Siakam went full UFC on Theis in the first 👀 pic.twitter.com/AT6lflNzoP
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) September 7, 2020
Six — Disappointing: The only way to characterize Norman Powell’s performance in this series is disappointing. After such a promising breakout year in which he garnered legitimate Sixth Man of the Year buzz (he was ineligible because he started slightly more games), and coming off a dominant series against the Nets, Powell has been downright terrible in this series. Even in the games where Toronto won, it was clear that Powell’s focus was a few notches lower than the rest of his teammates. And it’s not just about the lack of scoring from Powell, it’s the unforced errors on defense. Sure, he can’t create his offense and the Celtics are exceptional at denying off-ball opportunities, but Powell can’t even give the starters a spell on defense. He keeps needlessly fouling Tatum instead of using his positioning and length to bother the shot, he gets comically low in his stance and almost squats on the floor which allows Walker to blow past him every time, and his help defense was never good to begin with. Even in transition where Powell normally excels, he still finds ways to make the wrong read. He can’t even outplay Brad Wanamaker. If you don’t know who that is, well, that’s the point.
It was nothing unusual, except that it was laid open. And maybe because the Raptors so often seem unshakable. Sure, Lowry and head coach Nick Nurse are near the league lead in technicals, a vocal sideline now a staple of Raptors basketball. But those are usually crimes of mostly controlled passion, not frustration. They are an emotional team in the best sense of the word, which is a large cultural reason for their ability to turn in a strong season despite roster changes and injury and a pandemic. It’s why it’s so hard to ever count them out, whether down 30 late in a relatively meaningless December game or down 2-0 to start a second-round playoff series. Alex Wong has made “never underestimate the heart of a champion” a running bit for good reason: because the Raptors have made a habit of turning around dire situations.
Ascribing performances to the mental side of the game isn’t always a very good approach, but you can see where a certain level of passion and self-belief can contribute to a team consistently coming back from large deficits or fighting through basketball-related adversity. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that when a heated bubble game offered a larger glimpse than we’re accustomed, that passion was on display, even if it was in the form of frustration. There has to be a level of passion for what the Raptors keep accomplishing, and there is a level of openness and vulnerability to use that type of communication productively rather than destructively.
“Kyle had his moment with the ref, Serge had his moment with Kyle, and we moved on and moved past it,” VanVleet said. “It happens with brothers. It’s a lot at stake, a lot on the line, and those types of things are going to happen, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked, I can tell you that much. That’s an everyday thing on our team. Guys just being honest, and we got a lot of passionate guys so it’s part of the process.”
The Raptors have to hope all of that is the case, anyway.
As much as they can explain away that moment, it’s much harder to explain the 35 minutes or so that led up to it, including yet another dud of a first quarter. Game 5 played out far too similarly to Game 1, with the Celtics getting well ahead of the Raptors early and cruising from there. That Games 2, 3 and 4 were so close is at the same time encouraging and perplexing: If these teams are so evenly matched, how is it that the Celtics have been the far superior team twice or that the Raptors have come out flat twice?
Those are oversimplifications, to be sure. The Raptors missed a lot of really good shots they created early on, and there just isn’t room against a defence as good as Boston’s to punt on opportunities and try to chase from behind. But patterns have revealed themselves
Given the length that the Celtics can throw into passing lanes, Siakam is obviously hugely important to the Raptors’ hopes. It was clear after Game 1, and his reasonable second halves in the last two games were meaningful parts of the wins. To put it a little too simplistically, Siakam was supposed to be their version of Tatum.
A lot of words have been spilled on Siakam this series, and you can see why. If Lowry and VanVleet are finding themselves lost in a forest of arms, then Siakam is the remaining primary creator on the roster who should not have a problem. Whether by design or because of Boston’s defence, Siakam has very rarely tried to drive into the teeth of the Boston defence while looking at the rim. There were questions about Siakam’s ability to duplicate what Kawhi Leonard did last year in the mid-range, but the fact that his handle has been so unreliable is the real concern. Neither his touch in the post nor his spins to free himself for a clean look have been good enough to justify his trying to back his man down so often in this series.
