It’s the series many have been looking forward to, with even more anticipating it for quite some time. After making quick work of their first-round opponents by way of sweeps en route to their Eastern Conference Semi-Finals encounter, the Raptors and Celtics, two squads with some of the league’s best young talent, were set to take the stage. Except one side almost looked like they forgot to show up.
Call it what you will, but if we’re being honest, the Raptors were merely a shell of the NBA’s second-best team that they were during the regular season — a season that garnered a better record than the year prior with two notable stars in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green missing. The heartache of those 48 minutes in Game 1 against Boston on Sunday will be hard to forget. But the Raptors, and their doting fanbase, will have to have a short memory because we’re up to bat again today for Game 2.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The world knows that foul trouble and poor shooting were uncharacteristic for the defending champs who struggled to find some semblance of a rhythm. There’s also more than just the game in the mind’s of these battled-tested stars. An abrupt, but necessary hiatus, can take a toll on the players we’re so used to seeing unfazed on the court. Coupled with the inability to leave the Bubble, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, a bad game was practically inevitable — and perhaps outright understandable.
In any case, we’ll find out soon enough if Game 1 was a fluke or if the Raptors are in trouble. Now, let’s get into the game details:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 5:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Boston – Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
Toronto – Oshae Brissett (knee – out), Patrick McCaw (knee – out)
Boston – Tremont Waters (knee – out), Javonte Green (knee – out), Gordon Hayward (ankle – out)
How Well Can You Take a Punch?
Raptors fans know the feeling of Game 1 nerves all too well. Historically, the franchise hasn’t fared too well in opening matches. It’s almost enough to have us feeling comfortable going down one early in the series. The Raptors have been here before and come back.
But Toronto didn’t just lose to the Celtics, they got in their own way and shot themselves out of the contest. As much as their defense was sloppy, it still played a relevant role, but to say the offense never took off — minus a Serge Ibaka heat check late in the first quarter — would be an understatement.
“I mean, listen, we’ve certainly been punched squarely in the nose,” Nick Nurse said afterwards. “And we’ve got to stand up and either start playing, playing better, or not, and that’s kind of where we are.”
In other words, Game 2 will surely dictate the course of this series, not just in terms of the result, but also the level of play of the Raptors. To that point, Raptors fans might be calling for a change to the lineup — a switch to the starters or the big rotation after an Ibaka-Marc Gasol zone looked to have some success on Sunday afternoon. Still, remember: a poor shooting night happens, and much of the Raptors failures two days ago are easily shakeable.
Match the Aggression
The Celtics came out swinging early in Game 1 and set the tone from the onset. Much of their aggressive play allowed for quick transition baskets off early turnovers, but more importantly, it played a major role with the referee’s whistle. A sluggish and sloppy Raptors defense seemed to catch the attention of the officials often, as Toronto racked up seven fouls in as many minutes, ending the opening frame with 11 team fouls. Having Ed Malloy on the call never seems to help either.
Foul trouble particularly plagued Pascal Siakam early on who ended the first quarter on the bench with three points and three fouls, as well as Lowry, who else found himself with a trio of harms early on in the game. After struggling to find a bucket three minutes into the game, look for the Raptors to attack the basket often and see themselves on the scoreboard early. And to get the refs looking their way on some favourable calls.
Less Posts, More Rolls
Switching from the third option to the primary point of offense for the defending champs, Siakam has continued to add to his ever-growing arsenal of moves. For example: the active post-up. But Siakam’s bread-and-butter move failed repeatedly on Sunday, leaving him with just a 4-of-11 line in the paint and just 13 points on the afternoon. With Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart guarding him, Siakam’s post-up attempts were nearly triple his season average, but his touch continuously failed him.
With VanVleet also struggling, it’ll be interesting to see if Nurse attempts to set up more pick-and-roll action between the two future cornerstones of the franchise — a setup that has worked on multiple occasions for the two. However, no Raptors dishes the pass on the roll better than Lowry. Having struggled in his own right in Game 1, the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop with Gasol, Ibaka, will hopefully open the paint and leave Celtics defenders too weary for a lethal three-pointer.
Bonus: “Family is Huge for Me”
After going through their own isolation upon arrival, family members of the remaining NBA teams were permitted to enter the Bubble. Upon clearing safety protocols, they were allowed to see their loved ones on Monday. For father-of-two VanVleet, the opportunity to see his family for the first time since Father’s Day was an invaluable moment. Could we see another “baby bump” from Fred?
“Just excited, just excited. I miss my family. Family is huge for me. It’s been a while,” said VanVleet prior to reconnecting with them. “I think the last time I saw them was Father’s Day. It’s been a while, but it will be good to see everybody. And right on time after getting our butts kicked yesterday.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for the Raptors, something that coach Nurse acknowledged and will be mindful of leading into tonight’s game.
“I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot of love and joy for these guys for the rest of their day [Monday] and part of [today] which they certainly need,” said Nurse. “And hopefully that’ll translate to the core. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. We gotta go play, we gotta go play better and play a lot harder.”
Straight to the point, but it shows the focus Nurse and his coaching staff carry into today’s game. The players reuniting with their families is sure to be a good thing, but if it isn’t the difference maker, they’ll just have to find it in other ways.
There are a lot of questions yet to be answered for this Raptors squad that has never met the Celtics in a playoff round prior to this series. Look for some of those questions to be answered tonight.