We finally get the Celtics. If you want the deep dive, you can find that here. If you want all the writers, you’ve come to the right place. This is part one of two, and you can find the second part here! For now, enjoy.
1) We finally, finally have Raptors – Celtics. Are you excited? Scared? Talk me through your feelings. This is a safe space.
Excited, I think. Not only is this an intriguing matchup because of how the teams styles play off of each other, but the geographical angle gives it that extra oomph.
I am nervous. I am always nervous.
I have been waiting 20 years for this. Ever since Vince Carter and Paul Pierce used to go back and forth this has been my dream playoff matchup. This is one of my favorite memories:
I’m way more excited than scared. The Raptors should be able to beat them if they play their cards right and as Douglas Adams said, Don’t Panic. Any time you have a chance to knock off a “storied” franchise you get to create your own story, so this is a chance to add another chapter to the Toronto novel.
50 percent anticipatory, 25 percent excited, 25 percent terrified. This should be a fascinating series between two well balanced teams that could challenge one another’s weak points. Plus I have made a lot of jokes about Basic Brad and the Celtics on Twitter over the years. This could get rough if the series goes south for Toronto.
I feel conflicted. If this series occurred during “normal” times, with fans in the stands, I’d be more excited. Toronto and Boston have some of the most passionate fan bases in the NBA. But alas, it’s still the maiden playoff series between these two rivals. Even in the bubble, it’s a fascinating matchup that I am looking forward to watching unfold.
I have mixed feelings right now as I am going to Vancouver for the next two weeks to visit friends, which means I’ll be a hardcore Raptors fan watching games amongst a bunch of absolute noobs who will surely be weirded out by my stress levels during games (and my screaming). I won’t be in the comfort zone of my couch, which could add additional stress. I’m also a little bit scared of the Celtics, as they are the real deal. Ultimately, though, I am just thankful for NBA basketball and excited for a series we have waited years to get.
If you asked me this question 6 months ago, I would’ve said I’m terrified. I’m terrified of the full-strength version of this team. But that’s not the version Toronto’s playing next round. Gordon Hayward’s out, Kemba Walker hasn’t looked like the franchise player that scorched the Raps in their pre-quarantine matchups, and if I asked Celtics Twitter who their 7th and 8th men were, I’d probably get a combination of 5 different names as a response. Toronto definitely has questions to answer going into this series, but Boston decisively has more.
I don’t know how I feel, to be honest. I’ve been swimming in the stats and film for a week now, prepping for this, and I had a real answer when I sent this question out to everyone a few days ago. But the Jacob Blake video, and the incredible answers from Fred and Norm when asked about the topic, have me floundering. The Raptors admitted yesterday that they have discussed boycotting the games. There are bigger issues than basketball, and I find myself struggling to really pour my heart into this series when the players themselves seem to have the same issue. Throw in the complication that games are in the bubble disconnected from the cities the teams represent, without real fans attending. I’m sure when the games start, I’ll be as invested as ever. But for now, I don’t know how to feel.
2) Did the Nets series convince you of anything you didn’t already know or believe, in terms of the Raptors?
As you know Louis, I have underrated Fred VanVleet to some degree. The series against the Nets was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I held the belief that he absolutely needed to be next to Lowry to play his best basketball, but I think I’ve overrated what the Raptors current roster construction does for him. He’s been killing it.
The bench broke the NBA record for bench points. It didn’t convince me, necessarily, but it did solidify the FACT that Toronto has the deepest bench in the league.
Nothing of significance. At no point other than a brief stretch in Game 2 were the Raptors troubled by anything the Nets did so we can’t draw meaningful conclusions in games lacking pressure. It was good to see Fred VanVleet fire from three and OG Anunoby display some spin moves that could be effective against a lengthier aggressive team. That’s it.
I don’t think there is anything that we can really take away from the Nets series based on the level of competition. The closest I can come is that the Raptors are a far more settled team than we have historically seen in Toronto. Every time the Nets put up a mini-run the Raptors calmly responded and never seemed rattled, but it’s hard to say this with much conviction based on the Nets.
I knew the Raptors bench was good. But “100 points in a game” good? If Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell can play like that on a consistent basis, the Celtics will have their hands full.
As for the rest of the Raptors, this team has come a long way than the team that faced the Brooklyn Nets in 2014. They were expected to dominate a decimated Nets roster. And that’s exactly what they did.
Mostly just that Fred VanVleet is this good and this ready to take on a big role in the playoffs. I mean, who would have expected VanVleet to be the best Raptor through the first round? We have seen him improve throughout the season and fix the holes in his game that got him played off the floor in the 76ers series last year, but the fact that he can score at will right now adds an additional dimension to the Raptors offense that I didn’t expect. I’ll be curious to see if he can stay consistent throughout the playoffs. If so, that boy might get the full bag $$$.
Nothing major. I knew the Raptors were a really good team who wasn’t going to take any opponent they drew for granted, and I knew the Nets were a team that would’ve been part of last week’s Zoom call draft lottery, if this was the roster they played the full season with. If anything, I think Nurse and the Raptors coaching staff knew talent alone would allow them to vault the Nets, and any cards that may proven useful against later opponents, we’re held intentionally close to their chest.
No, I don’t think I learned anything new. It was nice to see the Raptors turn the screws on an opponent for four straight games. It was even nicer to know the Raptors were in second gear for the majority of the series and still completed the sweet with ease. That was expected, but it was a really nice refresher to see the Raptors kick hell out of someone else in the playoffs.
3) If the Raptors are going to win, describe how those games will have to look.
We’re going to have to see early Gasol baskets to punish the Celtics for trying to abuse his lack of aggressiveness. OG Anunoby will be the point of attack defender for the Raptors. Siakam shoots 36+ percent from three, and finds more of his touch around the rim. Everything else should fall into place if those things happen.
