In a series where the Toronto Raptors have bounced back from an 0-2 deficit to tie it up at 2-2, the obvious parallel to draw would be to last year’s Eastern Conference Final. There too they faced a tough opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks, fell into a two-game hole, found some fireworks in Game 3, and rallied.
When looking at the Boston Celtics, though, this series looks less like last year’s matchup with Bucks and more like the one against the Sixers. It’s been a defensive battle, first of all. The two teams have successfully forced the other away from their preferences on offense and have turned each game into a different kind of grind. Early, the Raptors were unable to buy a shot from deep and couldn’t find a star to set them straight. In the last two games, Kyle Lowry has managed to lift his game and get buckets any way possible. The Celtics, also, have faltered with their own offense.
When looking at a series like this, all analysis starts to look reductive. We ask questions like can Pascal Siakam find a breakout game? Can the bench get involved in the series on the offensive end? Will Nick Nurse change up his lineups and dig deeper into his roster if his starters get tired?
In the end, though, as we look ahead to Game 5 — this is going to come down to who gets the tough buckets. As long as both defenses are playing as well as they are, and don’t have any blips in effort, you have to assume the Raptors and Celtics are going to have struggles. The major faces in this series are going to have to find a way. Lowry, Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker. With the series now hanging in the balance in a best-of-three, the sum of the stars on either side will decide things.
So, who’s willing to step up and possibly give Toronto their third straight win? Let’s look at the game details and explore.
Where to Watch
TSN, 6:30 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Boston — Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (knee - out), Oshae Brissett (knee - out)
Boston — Gordon Hayward (ankle - out), Javonte Green (knee - out), Vincent Poirier (personal - out)
Set the Tone Again
Since a sloppy start to Game 1, the Raptors have come out the aggressors in every game since, and it’s been a critical part of getting back into this series. Over the last two, that effort has been led by Kyle Lowry — Lowry had 11 of the first 17 points for the Raptors in Game 4, half of his eventual 22 points on the night.
The energy has been helped by attacking downhill against Boston’s defense in the early parts of the game. Toronto has shied away from giving Pascal Siakam early touches in the post, instead opting for a heavy dose of 1-5 pick and roll with either Lowry or VanVleet. This has been a great strategy, and utilizes the best abilities of those three guys while they’re on the court.
5 mins. 11 pts.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 5, 2020
KLow's ballin' early pic.twitter.com/dsrhFl1kZe
Siakam was great in the second half of Game 4. He scored 11 of his 23 in the third quarter and found his midrange shot. Still, I’d like to see the Raptors stick with their strategy of getting their two guards going north-south in the first quarter, and save Siakam for when the mud starts to stick in the transitional periods of the game.
In Game 4, the Raptors got the best outcomes from their zone defensive schemes. Running a 2-3, a box and one, and a triangle and two at different points in the game, Toronto kept the Celtics on their toes and forced the aforementioned shooting woes of their big guns.
In Game 5, there will certainly be adjustments by Brad Stevens and the Celtics’ coaching staff. Keeping the emphasis on the three-point line, though, and forcing Boston into midrange shots should still be the party line for Toronto. In Game 4, Jayson Tatum had his way in the in between game, going 10-for-18 overall and scoring 24 points — but he only got to the line for five free throws and made just 1-of-6 from three.
Clearly, the Raptors want to keep the Celtics shooting from inside the arc. While Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both capable mid-range shooters, a zone defense helps ensure that the Raptors at least have the opportunity of trading twos for threes.
Weapons Off the Bench
Finally, anything that the Raptors can get out of their bench (beyond Serge Ibaka) would be found money in Game 5. We know Toronto’s starters have paid a heavy price with their minutes in order to tie this series up. Lowry is coming off two games over 44 minutes. Siakam played 46 in Game 4 and has been tasked with scoring and guarding one of Boston’s deadly wings. The one concern that hangs over the Raptors as this series extends longer is that fatigue will become a factor among their starters.
A breakout Norman Powell game would go a long way in Game 5. He looked better on Saturday than he did in a shaky Game 3, but the team will need more than five points on six shots in order to call his minutes a win.
There’s also a chance that an eighth man steps up, but Nick Nurse has refused to extend the leash. Matt Thomas missed his only shot in three minutes in Game 4, while Terence Davis never got off the pine. Even 8-10 points from either of those two would really relieve the starters in a series that has all the hallmarks of one that will go the distance.