The Toronto Raptors don’t stop punching. They’re like a punch-drunk champion boxer, fighting on pure muscle memory: talented, mighty, staggering, and unbroken. Any team that beats the Raptors in the playoffs will earn it. Toronto’s defense takes chunks out of opponents one toothy bite at a time.
First up, here’s Es:
As Kyle Lowry has shifted into the main initiator for Toronto, as he has stopped waiting, as he said a close friend texted him to do before game three, the Raptors have shifted into the aggressor in this series. One year ago (plus change), the Raptors fell behind 0-2 against the Milwaukee Bucks before roaring back to backdoor sweep the series. It was Fred VanVleet in game four who burst to life, shooting five-of-six from the field in Toronto’s blowout win. It was the spark that lit the flame of his playoffs; he had played both overtimes in game three because Kyle Lowry fouled out, but VanVleet had shot 1-of-11.
In fact, he averaged 4.0 points per game on 25.6/19.5/70.6 shooting splits before game four of the Milwaukee series, and 14.7 points per game in the final nine games of the playoffs on 51.1/52.6/85.7 shooting splits. Game four was his Rubicon.
Whose Rubicon will have Toronto’s game four been this year? There are plenty of options; it was likely Pascal Siakam’s best game of the Boston Celtics series. VanVleet himself hit five triples in game four after hitting five in game three, too. Both were, not coincidentally, Toronto’s two wins of the series. Norman Powell has yet to record a breakout game, his only game with double-digit scoring coming with 10 in Toronto’s game one blowout loss.
So Toronto enters game five with a variety of players who are either in desperate need of a breakout game or signals that their star is turning to the positive. And if the Raptors are going to repeat 2019 and backdoor sweep the Celtics — or at least win the series, it doesn’t have to be four straight — then they’ll need someone to join Lowry, OG Anunoby, and Serge Ibaka as the only players performing at or above their regular season levels.
There are a lot of elements that could help Toronto move forward. Siakam’s jumper could return to form. He shot 2-of-13 from deep in game four, bringing him to 4-of-24 in the series, which is 16.7 percent. He shot a very solid 35.9 percent on the year on a remarkably similar profile. In fact, he’s been shooting an easier menu of shots in the playoffs. He’s shot more catch-and-shoot triples in the playoffs than in the regular season, and fewer pull-ups. That’s he’s hit zero pull-up triples has dragged his average down, but it goes even further than that. Over half of his triples in the playoffs have been classified as wide open, and he’s shot 29.2 percent on those looks. In the regular season he had a similar diet of wide open looks, over half his attempts, and he shot 37.0 percent on them. So Siakam is just missing looks he usually makes.
That will change at some point. And if it does, Boston will be in serious trouble. Toronto has evened the series despite the struggles of the team’s best scorer. Last year, it was VanVleet’s turnaround that pushed the Raptors past the Bucks. This year, it could be Siakam.
Toronto has only been outscored by six over the series with Siakam on the floor. That’s actually the third-best plus-minus among Toronto’s starters. Among starters, only megastar Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol have positive plus-minuses, as Toronto has outscored Boston by 16 points over the minutes that Lowry has played and one point when Gasol’s been on the court. It makes sense why Lowry is playing almost every minute of every game. But if Siakam can start shooting well, that could go a long way towards spelling Lowry, giving Toronto a little cushion in its margin for error, and pushing the team towards a second backdoor sweep in as many years.
Tip-off: 6:30 pm EST
Radio: 680 News
Toronto will be without Oshae Brissett (knee) and Pat McCaw (knee).
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Paul Watson
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez
Boston will be without Gordon Hayward (ankle)
PG: Kemba Walker, Brad Wanamaker, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters
SG: Marcus Smart, Romeo Langford
SF: Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye
PF: Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams
C: Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Enes Kanter
Toronto’s -1 for game five, which seems reasonable after winning the last two. The over-under is set at 212.5.