Not that it makes that much of a difference in the bubble, but the series now shifts to the Celtics as the home team. There will be 3 panels of Celtics virtual fans to one panel of Raptors fans and the piped in crowd noise will be louder for the Celtics. But, it’s not anywhere close to playing in front of the Garden crowd for a playoff game. So, even though these are home games for the Celtics, not much changes for the teams on the court.
The Celtics won Game 1 in a blowout, leading from start to finish. Game 2 was much tougher with 19 lead changes and 12 ties. The Celtics fell behind by 12 points before Marcus Smart hit 5 threes in a row and Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum hit some clutch shots. They also clamped down on defense and pulled out a 3 point win. Game 3 is a must win for the Raptors since no team in league history has come back from a 0-3 hole in a 7 game playoff series.
The Celtics are 6-0 to start the playoffs for a second time and will look to match a franchise record of 7 consecutive wins to start the postseason with a win in this game. The last teams to open a postseason run with seven straight wins were Cleveland and Golden State in 2017. The Raptors fell to 0-2 behind the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals last season but came back and won 4 straight to win the series. Of course, they had Kawhi Leonard back then also. Regardless, the Celtics can not let up because they are up 2-0.
After falling awkwardly on his back after a putback dunk, Robert Williams left the game on Tuesday. Thankfully he returned to the game and went 5-5 to score 10 points and seemed to be fine. He is not on the injury list so I expect him to play in this game. Tremont Waters is listed as day to day with a knee injury but I doubt he will play even if healthy.
Gordon Hayward (ankle) and Javonte Green (knee) are both still out. For the Raptors, Oshae Brissett (knee) and Patrick McCaw (knee) are both out. Kyle Lowry rolled his ankle in Game 4 of the first round but has been playing although, he has been struggling on offense. Kemba Walker tweaked his knee in Game 1 but practiced on Monday and played in Game 2 on Tuesday. He struggled with his shot through 3 quarters but came up clutch in the 4th quarter.
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
Tremont Waters (knee) day to day
Probable Raptors Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Fred VanVleet
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol
Oshae Brissett (knee) out
Patrick McCaw (knee) out
Jayson Tatum vs Pascal Siakam
In the first two games, Siakam has not been a big factor for the Raptors. He Finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 43 minutes in Game 2 and did have some big plays in the 4th quarter, however. The Raptors are 20-1 when Siakam scores 25 points or more. The loss was to the Celtics on October 25, when the Celtics won and Siakam had 33 points. Tatum carried the Celtics through 3 quarters and the Celtics will need him to play well again in this game. Jaylen Brown has been very good defending Siakam and the Celtics will need him to continue that as well.
Marcus Smart vs Fred VanVleet
In Game 1, the Celtics held VanVleet to just 11 points, shooting just 18.8% from the field and 18.2% on 3’s. He played a little better in Game 2 with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists. Marcus Smart has been a difference maker for the Celtics on both ends of the court in both games so far. With Gordon Hayward still out, the Celtics need more of the same from Marcus along with playing tough defense on VanVleet once again.
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry has been playing although some people question if he is 100% after spraining his ankle in Game 4 of the first round. He had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists in Game 2 but is shooting just 34% so far in the series. Kemba struggled through the first 3 quarters in Game 2 but came up big with clutch shots in the 4th quarter. He has also played good help defense in this series. The Celtics need to continue to limit Lowry’s effectiveness on offense in this game.
Celtics Bigs vs Raptors Bigs
Usually the Celtics bigs are a weak spot for them but not so in the first two games of this series. Daniel Theis and Robert Williams have been very effective for the Celtics in both games so far. Ibaka has been the Raptors best big so far, averaging 18.2 points and 9.8 rebounds off the bench in the playoffs. He is shooting 59.2% from the field and 53.8% from beyond the arc. Gasol has struggled somewhat in both games and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ibaka in the starting lineup for Game 3.
Keys to the Game
Defense is always a key to winning and especially so in the playoffs. The Celtics definitely won both games so far with their defense. The Celtics held the Raptors to 94 points in Game 1 and 99 points in Game 2. Toronto is 2-10 when held to under 100 points and so the Celtics’ chances increase when they play tough defense. The Celtics need to be ready for a zone because the Raptors have had some success with it in the past and they also need to keep playing tough lock down defense if they want to win the series.
In each of the games between these two teams, the team that won the rebounding battle won the 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. In Sunday’s game, the Celtics out rebounded the Raptors 50-40 and on Tuesday, they out rebounded the Raptors 44-41. Next to defense, rebounding is one of the most important keys to winning.
Take Care of the Ball
The Celtics need to move the ball and make the extra pass, but more importantly, they need to take care of the ball as they make their passes. One area in both games that the Celtics need to improve on is turning the ball over. The Celtics had 22 turnovers to just 14 for the Raptors in Game 1 and 17 turnovers to just 12 for the Raptors in Game 2. The Celtics need to keep the ball moving but they also must make careful passes to keep from turning it over.
The Raptors are a very deep team. All season, the Celtics bench has been considered a weak point for the team. In Game 2, Toronto’s bench outscored the Celtics’ bench 21-13. Of the 16 teams in the bubble, only Indiana and Philadelphia got fewer points from their bench and both of those teams were eliminated in the first round. However, the Celtics bench is a +3.8 in the playoffs so far, which is 2nd among the playoff teams. Brad staggers the bench in with the starters and so far that has worked. Hopefully it will continue to do so.
The Celtics need to come out strong and play hard from start to finish. They can’t let the Raptors get a lead to start and they have to try to build a lead themselves and not allow the Raptors to come back. They need to be the more aggressive team on defense, in crashing the boards, in diving for loose balls, in closing out the passing lanes, and just play harder in general. So far their 3’s have been falling but if for some reason they aren’t in this game, the Celtics must be aggressive in going to the hoop and not depend on outside shots. The more aggressive team usually gets the benefits of the whistle and the Celtics have to be the more aggressive team and they have to play harder the entire game.
Coaching - Coaching has been a factor in this series between two of the better coaches in the league. Nick Nurse is the Coach of the Year while Brad Stevens is without a doubt one of the best. The playoffs are like a chess match with each coach having to make adjustments and then having to adjust to the other teams’ adjustments. Being down 0-2, expect Nurse to make adjustments. It could be a change in the starting lineup, a different rotation, or a change in their defensive schemes and Brad needs to recognize those adjustments and counter with some of his own.
Desperation vs Motivation - The Raptors have to be desperate not to go down 0-3 in the series. This game could determine the outcome of the series. If the Celtics win, they pretty much control the series. If the Raptors win, they are back in the seriesBrad Stevens won the first round and I have no doubt that Nurse will come back with moves to counter the Celtics attack and defense that beat them in Game 1. The Celtics need to be motivated to take control of this series and not allow the Raptors to gain any confidence with a win.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. You know that officiating can make a big difference in a game. After Game 2, Nick Nurse complained about the officiating and the fact that Jayson Tatum took 14 free throws. For the game, Boston took 25 free throws to 19 for the Raptors. I’m not sure if a coach complaining about the officiating works for them or against them in the next game, but the Celtics need to be ready for the refs to compensate and give the Raptors the benefit of the whistle, even though it’s a Celtics home game. The Celtics will need to adapt to how the game is being called and not allow the refs to take them out of their game and affect their focus.