game for Boston.
Payne: Fiction. Must-win games are reserved for elimination situations in the postseason. However, this is a game that Boston absolutely should win. Having lost to so many upper-echelon teams in recent weeks, facing a club like Toronto probably seems like an unofficial benchmark for this club right now. Lose tonight, and people will really be up in arms.
Robb: Fiction. As ugly as a five-game home losing streak would be, it's foolish to call game 13 in a 66-game season a must-win, no matter what a team's record is. With that said, this contest will be as close as you can get to a must-win around this time of year. Boston's ship is taking on water at the moment, and although a tough slate of recent games is a factor in the recent skid, the Celtics have left themselves with a pretty significant hole to dig themselves out of in the improved Eastern Conference. If this core wants one last chance at a playoff run together, the winning has to start now and Toronto is the kind of team that they have to take care of business against.
Forsberg: Fiction. Honestly, what's another loss at this point? Sure, a sixth straight defeat might drive a panicky fan base a little closer to the ledge, but as Doc Rivers is fond of noting, "What happens if we lose? Should we just stop playing?" This one is important because the Celtics have a real chance to gain some momentum after playing four straight games against playoff teams. The next three opponents (Toronto, Phoenix, and Washington) are a combined 9-31 overall and there's a very real chance to rip off a few wins (which would leave the Celtics on cusp of .500 when the Magic visit Monday for the front end of a home-and-home).
2. Give me one reason the C's should be leery of Toronto.
Payne: Jermaine O'Neal was adamant after Monday's loss about his value to the Celtics being his rebounding and shot blocking, and, yet, when he (potentially) goes up against someone like Andrea Bargnani tonight, he'll most likely be pulled out of the paint a fair amount of the time. That will limit his opportunities to both block shots and rebound the ball, meaning his teammates will have to help pick up the extra slack in those areas.
Robb: An improved Andrea Bargnani would have been the answer, but he's likely to miss tonight's contest with a strained left calf. Nonetheless, the Raptors are still playing better defense this season overall than Boston. New head coach Dwane Casey has changed the culture up north, helping push up what has been perennially one of the worst defensive teams in the league to respectability (ranked 17th in defensive rating). Given the trouble Boston has had scoring points lately, as well as the fact Toronto will be just as desperate for a win coming into town with its own five-game losing streak, this contest should be anything but a walkover.
Forsberg: Who likes muddy basketball? These are two of the slowest teams in the league in terms of pace (Toronto and Boston are tied for 27th in the NBA in pace, both averaging a mere 88.8 possessions per game). Due in part to that, neither team puts up a lot of points, so it could be a race to 90. The Raptors are solid on the glass and they don't foul a lot, so Boston is going to have to earn their points, which hasn't exactly been their hallmark on this five-game losing streak.
3. GM Time! If you were Danny Ainge, would you consider trading captain Paul Pierce?
Payne: Not right now. This is one of those scenarios a lot of Celtics fans probably don't want to have to think about, but, realistically, Ainge wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't consider every possibility to potentially improve his team. Having said that, though, the Celtics would have to receive a truly substantial package in return to ever part with Pierce. I don't see it happening, mainly for that reason. Contending teams are the ones inquiring about Pierce's services, and none of the legitimate ones will be willing to part with any of their top players for Pierce.
Robb: Only for an absolute home run of a deal. Remember how upset the majority of the Boston fan base was last year when Kendrick Perkins was shipped off? The bitterness that would encompass the Celtic faithful if they dealt their captain would be off the charts, given how much loyalty Pierce has shown to this organization over the years. Short of getting a franchise building block in return, I don't see how I could fathom trading the captain away. The Truth still has plenty of basketball left in him, and could be just as valuable a player to help Boston bridge the gap to the next generation over the next couple years. If I were in Ainge's position, you have a responsibility to listen to offers, but that's realistically where it should end. Only listening, unless one of those bigger names become attainable.
Forsberg: Consider it? Of course. Pull the trigger? After the Perkins fallout, Ainge would have to be certain he's fleecing the other team. Let's remember that Pierce is the only big money contract the team currently has on its books for next season. If they really want to shed that money to be even bigger players in free agency, they can simply amnesty Pierce's contract this summer. The only way a trade benefits them is if they can bring back a cheap young player that fits their future plans (which is no easy task considering how murky this summer's potential free agent pool is at the moment). Unless the wheels completely fall off the bus, it seems unlikely the Celtics could benefit much from moving Pierce.