“He has already kind of been through a deep playoff run and had spectacular games,” Nurse said, dismissing the theory that the moment is getting to him. “I am not sure why he has been so out of rhythm since the restart in the bubble. He hasn’t had a lot of great games. And I think that is more of it other than here we are in the playoffs and he is supposed to be our leading guy. I’m not sure he’s been in great rhythm since the restart, and it’s too bad because he was spectacular in last year’s playoffs and spectacular all season long.”
“We gotta make sure we get him in spots to be successful,” Lowry said. “We gotta give him the ball more, earlier, get him in pick-and-rolls, stuff like that, maybe.”
The Raptors have, at the very least, one more game to figure out how to unlock Siakam. Elsewhere, everything will be on the table: lineup changes, new five-man units, schematic surprises and so on. Whatever they do, the answer lies in the Raptors playing bigger and faster than they actually are.
Meanwhile, the Raptors are still waiting for any sign of life from Marc Gasol (0 points on four shots in 14 minutes) or some kind of consistency from Pascal Siakam, who had three field goal attempts in the first half and was getting on track in the third quarter again before his night was disrupted when he picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in rapid succession.
“Need to give them credit,” said guard Fred VanVleet, who was perhaps the closest thing Toronto had to a bright spot, as he led the Raptors with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting while adding five assists and three steals. “I think they played a heck of a game. I think we didn’t make it very hard on them, so obviously from my standpoint I felt like it was more us than them but that’s easy for me to say, you gotta give them credit, they outplayed us pretty much in every facet of the game: They were quicker to the ball, they were playing with more force and pace, and as a result you saw the start that they were able to get out to, kind of put ourselves in a hole and we were fighting uphill after that.”
It was a beatdown and the Celtics came with clubs.
The game was effectively over before it was half done, as the Celtics separated themselves in the second quarter when they put up 37 points on 65 per cent shooting.
“[It’s] probably the worst place to be, not making shots and not getting stops,” said VanVleet. “That’s a recipe to get you down 30. So, it’s just the way it went tonight and nothing we can do about it now but get better and focus on Game 6.”
Could the Raptors finally be showing the effects of consecutive games where they had pushed the limit in order to crawl out of an 0-2 hole?
In Games 3 and 4, Nurse played Lowry, Siakam, VanVleet and OG Anunoby 340 of a possible 384 minutes. He had little choice, but based on the lack of energy the Raptors showed at points of the game and some of the careless turnovers, it has to be a considered a possibility.
Lowry is never one to reach for an excuse, even after playing 90 out of a possible 96 minutes in Games 3 and 4: “Nope. Nope,” he said about fatigue as a factor. “Just didn’t play well enough.”
But there were plenty of signs of some kind of malaise and even frustration that boiled over. At one point Serge Ibaka and Lowry exchanged angry words after Ibaka chastised Lowry for picking up a technical foul as Toronto was trying to claw its way back into the game.
Yes, there will be a Game 6, and maybe even a Game 7. As I said above, the Raptors have been here before, enduring letdowns against all sorts of different teams at different times throughout their history. And, yes, a championship memory does go a long way towards healing that particular mental wound, especially coming as it did not that long ago. But still, it’s hard not to get emotional about it! Even when — or perhaps especially when — I tell myself not to. We’ve all been there too, I think, and we all have to remember to pull ourselves back from the brink.
So now, all I can do is wish for the same wisdom and fortitude to come to the Raptors. Down 3-2 in the series now, their season on the line against Boston. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday.
THE RAPTORS STILL lack one key component that nearly every NBA champion has: a top-five player. Siakam succeeded as the team’s star and the night-in, night-out focus of opposing defenses throughout the regular season, but he has looked overmatched in that role in this series against the Celtics. After averaging 22.9 points per game during the regular season, Siakam is putting up 17.3 PPG on 38.6% shooting through four games versus Boston — including a dismal 2-for-13 effort from 3-point range in Game 4.
“Sometimes you are going to make shots, and sometimes you aren’t,” Siakam said. “I have to understand that I just have to keep doing the other things. That is something that I am focusing on, and I am not worried about makes and misses. I am worried about impacting the game in all different ways.”
