It was another dominant performance by the Celtics Sunday afternoon as they took down the Toronto Raptors 112-94 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The team picked up right where they left off from the Sixers series with a defense-first game plan. The Raptors were never comfortable the whole game as the Celtics had consistent pressure throughout.
The one focal point for the Celtics’ defense was stopping Pascal Siakam. He is the Raptors young blossoming superstar who can take this series over and dominate if given the chance. Coach Brad Stevens knew that going in, so the game plan in this series would be to stop Siakam and have the rest of the Raptors beat them.
The blueprint behind this game plan would be similar to how teams guard Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is best to throw as many bodies at him as possible and stop him from having his way in the paint. Siakam, at this stage in his career, is Giannis-lite on the offensive end. The Celtics knew they could have him shoot from the outside if that meant he would not have easy buckets at the rim. Once Siakam committed to driving and backing down his defender, the weak side help would come over and swipe in looking for a turnover or at least force him to pass.
Siakam was uncomfortable all night long and never was able to get into rythym. He finished with only 13 points and 3 rebounds on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-3 from three-point range and two turnovers. It was not the game Siakam wanted in this opener.
The Celtics were going to switch most everything even if that meant having a height disadvantage against the length of Siakam.
Smart switches onto Siakam and Siakam looks to exploit the mismatch. However, Smart is not going to go away easy. He bodies Siakam up which leds to an off-balanced shot to go up.
It was one of the strangest early subplots of this first game with Siakam. The Raptors just could just not get him going, but what was strange is that they kept trying to exploit and post Siakam up on the Marcus Smart “mismatch.”
Siakam ended the first half with only 3 points on 1-for-8 shooting. He then did not score another basket until the Celtics had already built a 20-point lead. There was no urgency from the Raptors to run sets having Siakam rolling towards the basket. That is where he is at his best, and there was not much of that at all. Knowing Nick Nurse, he will definitely go back and find adjustments with Siakam still being the focal point of this offense.
It was not just Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart who was bottling up Siakam in Game 1. It was also Semi Ojeleye getting big time minutes matching up against Siakam on defense. Stevens does the same thing with Ojeleye against Giannis and the Bucks.
Multiple times Siakam tried to back his way down Ojeleye in the post. It was almost funny when Siakam hit Semi in the chest and just bounced off of him not moving Semi an inch. That is not the way the Raptors offense wants to operate, but it was huge defense by Ojeleye that stood in the path of easy buckets for Siakam.
Both of these clips show great defense by Ojeleye. Siakam gets the entry pass, but Ojeleye does not let him get his step inside the paint. Semi knows Siakam has a step, so he just sits back and lets him try and come into him using his strength to control the positioning. This leads to a frustrated and bad shot by Siakam trying to force something that is not there.
The Celtics played a near perfect defensive game on Pascal Siakam, but everyone knows Nick Nurse will make changes. The Celtics will need to focus on replicating the positive things on defense from Sunday when it comes to Siakam. The goal is to stop him from driving to the rim for an easy finish by throwing bodies at him to get in his path to the rim. Smart, Brown, and Ojeleye will need to continue being strong against him not letting him get his way inside. If they can continue that, Siakam will continue to be uncomfortable and out of control on his drives.