Short-handed C's? Toronto coach Casey isn't buying it

A. Sherrod Blakely
NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON – Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey has heard the narrative about the Celtics being short-handed.

Still, he's also seen how those same short-handed Celtics have reeled off five consecutive wins, the last of which was a 97-94 buzzer-beater at Utah.

"I don't buy into all that, they're missing bodies," Casey said. "They still have guys that play a lot of minutes, stepping in and doing a great job."

Those Celtics will be put to the ultimate test tonight against Toronto in a battle between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors (55-20) come in with a three-game lead over the Celtics (52-23) with both teams splitting their two previous meetings this season.

Regardless of who is on the floor, the Raptors are bracing for what they anticipate will be a tough game tonight.

"It's gonna be super-competitive no matter what," Toronto's Kyle Lowry told NBC Sports Boston. "It's gonna be a hard-fought game. It's gonna be fun no matter what."

And while Toronto and Boston were the first two teams to clinch playoff berths, both have significant incentive tonight.

The Raptors are trying to move one step closer towards securing the top spot in the East and with it, home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

It's important for all teams, but it's a huge key for the Raptors who have a 31-7 record at home - tops among all teams in the East.

"It's big," said Toronto's DeMar DeRozan. "You always want to finish first in anything you do. You don't want to just ease your way in. You want to finish at the top and use that momentum that got you there all year, to carry over to the postseason."

As for the Celtics, a win tonight would be a major success for a roster that continues to defy the odds.

Boston has won five in a row despite not having their best scorer (Kyrie Irving), best defender (Marcus Smart) and first big man off the bench (Daniel Theis) for the rest of the regular season. Irving and Smart have a shot at returning at some point in the playoffs, while Theis' knee injury will keep him out regardless of how deep into the postseason the Celtics are able to advance.

And while Boston may not necessarily be expected to win tonight, surpassing expectations is nothing new.

They have been particularly impressive when it comes to nail-biting, down-to-the-wire matchups.

This season, Boston has had five, go-ahead field goals in the final five seconds of play, which is tops in the NBA.

The latest came last week when Jaylen Brown gave Boston its only lead in the fourth quarter of their win at Utah when he drained a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds to play that lifted the Celtics to a 97-94 win.

"We've been doing it all year," Brown said after the game. "I know the way we've won on last-second shots and things like that have been big, but we've been doing it all year so it's nothing new to us. And the people that follow us know that we do that too. Celtics fans know that we come back from behind. They don't get too wound up. We're resilient and that's the (mantra) for the whole season - resiliency - and that's gonna take us far."

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