In Game 4, Siakam pulled down 11 rebounds, tying Lowry for the game high. And one game earlier, he was a team-best plus-12 in Toronto’s 1-point win. So to his point, he has been able to impact the game in ways that go beyond scoring.
Those little things, and the Raptors’ collective belief in themselves, have proved to be enough to at least give Toronto a chance. The Raptors were 0.5 seconds away from going down 3-0, a hole from which no NBA team has ever recovered. Instead, Anunoby made the team’s first buzzer-beater since Leonard’s Game 7 shot against the Philadelphia 76ers a year ago. Then Lowry, VanVleet and Siakam played the entire second half to will Toronto to a Game 4 victory.
The Raptors were nearly counted out against Boston, but they’re used to that. Before Leonard arrived, their postseason reputation was a team that always lost Game 1 and was tormented by LeBron James. Last year, with James no longer in the East, the Raptors found themselves trailing both in the second round against the 76ers and in the conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, before rallying to win those series and dethrone the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.
Now, a year after becoming the first team from outside the United States to win an NBA title, the Raptors are trying to make history again, as only the second team ever to overcome a 2-0 deficit in consecutive postseasons — joining those 1995 Rockets, who used their comeback in the second round as a springboard to a second consecutive title.
“We know who we are and that we’re good enough to do it and that we’re tough,” VanVleet said. “It’s going to be hard to beat us four times. If you can do that, we’ll shake your hand and congratulate you. But I think we all like our chances.”
The Raptors have spent a lot of time fending off Boston even when playing their best in this series. When Toronto doesn’t give everything, the Celtics blow the doors off.
“We just didn’t play, because we missed some shots,” Nurse said. “And then it turned into we weren’t protecting the rim either, so I don’t know. We didn’t have very good energy, and then we lost what energy we had, somehow.
“I thought our offence was awesome in the first eight minutes. I thought it was awesome. Maybe six minutes. I don’t think those shots could have been more open … it’s strange to me that historically we have these kinds of games. But we have. And then historically we usually bounce back in a big way.”
Lowry said they weren’t tired; they just played lousy, but he wouldn’t admit he was tired if he fell asleep halfway through the denial. VanVleet said they got good shots and the misses snowballed, but also said, “I think we didn’t make it very hard on them.”
Nurse went to the bench by necessity this season, but at this level, in this series, with a Celtics team that is tough and big and plays basketball at as high an IQ level as Toronto, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher aren’t going to do it, and Matt Thomas probably won’t, either.
No, Nurse had to push the tachometer, and the Raptors ride or die with the seven guys, whether they have gas left in the tank or not. Look, Boston’s tough. Siakam’s a problem. The end is near.
The Celtics jumped on them right out of the gate. The Raptors were defending well enough early in the first quarter, but Boston’s defence was at another level – the best Toronto’s seen in the postseason, so far.
Toronto generated some good looks but couldn’t get them to fall. Then, before long, the ball stopped moving, the shots got much tougher, frustration set in, and the defence – their bread and butter and the thing they can usually rely on – fell apart.
OG Anunoby was the only Raptors starter to hit a field goal in the first quarter, where the team totalled just 11 points. By halftime, five Celtics had more points than any Toronto player. Boston’s lead, which was 27 at intermission, grew to as many as 30 points in the second half.
Until Matt Thomas and some of the reserves began chipping away at the deficit ever so slightly towards the end, it was hard to find a single standout or silver lining for the Raptors.
Pascal Siakam, whose offensive struggles are well documented but has generally been locked in defensively, got beat off the dribble by Kember Walker, Jayson Tatum and – far less forgivably – Brad Wanamaker early in the night. He was a complete non-factor on both ends of the floor, but at least he wasn’t alone in that regard.
Kyle Lowry – who had played so well in Games 3 and 4 – was oddly quiet throughout, Boston’s young bigs made the 35-year-old Marc Gasol look his age, and Fred VanVleet picked up three quick fouls and made some uncharacteristically poor decisions with the ball on offence.
If you thought it was hard to watch – and it was – it probably wasn’t a whole lot of fun to be a part of either (unless you were wearing a Celtics uniform).
