The Celtics were half a second away from a 3-0 lead in the series, but instead they are facing the Raptors up just 2 games to 1 after a last second miracle pass and 3 point game winner by OG Anunoby. No team has ever come back to win when trailing 0-3. But, only one team has come back to beat the Celtics when they lead a series 2-0, and that was the 2018 Cavaliers in 2018 ECF. The Celtics are 39-1 when they lead a 7 game series 2-0.
Toronto did come back from being down 0-2 to the Bucks in the ECF last year after winning Game 3 in double OT. Speaking of the Bucks, they are now down 0-3 to the Heat in their semi-final series. Of course, there are some x-factors when discussing these numbers. The Raptors had Kawhi Leonard when they won that series and there is no real home court advantage that would usually affect a series outcome.
Since mid January, the Celtics are 9-2 in games played after a loss in the previous game. Hopefully they will bounce back after Thursday’s loss. According to Basketball-Reference, the Raptors are just the fourth franchise with game-winning buzzer-beaters in consecutive playoffs. They join Boston in 2009 & 2010, Chicago in 1993 & 1994, and LA Lakers from 1962-1964.
Patrick McCaw (knee) and Oshae Brissett (knee) remain out for the Raptors. Vincent Poirier is out for the Celtics as he left the bubble for the birth of his child. Gordon Hayward is returning to the bubble and is expected to clear quarantine sometime next week but there is still no date set for his return. Tremont Waters (knee) and Javonte Green (knee) both remain out for the Celtics.
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
Victor Poirier (personal) out
Tremont Waters (knee) out
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
Jaylen Brown vs OG Anunoby
OG Anunoby has been the most consistent player for the Raptors in all 3 games so far. In Game 3, he finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals and 2 blocks. He shot 50% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc so it’s no surprise that when he was given an open corner 3 to win the game, he hit it. Jaylen Brown finished Game 3 with 19 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 blocks. Both have played very good defense. Anunoby got the last laugh in Game 3 and hopefully, Brown will be the one laughing after Game 4. Jaylen Brown took the loss in Game 3 personally and I expect a big game from him in this one.
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. In Game 3, he found his shot and finished with 25 points, 3 rebounds and 6 assists. He shot 38.5% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart was a difference maker on both ends of the court in Games 1 and 2. But, he struggled a bit in Game 3, scoring just 11 points on 26% shooting from the field and 22% shooting beyond the arc. He also had 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Smart needs to once again become a difference maker for the Celtics to win this one.
Kemba Walker vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry almost single handedly willed the Raptors to the win in Game 3. He made an incredible pass over Tacko Fall across the court for the game winning shot. He shot just 34% from the field in the first two games but shot 56% from the field and scored 31 points to go with 6 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 3. Kemba is very important to the Celtics’ offense. The Celtics are plus-33 during his 105 minutes on the court and minus-13 during his 35 minutes on the bench.
Kemba played great in Game 3, finishing with 29 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals and made an incredible pass to Daniel Theis for what was the game winner for half a second. The Celtics will need Kemba to play well again and they will also need to try to limit Lowry. One thing to watch is that Lowry sat for 2 minutes in the first quarter of Game 3 and played all of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarter. He played 46 minutes in that game. I’m not sure I see him playing that many minutes going forward.
Jayson Tatum vs Pascal Siakam
Siakam has not been a factor in this series so far. He scored 16 points on 40% shooting in Game 3 and shot just 25% from beyond the arc. Tatum struggled in Game 3 as well, finishing with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. He shot just 27.8% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to continue to lock down Siakam and not allow him to find his offense and they also need Jayson to step up and play better.
Keys to the Game
Defense is always a key to winning and especially so in the playoffs. The Celtics definitely won the first two games with their defense. The Celtics held the Raptors to 94 points on 36% shooting from the field and 25% on 3’s in Game 1 and 99 points in Game 2, shooting just 40% from the field and 27% from beyond the arc. In Game 3, the Celtics let their defense slip a bit and allowed the Raptors to shoot 44% from the field and 32.5% from beyond the arc. The Celtics on the other hand shot just 31% from beyond the arc due to a tighter defense from the Raptors. The Celtics need to be ready for a zone because the Raptors have had some success with it in Games 2 and 3. The Celtics need to get back to lock down defense and not let up.
The Raptors have given the Celtics fits with their zone defense so far in the playoffs. The Boston Celtics are averaging just 0.69 points per possession against Toronto’s zone defense through the first three games of this series. Toronto has played a total of 40 zone possessions so far in this series, using it strategically to throw the Celtics off and it has worked, especially in Game 3. Brad Stevens tried to counter the zone with Enes Kanter in Game 3 and he was able to score but he gave the points right back as the Raptors attacked him and scored easily on the other end. Brad must find a way to counter the Raptors’ zone while not giving up points to them on the other end.
Up until Game 3, 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. On Thursday, the Celtics still out rebounded the Raptors 44-39 but they lost the game. Next to defense, rebounding is one of the most important keys to winning and the Celtics must continue to put out extra effort to beat the Raptors to the rebounds.
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 the first two games that the Celtics needed to improve on was turnovers. 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. They cleaned up the turnovers a bit in Game 3 and had 14 to Toronto’s 13. The Celtics need to keep the ball moving but they also must make careful passes to keep from turning it over. The Raptors are dangerous when they can run in transition and get fast break points. The Celtics need to limit those opportunities by taking care of the ball.
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. In Game 3, the Celtics bench had 20 points to just 10 for the Raptors’ bench. However, Nick Nurse limited his bench to just 3 players and played each of his starters other than Gasol (26 minutes) and Siakam (38 minutes). The Celtics need their reserves to continue to play well and contribute when on the court.
In Game 3, the Celtics let the Kyle Lowry and the Raptors be the more aggressive team. 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. The more aggressive team usually gets the benefit of the doubt from the refs. The Celtics must be the team that plays harder and they must play harder for 48 minutes. They can’t allow the Raptors to outwork them again.
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 top coaches in the league. The playoffs are like a chess match with each coach having to make adjustments and then having to adjust to the other teams’ adjustments. In Game 3, Nurse was the coach to make the winning adjustments. In Game 4, Brad needs to adjust to those adjustments and get the Celtics back in the win column.
Hope vs Payback - The Raptors were desperate in Game 3 and their win gave them some hope. Had the Celtics won Game 3, they would have pretty much cut off any hope that the Raptors had. But now, they can feel like they are back in the series and they believe that they can win. The Celtics have to look for payback from that half a second failure at the end of the game and squash whatever hope that the Raptors have gained. They have to come out right from the beginning looking to keep the Raptors from getting any confidence and from having any hope to win Game 4.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. After Game 2, Nick Nurse complained about the officiating and it seemed to give them a slight edge with the officials in Game 3. It’s hard to tell how a crew will call the game. They could call it tight or they could let them play. They could try to extend the series or call it straight. However it is called, the Celtics will need to adapt and not allow the refs to take them out of their game and affect their focus. Marc Davis and Bill Kennedy have been really bad in some Celtics games but they have also had some games where they have been good. So, who knows what we will get in this one?