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How the Celtics can exploit the Raptors defense

Toronto’s aggressive perimeter defense has given the Celtics problems, but one key adjustment has helped overcome it.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors are a remarkably disruptive team on defense. They don’t have an abundance of length like Boston does, but they’re all the muscle and then some. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Marc Gasol (as slow as he looks) simply cannot be dislodged from their position, while Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby have the length to cover multiple positions.

Here’s an example of the Raptors hounding the perimeter.

As soon as Kemba catches the ball, there’s a wall of three defenders in front of him. When he pulls up to shoot, he’s got Ibaka contesting him with VanVleet on the way. If he were to sneak by Ibaka, Lowry is already waiting for him to cut off the drive. The only other shooting threat is Jaylen Brown, but a skip pass would give the defense plenty of time to close out on him. The lack of spacing in this lineup makes this difficult, but the Raptors still rush the perimeter even when Boston puts out their best lineup.

The Celtics have struggled to initiate their offense when covered this closely on the perimeter, although I’ve noticed one simple adjustment they’ve used to give themselves some breathing room:

Starting the offense from the logo spaces the floor enough so that Toronto can’t send three defenders to harass Kemba. Jaylen is once again waiting on the far side, while VanVleet lets Kemba by him because he can’t leave Jayson alone. Now it’s just Kemba and Gasol in open space, which means Kemba can go where ever he wants. Driving at the less mobile Gasol is much different than driving into the slightly more mobile Ibaka, but enough space can still give Kemba enough room to work with:

So long as the Celtics can create open space and generate momentum moving towards the basket, they can get what they want. Even when Kemba can’t get all the way to the cup, he can make plays like this:

As this series progresses, Gordon Hayward‘s becomes more pronounced. I think the team is just as good without him, but his style of play is exactly what the team is lacking. Pulling the ball out and making a measured decision is Gordon’s bread and butter:

That short mid-range shot from Theis could also be integrated into Boston’s offense a little more when Toronto switches to zone.

Toronto’s constant switching between defensive schemes will make it difficult for the Celtics to get into a rhythm on offense, but Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart should be able to follow Kemba’s example from Game 3. It’s all about open space, and the Celtics can create plenty of it.

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