Considering the stakes and the competition, the first two quarters might have been the best all-around half Boston has played all season. The Celtics’ 27-point halftime lead ranked as the second-largest in franchise postseason history during the shot clock era. Only in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals, dubbed the Memorial Day Massacre, did the Celtics build a bigger halftime lead.
“We were really just trying to play hard, as hard as we could,” Stevens said. “They missed a couple of shots. We missed some shots in the first quarter but we were playing with great purpose. You could feel that from the get-go. So you just hope that you would knock enough in to kind of get something going. And we did.”
Brown did, especially. Though Games 3 and 4 went poorly for him, the wing said he didn’t change anything about his approach to Game 5. He went to bed the same as always. He woke up and watched film, then spoke to his position coach Tony Dobbins. If Brown shifted anything, he said, it was to focus on the idea that less is more. He didn’t need to make a big play every time down, just the right one. Other than that, he said, he changed nothing about his routine.
“Just because good games, bad games, ups and downs, it’s life,” Brown said. “It’s how it happens. Last game, I feel like I got some good looks that didn’t go down. This game I got some good looks, they went down. Same mindset was to keep shooting, if I’m open, don’t hesitate.”
Brown could have let the disappointment dwell. He had lost Anunoboy on the final play of Game 3, then shot 2 of 11 from the 3-point arc in Game 4 while getting outplayed by Pascal Siakam. If the Celtics lose this series, Brown will have moments to regret. He played like he wanted no more of them. On his first touch, he drilled a 3-pointer. Over the next two minutes, he shot two more of them. If Game 5 was about the Celtics’ heart, well, he was going to show a difficult stretch could not impact his.
“Jaylen’s got big-time character,” Stevens said. “He’s got competitive character, he works, he’s focused, he wants to do well. It was good to see him knock in that first one, but I don’t think it would have mattered if he missed a couple early. He was gonna be aggressive. And that was good for our team.”
Notably, the Raptors — one of the league’s best teams in transition — struggled to make anything happen on the fast break. Without the transition opportunities, and with their halfcourt offense struggling to create anything, the Toronto offense just seemed dead in the water. Boston’s lead would crack the 20-point threshold on a Tatum three-pointer with about five minutes remaining in the half, and would head into the break with a commanding 62-35 advantage.
Toronto opened the second half with some energy, kicking off the third quarter with six straight points from Siakam. Coach Nick Nurse continued his tinkering ways, rolling out a bizarre lineup with Anunoby as the de facto center and deploying a 2-2-1 press defense. While the offense started to come a little more naturally, the changes didn’t help stem the tide of Boston buckets. The Celtics continued to attack the rim with ease, and instead of dwindling, the lead grew to as high as 30 as the quarter wore on. Toronto earned back just three points total in the quarter, and the Celtics entered the final frame leading 87-63.
Frankly, the fourth quarter was just not that noteworthy. Stevens kept the Celtics’ starters in through much of the quarter to hold the Raptors at arm’s length, while the Raptors turned to their bench with just under seven minutes to play after a visibly frustrated Nurse picked up a technical foul during a commercial break for arguing with the referees. Toronto’s bench did their best to compete — including, curiously, breaking out a full-court press — but the Celtics’ bench checked in with three minutes to play and successfully bled out the clock.
Had Nurse never gone small and cleared the way for Stevens to go to his beloved three-guard lineup, Boston’s offense could have fallen into a ditch and Toronto might have completed its comeback. But Stevens fought the fire of the Raptors’ incredible guards with a flamethrower of his own, with Wanamaker delivering a 15-point performance with an unconscionable zero turnovers for the travel-prone backup guard.
“They looked faster, stronger and hungrier than we did,” Nurse said.
The Celtics have once again shown they can dominate a game without Tatum and Walker lighting it up from deep. They can control the physicality of the contest rather than try to survive Ibaka’s rolls to the rim. Boston has shown it has the talent to win this series — and hell, win the title.
“You can’t go through a playoffs without having heartbreakers,” Stevens said. “You can’t go through a playoffs without something bad happening, and you just have to be able to respond. So I thought that’s what I take away. I knew we had good competitive character, and you really saw that on display tonight.”