Contributions from everyone, Boston’s starters and primary reserves will be doing the work for the Celtics, and it is up to Toronto’s entire roster to chip away at any lead Boston may have or to secure a large lead for Toronto.
Gasol needs to be a dominant defensive presence and problematic enough offensively for them, and Siakam has to outplay his “matchup”. The guards will have to contain dribble penetration because as great as their recovery defense is, it can only be used as a backstop, not a primary containment measure. Boston’s shooters will make the shots the Nets shooters didn’t and stopping their guards/wings from drive-and-kicks is key.
Forcing turnovers and scoring in transition would be a good start, as the Celtics will try to make the Raptors beat them in the halfcourt.
Close, hard-fought, games. Both teams have the ability to score but they also can be defensive as well. I don’t expect many blowouts, meaning these games will come down to which team performs better in “clutch” time.
Controlled. The Raptors had a real problem with turning the ball over in their matchups against Boston this year. It’s going to feel counter intuitive, because wreaking havoc in the open court is usually a formula that works well for this team, but they’re going to have to resist the urge here. Boston is a long, defensively gifted team that will make Toronto pay for impulsive fast break mistakes, which could have been higher percentage looks in the half court.
It will look something like the games from last year’s Philadelphia series. That was as close to 90s basketball as you’re going to get in today’s NBA, with physical defense and ugly shot-making defining the series. Both Boston and Toronto play fairly slow in the half-court, and when both teams start switching everything, you could see a lot of full 24-second possessions. For the Raptors to win those games? Boston won’t be able to score (a real possibility), and the Raptors eke out enough points from Lowry heroics and Siakam post play.
4) What will Toronto’s biggest strength be in the series?
The All-Star back court of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
Experience. Their composure permits them to bend but not break. They can face adverse stretches without lasting damage and are resilient enough to change where they must. The Raptors can take blows without getting knocked out and what used to be a demoralizing run by the other team is just a segment in a game to overcome in the next one.
I had a real point to make here but cant pass up the slanderous answer: A massive coaching advantage.
Their defense. Entering the Playoffs, the Toronto Raptors boasted the second-best defensive efficiency in the entire league. They are also effective in transition, where they can force turnovers to generate offense.
Their defense. It’s their biggest strength in every series. Boston players have admitted to being bothered by Toronto’s defense, which makes sense given how good it is and how consistently it takes opposing teams out of their normal rhythm. When locked in — and when the top-7 players in the Raptors rotation are playing — the Raptors have the potential to have the best defense in the league. That’s what we will need to see against the Celtics and that’s what I expect to see given how the Raptors have been working up to this moment. Toronto has had some trouble keeping Celtic players in front of them during the regular season, but I expect them to figure it out as the series goes along.
Their depth. Toronto has played 9-10 men deep this entire season and beaten championship-caliber teams while doing so. Brad Wanamaker is the Celtics 7th best player. Nurse is going to have the luxury of testing out a few different lineup combinations early in this series, to determine what the Celtics do and don’t have answers for. If they can figure that out, Toronto’s advantage improves tremendously.
Beyond the obvious (yet true) ‘Toronto has the best and craziest defense ever’, one Norman Powell will be Toronto’s biggest advantage. The Celtics have two scorers more capable than Powell: Tatum and Walker. And Powell comes off the bench for Toronto. He’s a luxury, for sure, but if he starts scoring 20+ a game, the Celtics will be in trouble. He’s one of Toronto’s most impressive finishers against big challenges, and he’s a quick vaulter, getting to the rim before most challengers can even reach him. That will come in handy against Boston, who are long and physical, but not particularly tall. Powell’s jumper is automatic at this point, but if he dominates around the rim as well, then Toronto will probably be tough to beat.
5) What will Toronto’s biggest weakness be in the series?
They can be prone to turnovers as Boston’s perimeter length can disrupt the passing rhythms the Raptors often take for granted, especially when passing after picking up the dribble. That can lead to free points which is a precursor to getting down big, and recovering against a team that can hit threes is difficult.
The series likely comes down to the Raptors halfcourt scoring, as the Celtics present a difficult challenge with their variety of switching wings. Toronto will likely try and target Kemba or to force Kanter to defend in the pick-and-roll, but the Celtics won’t make it easy on them.
Half-court offense. While the Raptors did dominate the Nets, the question entering this series against an elite opponent is can they generate the offense on a consistent basis. Who will be their Kawhi Leonard to win them games when the Celtics are playing well defensively? Can they rely on being unselfish and spreading the wealth on offense against a talented Celtics offense?
I’m hard-pressed to find one. That might make me seem like a homer, but I think the Raptors are the least-flawed team in the league. Sure, their half-court offense will struggle at times, but I believe in Nurse and his staff to initiate more sets when the offense is stagnant and I believe in players like Siakam to make shots against smaller Celtics’ defenders. The rebounding could become an issue if the Raptors go small.
This seems like the obvious answer, but it needs to be addressed, so I’ll say it. It’s the health of Kyle Lowry, right? He has the most playoff experience on the roster, is the heart and soul of this team and raises the play of all his teammates while on the floor. If the Raps are forced to cart out a version of Kyle who can’t keep up with Kemba on defence, is hesitant to take charges like a gladiator he is, or (gulp) no Kyle at all, it’s going to turn into a glaring wound that Boston will repetitively poke.
Finishing. Length can bother Toronto. VanVleet is blocked as often as anyone around. Siakam can be goaded into inefficiency. Lowry doesn’t miss much around the rim, but he can be deterred from shooting. Anunoby, Gasol, Powell, they can all fade away for stretches and disappear. If the Raptors struggle around the rim, it will be hard for them to keep pace with Boston in the scoring department.
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