It’s an all-too-familiar feeling in Raptor Land as the Raptors find themselves in an elimination situation being down 3-2 in their second-round series against the Boston Celtics.
Losing any playoff game will always be a gut punch but it’s the way Toronto lost in Game 5 that has struck the confidence of fans. Toronto got nothing on offense all game long and their defense was subpar to start, collapsing as the game went on. With production being limited on both ends of the court, it magnified the play — or lack thereof — from Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.
As great as Siakam’s play was before the shutdown of the season, he just hasn’t been the same in the Bubble, as coach Nick Nurse seemed to confirm.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse laments Pascal Siakam’s play in the Bubble after Game 5 loss to Celtics: “I’m not sure why he’s been so out of rhythm. He hasn’t had a lot of great games. It’s too bad because he was spectacular in last year’s playoffs and spectacular all year long.” pic.twitter.com/huXbyH5WGu— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 8, 2020
It’s not always good to see the coach call out his players, but for Nurse it has worked in the past. Toronto’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got it in training camp and to a certain extent, Chris Boucher and Stanley Johnson (see garbage time performances in the Bubble) too. Hopefully, Siakam gets back into a rhythm tonight because Toronto will need it.
To make matters worse, centre Serge Ibaka is listed as questionable with an ankle injury he suffered in the fourth quarter of Game 5. He was seen in a walking boot yesterday and he said himself that he isn’t sure if he’ll play today. Not good!
.@sergeibaka says he twisted his ankle in game 5 and is going to see how he feels tomorrow morning to determine his availability for game 6. pic.twitter.com/uJb5pMvbgD— Cassidy Hubbarth (@CassidyHubbarth) September 8, 2020
While Ibaka’s offensive production has been below average, putting up 11.8 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from deep on 4.4 three-point attempts per game, it’s his defense where he’s struggled the most. Averaging 23.2 minutes per game, Ibaka’s defensive rating is up to 105.3 in this series compared to 94.2 against the Brooklyn Nets. Of course, the Celtics are a better team, but Ibaka has looked lost at times, which is uncharacteristic from him.
Regardless, if Ibaka can’t play tonight, expect to see the bench, and the team as a whole, struggle to make up the scoring he provides. Toronto has already been having a tough time to score, and potentially losing whatever boost Ibaka can provide will be tough.
For the Celtics, they hit all the right plays in Game 5 after dropping Games 3 and 4. What’s worse for Toronto is that, after laying an egg in Game 4, Jaylen Brown had his first offensive explosion, going for 27 points on an efficient 10-for-18 shooting from the field to go along with six rebounds and three steals. This team has so many weapons from Brown to Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and the possible outbursts from either one of Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Brad Wanamaker that the margin of error on defense is incredibly slim for the defending champs.
Let’s hope the season continues with a Game 6 win. To see how that can be done, we’ll look at the game details followed by the keys to the game below.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 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 — Serge Ibaka (ankle — questionable) Patrick McCaw (knee — out), Oshae Brissett (knee — out)
Boston — Gordon Hayward (ankle — out), Javonte Green (knee — out), Vincent Poirier (personal — out)
Get Something or Someone Going
It’s all there in the subtitle. For one, Toronto’s offense didn’t show up. Other than OG Anunoby scoring seven points, the Raptors got nothing from their starters to begin the game, finishing with an abysmal 11 points to the Celtics’ 25 after the first frame.
The Raptors scored 11 first-quarter points. ELEVEN.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) September 7, 2020
They were 4-for-20 from the field, 1-for-9 from 3. Anunoby was the only Toronto starter to hit a FG.
This is as bad as their O has been all series. Not unrelated: this is as good as Boston's D has been.
Celtics by 14.