That’s not something his team is incapable of achieving, and it would be a surprise if Toronto’s aggression and persistence Wednesday — or whatever day the next one is — is not so great that it forces a Game 7. But like Stevens’ teams have shown over and over, they know how to fight back.
Though the War on Theis might last generations, this campaign is closing in on victory.
“It’s a good feeling when you can game plan, talk about something, and then go out there and do it,” said Tatum. “But, also, it’s frustrating. If we can do it, then why don’t we do it every time? Some of it’s human nature but, us as professionals, we’ve just got to take more responsibility. It’s not an easy task. They’re the defending champs, it’s the playoffs, it’s going to be tough, but if we want to keep playing more often than not, then we’ve got to go out there and compete.”
The Celtics downshifted after opening a lead that ballooned as high as 30. Still, the Raptors mustered only 35 first-half points on 13-of-43 shooting.
After Boston failed to bounce back from a gut-wrenching Game 3 loss, coach Brad Stevens seemed particularly pleased with the effort his players displayed in Game 5.
“We were playing with great purpose,” said Stevens. “You could feel that from the get-go.”
Later he added: “That’s the thing I take away, that it’s not about winning a game, it’s not about winning three in a series now. It’s about just the process of growth, when you show that resilience. That’s what it’s all about. You can’t go through a playoffs without having heartbreakers. You can’t go through a playoffs without something bad happening. You just have to be able to respond. So I thought that’s what I take away. I knew we had good competitive character, and you really saw that on display tonight.”
The Celtics need to bottle that energy up and bring it to Game 6. The Raptors most certainly won’t be an easy out and, even with a 3-2 series lead, Boston must play with the same defensive intensity from Game 5 to close out the defending champions.
Coming into this series, I always felt the Celts were the better team with the most talent and had a chance to dominate. I did, however, think the Raptors posed some problems for Boston if they were able to take advantage.
Why has Toronto not crashed the offensive glass? A massive hole in the Celtics defense has been to secure the offensive rebound and once again, the Raptors have failed to take advantage.
I blame Nick Nurse for that one.
I mentioned the stars for the Celtics earlier as the difference in this game, as only six players scored in this one. If you were told that before the game, I don’t think many of us would have thought the sixth would be Brad Wanamaker, who came up with 15 points.
I always take a deep breath when I see the second year, experienced point guard enter the game, but tonight he came up big for a bench that needs a breakout scorer. Wanamaker shot an efficient 60 percent from deep and brings a very calm demeanor to the Celtics’ backcourt.
He was a bright spot during this Celtics win and deserves some more national credit as a solid backup point guard.
Game six will be Wednesday night as Beantown looks to close this one out and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
My natural instinct is to look forward to the matchup we will see next against the Miami Heat, but I will force myself to focus in on the next game coming in this second-round series.
Toronto needs to start finding something in their half-court offense if they want to take this series to seven games. They continue to rely on below-average 3-point shooters and post-ups with Pascal Siakam, which has made zero sense to me.
They need to start conforming to the C’s form of basketball which is ball pressure on the defensive end and great ball movement on the other. I gave the coaching matchup to Nick Nurse before the series started because of his ability to make adjustments, but he needs to hurry up.
While the Raptors didn’t carry any momentum into Game 5, Josh Lewenberg says it’s a good thing momentum swings don’t often carry over from game-to-game in the playoffs, because the Raptors will want none of this loss with them when they face elimination in Game 6.
Eleven points on seven possessions late in that first quarter wasn’t an explosion, but it was a breakthrough in what has been the ugliest offensive series of these playoffs.
The explosion came in the second quarter, when the Celtics scored 37 points on 25 possessions, shooting 13-for-20 from the field. Smart, Tatum and Wanamaker took turns driving around Siakam, and Boston was just quicker than a Toronto defense that was so locked in just two nights earlier.
“I think we got a lot of movement,” Walker said of his team’s best offensive performance of the series. “We penetrated and whenever we drew two defenders, we made the right play, made the right pass. They closed out and we drove the basketball and made the right pass again and just got the better shot. That’s what it was.”
