Well, that was a disappointing start, wasn’t it? And yet, it certainly wasn’t an unexpected one, if you watched the Celtics dismantle the Raptors twice already this season. In fact, with that in mind, it was distressingly familiar.
Before the thoughts, I would like to remind everyone once again that Black Lives Matter, and that the way that police continue to perpetrate violence on Black people with little to no accountability has to change. And that starts with police “unions”, who protect cops and allow them to act with impunity. You can learn more on this ongoing labour struggle and the call for the AFL-CIO to oust police unions from their membership right here.
Speaking of protecting cops, let’s also remember that right here in Toronto, the SIU continues to refuse to hold Toronto police accountable for their actions. The SIU has cleared police of wrongdoing in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, which shouldn’t be a surprise — they clear 97% of officers they investigate. We must demand change. Contact Mayor John Tory and members of Toronto city Council and continue pushing them.
Let’s get into the thoughts.
1. Mentally Unprepared
I’m not going to get too upset at the Raptors for sleepwalking through yesterday’s first quarter. This has been an emotionally draining week. And the Raptors have been in Florida, away from their families, longer than any other team. So I get it. They weren’t ready to play, and it showed in their slow-footedness, lazy fouls, turnovers, and terrible defensive rotations.
But there were a couple of things that I was disappointed in. One was the repeated attempts to post Pascal Siakam up on Marcus Smart. Which led to zero points and an offensive foul called on Pascal in the first quarter. Surely, the Raptors know the scouting report on Smart; it’s the same as the report on Kyle Lowry: You can’t post Smart up. He’s too strong, too good a defender. Why did they even try? Why weren’t they trying to get Siakam going out of some pick-and-roll situations?
Along the same lines, the Raptors also seemed unprepared for the Celtics’ physicality. Far, far too much time was spent complaining to referees about no-calls, and again — this is the way the Celtics play D. That’s the scouting report. It isn’t new. You’re not going to get those calls against them.
Being a bit checked out is one thing, but you gotta be able to play smarter than that.
2. Better D, Worse O
The second quarter opened with some Raptors adjustments, as you might’ve expected — but perhaps you, like me, didn’t expect the adjustment Nick Nurse delivered. I thought we might get Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in to harass Jaylen Brown, but instead, the Raptors went with the double-big lineup featuring Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, along with Terence Davis, Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry. The Raptors also started going zone following made shots.
And... it worked? At least while the Raptors were making shots. It definitely seemed to take the Celtics out of their comfort zone for a brief spell, as they committed four turnovers in the first five minutes of the second quarter, and the Raptors went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to nine.
Alas, it only lasted as long as the Raptors were making shots. And since they shot 3-for 12, and 0-for-6 from downtown, after the first five minutes of the frame, well...
3. You Don’t Come Back From That
To be fair, the Raps’ D was actually pretty solid throughout the second, even while the shots weren't dropping. The Raptors had closed the Celtics’ lead back to 12 with under a minute to go, and had the ball looking to get it to 10 or even single digits heading into halftime.
[Ominous voice] And that’s where it all went wrong...
First, a Serge Ibaka post-up led to a brutal Ibaka pass back to the perimeter that led to a wide open Jaysum Tatum dunk. Then, an ill-advised Fred VanVleet layup attempt led to a Kemba Walker three-pointer at the buzzer — a play on which Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol both mixed up the coverage, leaving Walker wide open.
All of that effort, wasted. A potential seven-point swing. The Raptors defense had played so much better up to that point — only giving up 15 points, after giving up 39(!!) in the first quarter... and after all of that, to actually finish the quarter in a bigger deficit than when it started? That’s when I knew this one was over.
4. Uncomfortable Shots
The Raptors ended up shooting 10-for-40 from downtown, and there was a lot of talk after the game of how that was an outlier and the Raptors wouldn’t shoot that poorly again. I’m not so sure of that, and it’s actually the Raptors defense that makes me think that way.
Plenty of those 30 misses were open shots that the Raptors just clanked. But like the Raptors’ defense (that also gives up a ton of open threes), the Celtics seem OK with giving up a lot of open looks; the thinking is, their defense is stout enough, and their rotations quick enough, that when open threes do come, the shooters won’t even be comfortable shooting them. Just the presence of the defense makes the shooters uncomfortable enough to rush, to not get the feet properly set or the shoulders squared, and the shot is off.
That’s exactly the way the Raptors operate on D. If that works well enough for them on one end, it’s good enough to work against them on the other. (Of course, it would have helped if it actually had worked for them on this night; instead, the Celtics shot 44% from downtown.)
The Raptors certainly can shoot better than 25%. But if the Celtics D holds up, it’s not any sort of guarantee.
5. Switch it up for Pascal and Fred
It’s pretty clear the Raptors aren’t gonna make much noise in this series if Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam combine to shoot 8-for-32 every game. The Celtics really honed in on the two of them on D, and neither one was able to get comfortable; Pascal’s three early fouls didn’t help either.
I don’t think posting up Siakam is the answer, obviously, not with Smart guarding him especially. I think a few more pick-and-rolls would be beneficial, either from Serge Ibaka or one of the guards, to get Siakam going downhill with at least a little bit of space (even though the Celtics switch just about as well as anyone). The Lowry-Siakam PnR almost always generates a good look, and while you don’t want to beat it into the ground, it is something the Raptors should lean on a little more. (I wouldn’t mind a few more Lowry-Ibaka PnRs either.)
As for VanVleet, a little more off-ball action with him might help open things up for everyone. I generally like Fred in more of a two-guard role than a lead-guard role, so running him baseline or off a staggered screen on the wing might help free him — and if it doesn’t, and the D is tilted in his direction (the Celtics seem genuinely terrified of his shot) then the weak side should open up for Siakam or Lowry.
In any event, I am confident that Nick Nurse will have some adjustments ready for Game 2, and I’m looking forward to seeing them.
We all knew this was gonna be a tough series for the Raptors, and we all knew it was gonna be a big adjustment, going from the Nets to this. Given that the Celtics have beaten the Raptors without breaking a sweat in three of their past four meetings, though, I won’t blame anyone for being officially concerned — because I am, too.