The Celtics go from one division rival to another as the Celtics and Raptors face off in the playoffs for the first time ever. These two teams met 4 times in the regular season including one game in the bubble. The Celtics won 3 of those 4 games, including handing the Raptors their only defeat in the seeding games. But then again, Philadelphia won 3 of 4 from the Celtics this season also but that didn’t mean anything in Round 1.
The Celtics won 112-106 on October 25, which was the second game of the season for both teams. The Celtics won a second time 118-102 on Christmas Day but the Raptors were without Siakam, Powell, and Gasol. The Raptors won 113-97 three days later on December 28. They didn’t meet again until the seeding games in the Bubble when the Celtics won 122-100. In spite of winning the season series 3-1, the Celtics are the underdogs in this series.
According to NBA.com, the Raptors averaged 27.8 points per game in transition during the regular season. This accounted for almost one quarter of their offense. This was the most in the NBA. The Celtics gave up only 17.7 points per game in transition in the regular season which was the fifth-lowest rate in the league. On the other hand, the Raptors ranked 16th in points per halfcourt possession in the regular season. The Celtics need to slow the game down and make the Raptors play in the half court and it could give them an advantage.
Kyle Lowry sprained his ankle in the first quarter of their game 4 against the Nets and was questionable for this game when they originally were scheduled to play on Thursday. With the extra days of rest and treatment, Lowry was able to practice on Saturday and is listed as probable now. I expect him to be in the starting lineup. Oshae Brissett (knee) and Patrick McCaw (knee) are both out for the Raptors.
For the Celtics, Gordon Hayward is still out with the grade 3 sprain that kept him out of most of their series against the Sixers and he will likely miss all of this series. In addition, Javonte Green had a procedure done on his knee to repair a partial meniscal tear and will be out for 2-3 weeks so he will also likely miss this entire series.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Javonte Green (knee) out
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol
Kyle Lowry (ankle) probable
Oshae Brissett (knee) out
Patrick McCaw (knee) out
Jayson Tatum vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam’s improvement and tough play is one of the reasons that the Raptors have not missed a beat, even after losing Kawhi Leonard this year. He is averaging 20.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game in the playoffs. He is shooting 41.7% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc. Siakam averaged 22 points in the 3 games against the Celtics this season. Both players are good defenders so this will be very interesting to watch.
Marcus Smart vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 21.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 7.8 assists in the post season. He is shooting 52.7% from the field and 55.9% from beyond the arc in the playoffs. Marcus needs to especially stay with him on the perimeter as VanVleet is shooting the lights out from there.
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
These are two veterans who are playing very well for their teams. Lowry is averaging 12.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. He averaged 21 points in the 4 games against the Celtics this season. He is tough on defense and will make it tough for Kemba to score. This should be a good matchup but it could be a tough one for Kemba.
Keys to the Game
Defense is always a key to winning and especially so in the playoffs. The Raptors are averaging 126.3 points in the playoffs, while the Celtics are averaging 112.3 points. However, even though the 76ers are in disarray somewhat, they are still a tougher matchup than the Nets so keep that in mind. The Raptors have a defensive rating of 102.4 (2nd) while the Celtics have a defensive rating of 105.0 (4th). The Celtics have to up their defensive intensity and match that of the Raptors if they hope to win this series. They have to especially defend in transition where the Raptors get almost 1/4 of their points.
The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to be aggressive on defense, in going after loose balls, in crashing the boards, and just all around going all out. They have to aggressively attack the basket. They need to start the game with that aggressive mindset and be aggressive throughout the whole game with no let up. They absolutely can’t let the Raptors play harder than them.
The Celtics must crash the boards. They can’t score if they don’t have the ball. Much of rebounding is effort and desire. The Celtics have to be the team that puts out more effort from every player to go after rebounds. The Celtics are 10th in rebounds at 43.3 per game. The Raptors are 2nd with 51.0 per game. In their 3 wins this season, the Celtics out rebounded the Raptors 153-128, winning the boards in each game. In their lone loss, Toronto out rebounded the Celtics 53-31. The Celtics must win the rebounding battle if they want to win this game.
Move the Ball Carefully
The Celtics need to move the ball and not lapse into hero ball. They have to make the extra pass and find the open man and the best shot. They have to play team ball. They also have to focus and make careful passes as the Raptors are 2nd with 19.5 points off turnovers per game The Raptors are also tops in the league with 18.8 fast break points per game. They will make the Celtics pay if they get sloppy with the ball.
The Raptors are a very deep team. If the Celtics have one weakness, it may be production off their bench, although they did produce 41 points in Game 2 against the 76ers. The Raptors set a league record and got 100 points from their bench in Game 4 vs the Nets. Key players off the Raptors bench are Serge Ibaka, who is averaging 19.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, Terrance Davis who is averaging 11.3 points per game, and Norman Powell, who is averaging 17.5 points a game. The Celtics have not gotten anywhere near that production from anyone on their bench. The Celtics need every player off the bench to produce.
Much was made of the advantage that the Celtics had in their last series with Brad Stevens coaching against Brett Brown. In this series, it will be a real chess match between two top coaches. Nick Nurse was just named the Coach of the Year while Brad Stevens was pretty much snubbed for the honor, coming in 8th with just 5 points compared to 470 points for Nurse. Coaching and strategy will be very important in this series.
Previous Series - Both of these teams swept their first round series. The Sixers were missing Ben Simmons and as a team are somewhat in disarray. But, they are still a good team and were even picked by some to win the series. The Nets, on the other hand, are just a shell of a team with 7 players opting to stay out of the bubble and a few others injured in the bubble. The Celtics had more competition from the Sixers than the Raptors did from the Nets. Hopefully that will have the Celtics better prepared for this series.
Rust vs Rest - Both teams last played a week ago on Sunday, August 23. They both should be well rested, but both have had their routines interrupted with the boycott and both will likely be a little rusty from the layoff and the lack of practice and time spent preparing for this series. Which team will be more rusty and which team can shake off the rust quicker?
Officiating - If you watched the first round and earlier games in the Bubble, you know that officiating can make a difference in a game. Some refs call it tight and others let them play. Some call it one sided and some call it even. Some are quick with Techs and some let them go. The Celtics have to adapt to how the game is called and not allow the officiating to take away their focus.