Brown (27 points on 10-for-18 shooting) led six Celtics in double-figures. As was the case in Game 1, when the Raptors couldn’t score early, they couldn’t keep up.
“They looked faster, stronger and hungrier than we did,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I thought we had great shots in the first quarter and we get 11 points. And somehow, that really disheartens us against this team.”
The Raps are the defending champs, and they’ll surely come with more energy with their season on the line in Game 6 on Wednesday. But to take this series to the limit, they’ll have to win ugly. Given their offensive issues, the champs probably can’t put together a complete performance like we just saw from the Celtics.
“They outplayed us pretty much in every facet of the game,” Fred VanVleet said. “They were quicker to the ball, they were playing with more force and pace, and as a result you saw the start that they were able to get out to. [It] kind of put ourselves in a hole and we were fighting uphill after that.”
Fighting uphill and now one game from elimination against a team that looked every bit of a championship contender on Monday.
The Raptors only put up 11 points in the first quarter and just 35 by halftime, Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong discuss the Celtics’ strong defence and what Toronto needs to do if they want to push this series to Game 7.
Nurse felt that first six minutes wasn’t just good Raptors offence in terms of generating open looks — he called it great. Then the ball would clank out.
“They were comfortable,” Kyle Lowry said of the Celtics. “We weren’t in our offence. We didn’t make shots. We weren’t aggressive enough. They were very comfortable from the jump. We weren’t as assertive as we should have and personally, I wasn’t aggressive enough from the start.”
Defensively, the Raptors stayed in this one for a little over a quarter, but offensively they just never seemed to get right.
Toronto scored just 11 points in the first quarter as the Celtics seemed to blow up everything they tried. When the Celtics weren’t blowing it up, the Raptors were simply blowing open looks or botching layups as the Celtics lead continued to grow.
By halftime, that deficit was 27 and challenging even the most optimistic fan to even stay with this.
After hitting 17 three-pointers in Game 4 to steal momentum in the series, the cold shooting from Game 1 returned with Toronto managing just four on their 18 attempts in that first half. They finished the game 12-of-40 from distance.
For the Celtics, the biggest rebound games came from the duo of Jaylen Brown and centre Daniel Theis.
Brown, who had a woeful Game 4 going just 4-for-18 including 2-of-11 from three, found his mojo in Game 5, starting off with a three-pointer to open the scoring and coasting to a team-best 27-point night.
As mentioned before, Siakam has been mired in a strange trend of inconsistency and with the Raptors now literally in a do-or-die situation in their next game, they need him to figure things out — and fast — because, quite frankly, his performance in Game 5 simply wasn’t good enough.
A go-to guy should be expected to demand the ball when his team is in danger, like the Raptors were in the first half, and can’t afford to put himself into foul trouble the way he did in the third quarter. In doing both, Siakam essentially erased his own presence from Game 5, and when you’re the team’s most talented player, that just can’t happen.
This is obviously a sign of growing pains for Siakam as this is his first post-season as a No. 1 option, but the time to wait for him to figure it all out is about to run out, and everyone is still waiting.
“It could be part of it,” said Nurse when asked if Siakam’s struggles right now are related to him being a go-to guy for the first time in his career. “I don’t know. He has already kind of been through a deep playoff run and had spectacular games. I am not sure why he has been so out of rhythm since the restart in the bubble. He hasn’t had a lot of great games and I think that is more of it other than here we are in the playoffs and he is supposed to be our leading guy.
“I’m not sure he’s been in great rhythm since the restart and it’s too bad because he was spectacular in last year’s playoffs and spectacular all season long. We still got some games to play. Hopefully he can get his rhythm.”
Facing a Wednesday contest with actual win-or-go-home stakes, the Raptors would probably like more than a little hope that Siakam finds his old game again.
“We got to make sure we get him in spots to be successful,” guard Kyle Lowry said. “We got to give him the ball more earlier — get him in pick-and-rolls, stuff like that, maybe. But next game I’m sure he’s going to be more aggressive, more assertive and play harder.”