Unfortunately, it didn’t get better from there. The lead grew to as many as 27 in the first half and the game was essentially over from there. As a team, they finished with 89 points which was their second-lowest output of the entire 2019-20 season, they shot 12-for-40 from deep, went 11-for-13 from the line, and recorded only 32 points in the paint. Outside of their shooting, those numbers show the lack of aggression the Raptors played with. They’ll need to jump out the gates strong to avoid getting into a deep hole once again.
Toronto didn’t get help from their go-to guys in Siakam, VanVleet or Kyle Lowry. While Lowry can significantly impact the game in more ways than one, he was being guarded by Marcus Smart and it changed what he was able to do overall. As for the other two, well, they have to show up one way or the other. VanVleet led all Raptors in scoring, putting up 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting from the field to go with five assists, but it was his decision making on offense that prevented the Raps from getting into a rhythm. For Game 6, he’ll need to avoid overdribbling and the ill-advised shots he took early in the shot clock that killed all or any momentum the Raptors were trying to get.
I'm sorry but I watched Fred waste 7 of 9 possessions at one point in the second where basically no one else touched the ball I'm not yelling at P for this one— a. :( (@Swarlayzers) September 8, 2020
The reigning Most Improved Player of the Year from a season ago put up an underwhelming performance in Game 5 with 10 points on just nine shots. Siakam has got to be more aggressive in looking to get his touches but it’s going to come down to his positioning on the floor. He hasn’t been great in the post but when he’s had the opportunity to face-up or play with a bit of pace, Siakam has been able to get going in the paint. The margins are thin here for Toronto, but they’ll need to get something more from Siakam.
While the band Coldplay were trying to figure out their troubles in life with their hit song “Talk”, back in 2005, the Raptors had their issues with talking on defense — or lack thereof — in Game 5. There were several plays where the Raptors were late on their defensive rotations or were either overhelping when they didn’t need to, leading to easy drives, layups and shots the Celtics were able to make. Brown, Walker, Tatum, and Smart all took advantage of that during their 37-point second quarter.
What’s worse is that Toronto’s defense held up for most of the Celtics’ possessions but it was near the end of the shot clock where they got beat. For Game 6, Toronto will need to communicate like they have been all year to watch the cutters, the screeners and most importantly, the shooters. Time and time again the Raptors got held up on screens, that opened up driving lanes, leading to 48 points in the paint. And when they didn’t drive the lane, Boston took advantage with Brown, Smart and Wanamaker going a combined 8-for-17 from three.
It sounds difficult, but if the Raps can communicate better — as they have all season — they’ll be in good shape on that end of the floor.
Whatever It Takes
I don’t mean to be dropping song references as part of the keys to the game but the titles were right there to use. Just like Imagine Dragons, they did whatever it took to make their hit song “Whatever it Takes” — and the Raptors will need to do whatever it takes to force a Game 7. How? Well, the offense and defense were already discussed, so for this: it’ll be more than one point.
First off, clean up the turnovers and fouls. The Raps had 13 turnovers, leading to 13 fastbreak points for Boston. And while that isn’t bad, they really do need to play a near-perfect game here. Meanwhile, they hacked the Celtics 24 times leading them to 24-for-27 free throw shooting. You could say the whistle was not on Toronto’s side, but the Raptors will need to play through it and with more discipline.
Next for the Raptors is to make the most out of each offensive possession. The Raptors play their best when they get out and run but we barely saw that in Game 5. The Celtics make their transition attack difficult, and we’re not saying they need to hoist up shots fast, but they do need to get into their sets quicker, especially when VanVleet is running the show.
Finally, Lowry, VanVleet, and Siakam all have averaged 37-plus minutes per game and looked exhausted in Game 5. Still, if they get going tonight, Nurse will need to ride with them because the bench isn’t providing much of a spark. Now, if Norman Powell, Ibaka (if he plays), or by luck Matt Thomas or Terence Davis get burn and have success then by all means the trio should get some rest. Other than that, we’re looking at another 40-plus minutes for each yet again. At this point, it’s time to go all-out for victory.