That was a dogfight. It sure didn’t seem like it would be near the end of Game 3, but then OG Anunoby’s shot happened and a gritty Toronto team gritted out some wins to make things really interesting.
Thankfully, the Celtics have Jayson Tatum and the Raptors do not. That’s not to take anything away from my personal hero, Marcus Smart. But if you are lining up the talent on both rosters, Lowry is cut from the same cloth and gives that team a lot of what Smart gives the Celtics. Oh yeah, I guess it also helps that Jaylen Brown completely outplayed Pascal Siakam.
- Let’s start back with Jayson Tatum. Like any fan, my eyes typically gravitate towards the scoring column of the box score. He certainly delivers on that most nights, but that’s also why he’s getting a lot more attention from defenses keyed in on stopping him. So he’s had to elevate his playmaking (making the right pass, trusting his teammates, and showing great court vision).
It doesn’t stop there either. He’s hitting the boards (up to 10.1 per game in the postseason) and playing defense at a really high level (in particular on weakside help). Oh, and I should point out that he’s figured out that key superstar knack for “grifting” (getting to the line) for easy points that has really upped his production. He’s the total package and making a case to be considered one of the top players in the game.
- My goodness. Marcus. I would run through countless walls for you, my man. I’m running out of ways of describing him, in part because there’s just something unique about him that is so fun to watch. And “watch” might not even be the right word. You experience Marcus Smart. You feel him in your fingertips and journey with him in your soul. There are a lot of star offensive players that have a knack for hitting big shots. Marcus is a superstar defensive player that just has that knack for making plays. Bask in it.
- Jaylen Brown has struggled with his three point shooting consistency this postseason (only 30% after hitting 38% in the regular season) but he’s found ways to stay productive (upping his scoring average from 20.3 to 21.0 per game). It should surprise exactly no one at this point that he’s showing so much maturity and leadership. At some point, we just have to stop thinking of him and Jayson as “young” and consider them grown men, because that’s what they are. They’ve already tasted success (this will be their 2nd trip to the Conference Finals together) and they’ve already experienced a frustrating season (which we shall not discuss).
- By the way, there will be no Kemba Walker slander here. The Raptors decided to key their defense on taking Kemba out of his comfort zone and to a large extent, it worked. But don’t forget his 29 points in Game 3 (albeit in a losing effort) and the fact that Kemba is a huge reason why the Celtics are here to begin with. Something tells me that the Heat guards are going to have a harder time slowing Walker down than the Raptors did.
- I’m really looking forward to Gordon Hayward rejoining the team as well. He might have made the last series a little easier if he had been available. Our bench actually performed admirably well at times in this series where the Raptors were supposed to have such an advantage. But Hayward gives us Marcus off the bench (unless Brad decides to ease Gordon back by bringing him on with the second unit) and it means fewer “box of chocolates” minutes from the likes of Semi Ojeleye, Brad Wanamaker (who was really good against the Raps!), and others.
- As for the next series, I think we’ve got another big fight on our hands. The duo of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo is highly effective and they have a lot of gritty grinders, some of which will be very familiar (hey, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk!). Tyler Herro is fast becoming someone to reckon with while Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala still have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. Oh yeah, and Coach Spolestra is one of the best in the business.
I do favor the Celtics in this series in part because I’m a homer and in part because I believe in Kemba getting his groove back. But that doesn’t mean it is going to be easy.
Survive and advance!