It’s an in-season match-up most hope to see as a playoff series.
The Raptors and Boston Celtics have two of the best young cores in the Eastern Conference, creating a rivalry that hasn’t quite fully evolved into what it truly could be.
There have been arguments of who the better player is between Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum, who the better coach is between Nick Nurse and Brad Stevens (though this seems to be clear), the overall better future for both franchises and ultimately who would win in a seven-game series.
While we talk about this being a regular season match-up, the Raptors are guaranteed the second seed and the Celtics should lock in at number three. Making this Friday night game a potential second round playoff preview.
Toronto has looked like the best team in the NBA during their first three games in the Bubble, specifically with wins against tough competition like the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, and then by making things look easy versus the Orlando Magic.
Boston on the other hand comes into the contest with a 2-2 record during the restart. Their wins came during two offensive outbursts where they scored 128 and 149, respectively. The two losses came against some of the best competition in the east — the first place Bucks and the Miami Heat — and the Celtics’ offense only averaged 109 points during those games.
That said, the Raptors do come across as the favourites, since the Celtics seem to still be searching for their identity against the top teams. However, the latter did win two of the three games played between these teams prior to the COVID-19 postponement.
And while the Raptors are the hot team right now, it seems the entire NBA may have their eyes on this game tonight.
Where to Watch
TSN, 9 PM ET
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Boston – Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis
Toronto – Patrick McCaw (knee – out), Oshae Brissett (knee – questionable)
Boston - N/A
Battle of the Stars
Raptors fans will live and die on the hill that Pascal Siakam is the better player between he and Jayson Tatum, while Celtics fans will do the same, siding with Tatum.
It would take a whole article comparing and contrasting their two careers, but in the early running Siakam has been consistent for the Raptors through three games. Meanwhile, Tatum struggled in the first game back, before considerably popping off in the last three games for Boston.
Through the traditional stats Tatum has the advantage on the offensive categories of points per game, field goal percentage and three-point percentage — all while playing approximately five less minutes per game during the restart versus Siakam.
Through an analytical approach Siakam has a 25.7 net rating versus Tatum’s 0.8. The latter has a better true shooting percentage though, and they have an equal player impact estimate of 11.2 in the Bubble.
While each fan base has their thoughts on who is better between Siakam and Tatum, a matchup like this on a Friday night will truly show the true colours of who can handle the spotlight.
Three for Three
This game could become a shootout between two teams that have had success beyond the arc since the restart. The Celtics and Raptors are fifth and sixth respectively in threes per game and third and fourth in three-point percentage in the Bubble.
Toronto has been the second-best team in wide open threes (6+ feet) in the Bubble and the Celtics are eighth. The Raptors also shoot 53.5 per cent when a defender is between four and six feet, while the Celtics are only a 45 per cent shooting team in that same category.
Give credit where due, the Celtics are a much better shooting team when defenders tighten up: shooting 7-for-19 when a guarded within two to four feet and the Raptors are 0-for-13. (Celtics are also 2-for-2 with a defender within two feet when shooting from three).
That said, the Raptors have somehow held opponents (in the Bubble) to the worst shooting percentage when they don’t have a defender within six feet, and nearly half the threes the Raptors allow are wide open. The principle of the Raptors frenzied defensive pressure is to make even those wide open shots feel threatened and rushed. It’s how that number tends to shift in Toronto’s favour. It’s how they allow the second most threes per game at Disney, while having the third best opponents three-point shooting percentage.
Tonight, however, might be the true testament of the Raptors defense versus a strong three-point shooting team.
As already mentioned, this could very well be a second-round playoff matchup between the Raptors and Celtics.
Toronto has clinched the second seed in the conference with a 4.5 game lead over the Celtics who only have four games left to play. Boston is favoured for the third seed with a 2.5 game lead over the current fourth seeded Miami Heat. So as things stand, and if things go according to plan, the Raptors and Celtics are an expected second seed matchup.
If the Celtics do lock in at number three, they’ll likely play the Pacers or Sixers — with a chance of the Heat dropping to six as well.
Realistically, it’s a guessing game between the three-to-six seeds in the East and who could work their way into the second round. Regardless, this Raptors/Celtics matchup is a series many want to see, and we get a preview tonight.