Celtics-Raptors Preview

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The Boston Celtics' playoff hopes took a damaging hit their last time out, and a difficult close to the season will only complicate matters further. That tricky finishing stretch starts Saturday night with a trip to face the Toronto Raptors, whose most recent loss marks another chapter in an ugly second half. Boston (34-42) had won back-to-back games to move into a tie for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but again dropped below the postseason cut with a 110-101 loss to Milwaukee on Friday. Isaiah Thomas scored a team-high 23 points to bounce back from an eight-point performance Wednesday and Avery Bradley had 17, but the Celtics were unable to slow down the Bucks. "I didn't think we were able to keep up with them defensively, pretty much all night after the first six minutes," coach Brad Stevens said. Boston allowed Milwaukee to shoot 52.9 percent - its third-highest field-goal percentage allowed this season. The Celtics are 0-10 when the opposition shoots at least 50 percent. ''We just weren't aggressive on the defensive end and we just weren't playing hard enough," Bradley said. ''They were really getting whatever they wanted.'' One bright spot to the defeat was the return of Jared Sullinger. The third-year forward was expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the season after suffering a broken foot, but he's planning on working his way back into the rotation after playing just over three minutes Friday. "Everything is healed up, so we're going to give it a go ... I'm blessed to be here, it's almost a shocker," Sullinger said before the game. "It's definitely motivating when it comes to us having a chance to be in the playoffs and trying to make a run, but I think the biggest thing is just health in general. If I wasn't healthy, I wouldn't be here." Five of the Celtics' six remaining games will come against teams currently in the playoffs, including two with Toronto (45-31). The Raptors have taken both meetings with the Celtics, including a 109-96 home win Jan. 10, but enter this contest off a 114-109 loss at Brooklyn that snapped a three-game winning streak. It's only the latest defeat of a challenging six-week stretch for the Raptors, who have dropped 14 of 22 since Feb. 21. "Playoff atmosphere," coach Dwane Casey said of Friday's loss. "There's a lot of situations we can learn from and teach from. Now we have to get everyone back healthy again. I did like our fight and our competitive edge throughout the entire game." They need four wins in their final six games to set the franchise wins record. Toronto has already clinched a top-four spot on the Eastern Conference by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division, but home-court advantage is still at stake with Washington only two games behind the Raptors. Kyle Lowry, who torched Boston for 35 points in the teams' first meeting, will likely miss his sixth consecutive game Saturday due to back spasms.