It was billed as a battle of the best offensive transition team against the best transition defense, a war between the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. All-star guards and forwards are facing off with multi-faceted bigs in a game of human chess. Two of the best coaches in the league will be pitting their wits against one another, looking to navigate this round unscathed.
And with that, the Boston Celtics started the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a resounding 112-94 blowout of the Toronto Raptors. Jayson Tatum lead the way with 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists.
It was arguably the Celtics best quarter since the playoffs began.
The Celtics started this game with an insane pace to their play. Hitting the throttle on every possession on both ends of the floor. Surprisingly, Marcus Smart opened the scoring, hitting a corner three after struggling to get his shot to fall against the 76ers.
Toronto caught two early fouls when trying to cut-off Jaylen Brown out on the corner three areas. The Georgia native had been electric from deep throughout the Celtics’ last series, something the Raptors seemed keen to avoid. Unfortunately, Brown was hitting his shots in this quarter, even drawing a four-point-play with around four minutes left.
Serge Ibaka gave the Raptors a scoring punch from the bench, hitting two big threes after checking in. Stevens countered Ibaka with Robert Williams following his excellent showing against Toronto during their seeding game.
Embiid was a bad match-up for Timelord. Following his play against the Raptors in the seeding games, I would expect to see him feature in the early games. Good opportunity to see if he's able to make an impact as a rim running lob threat pic.twitter.com/zX8kgIdX8b— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) August 29, 2020
The biggest takeaway from the quarter was the Celtics defense, forcing multiple turnovers from a team that usually knows how to take care of their possessions.
When the Celtics defense is firing the way it was in this quarter, it can be incredibly frustrating for their opponents. Those frustrations boiled over early, as Raptors coach Nick Nurse received a technical midway through the quarter.
If the first quarter belonged to Boston, the Raptors were doing their best to make sure the second was theirs. Opening up the quarter by playing zone defense, Nick Nurse’s team began to force the Celtics into some tough shots.
Tatum’s shooting struggles in the first carried over into the start of the second quarter, while the Raptors were hedging him high up the floor to garner steals or at least keep him from getting downhill. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Tatum struggling to score, as the Celtics were searching for answers to the Raptors defense for the first six minutes of the quarter.
#Celtics score their 5th point of the 2Q with 6 min left after scoring 39 in 1Q.— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) August 30, 2020
Luckily, the Raptors were just as deficient on offense, allowing the Celtics to ride the early lead they built. Credit goes to the Celtics defense for how they continued to shut down the Raptors defense, even when their offense wasn’t clicking.
The Celtics held Toronto to a paltry 29% from the field and 21% from beyond the arc throughout the first half. The Celtics headed back to the locker room with a 17-point cushion.
The Celtics came out firing to open the third. They were utilizing a plethora of dribble drive penetration moves to find the open man. Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart all hit 3-balls on the first three successful offensive possessions of the quarter - forcing the Raptors into an early time-out.
The Celtics will never miss a 3 again?— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) August 30, 2020
The Raptors came out of their time out back in a zone defense, which makes sense following their success early in the second quarter. The Celtics navigated the Raptors defensive scheme much better this time around, sticking to their gameplan and forcing rotations off penetration. If the defense stood firm, Boston went to a high-low style of pick-and-roll play.
The Celtics were all up in the Raptors grill throughout this quarter, forcing turnovers and affecting their ability to attack in transition, leading to some spontaneous opportunities for Boston.
Robert Williams windmill alert pic.twitter.com/UN7f2twWdN— Chris Grenham (@chrisgrenham) August 30, 2020
Toronto struggled to find any clear offensive looks but continued to battle, winning the quarter with 31 points.
Toronto came out fighting to start this quarter, their backs were against the wall, with the game on the line. You could sense the Celtics smelled blood though.
Kemba Walker led the way on offense, hitting big shots and making the right pass every time he got the ball. The Raptors struggled to contain the diminutive guard early in the quarter, leading the Celtics to go to him early and often.
If you go under or drop against Kemba Walker, you're begging for him to kill you.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) August 30, 2020
Approaching the mid-way point through the final quarter, Toronto began to disrupt the Celtics offense with their physicality. Unfortunately for them, most of their attempts were too physical, resulting in trips to the charity stripe for the Celtics.
Overall, the Celtics won this game with their intensity on defense, most notably in transition. Both teams struggled at times on the offensive end, but the Celtics kept to their gameplan and continued to find ways to score within their offense flow.
Game 2 will take place on Tuesday, September 1st with the time to still be determined.