Now, it’s not as if Siakam was solely responsible for what transpired in a disastrous Game 5 performance by Toronto. The Raptors were slow, unable to match Boston’s physicality and didn’t do anything particularly well as a group for any extended period of time.
Picking on Siakam is like picking the lowest hanging fruit because he hasn’t been what everyone wants him to be over the course of the first four games. But he’s also a highly paid all-star from whom much is demanded, and on nights when Lowry doesn’t have it and VanVleet doesn’t have it and the two-man bench is non-productive, he has to be the star.
That’s not necessarily by scoring 40 points — although a 15-for-28 night from the floor would sure be helpful — but also doing the other things that help teams win. And if they need a huge scoring night like they did Monday, he’s got to eventually do it.
Nine shots, three in the first half, isn’t going to get it done.
“He’s just got to feel the flow of the game. I think our team is really based on what the defence is giving us and the flow of the game,” VanVleet said. “I think Game 3 and 4, Kyle got off to a big start, so naturally the flow kind of changed. And tonight it didn’t happen, so we were kind of searching there a little bit.
“Nobody started good, and then being down like that, (it’s) hard to get it back … but give (the Celtics) credit. They’re putting a lot of attention on (Siakam) and making it hard for him.”
The Celtics were the Labour on Monday and the Raptors watched and now Toronto needs two wins in the remaining two games, flailing on the ropes, if there are in fact two games remaining in this best-of-seven playoff series.
And with the future coming, with Kyle Lowry turning 35 next season, with Marc Gasol slowing down by the moment, with the decision on the capable Serge Ibaka to come, with the contract status of Fred VanVleet to be determined, the one absolute here was this was supposed to be Siakam’s team.
That was the thinking once Kawhi Leonard left for Los Angeles after one year and one championship. Siakam had a whole lot of everything: Speed, athleticism, the kind of motor coaches love, a three-point eye, an absolute passion to play, and in the final game of the championship season, Siakam scored a Raptors-high 26 points.
The question seemed rather simple for the future: How would Siakam handle life in the NBA as the first scoring option rather than the second or third? How would he handle defences being centred around stopping him first?
Two things have halted Siakam in this series with Boston: The Celtics and himself. He has taken too many shots from three and penetrated too infrequently, he hasn’t played particularly smart basketball. He has been outmuscled by the Celtics, pushed around, scored most of his points in times it didn’t necessarily matter. His game isn’t mature the way the Celtics’ game happens to be.
And the loss Monday night wasn’t just on Siakam. This was no one-man defeat. Gasol was rather dreadful early in Game 5. For once, Lowry wasn’t himself, and VanVleet waited until it was too late to get going in any way. OG Anunoby had a good first five minutes and that was it.
The loss was on everyone. The difference though: This is the NBA, the land of the star. And you keep waiting for the young star, waiting for him to grab the game, waiting for him to make it his, doing what a pencil thin power forward can do, not the kind of things Lowry managed in Game 3 and 4.
Siakam didn’t have much going on last night. He took one shot in the first quarter. Two shots in the second quarter. He ended up with 10 points — every Celtics’ starter scored more.
“Those frustrations happen all the time,” he added. “You guys don’t see a lot of them. But that was one that was obviously visible and you could probably hear a little bit there if you were in the arena. Just some frustrations with the game.
“Nobody was happy. Obviously with the way we played, everybody was frustrated. But you have your moment and you move on and you keep playing after that.”
What’s at stake for Toronto is possible elimination with one more loss to Boston.
Last season, on their way to the NBA championship, the Raptors fell behind in three of their four series and we’re tied 1-1 in the NBA Finals against the Warriors. But never were they one game away from being bounced like they are now.
It’s the second blowout loss of the series for Toronto — and third in the bubble, going back to the seeding games. The Raptors started out Monday’s loss with an 11-point first quarter even though they were getting the looks coach Nick Nurse wanted.
“They were comfortable,” Lowry said. “Our offense, we didn’t make shots, we were not aggressive enough. They were very comfortable from the jump.”
Lowry was quick to dismiss concern that the Raptors’ slow start had anything to do with the heavy minutes they had been playing. Entering the game, VanVleet, Lowry and Pascal Siakam all were averaging at least 40.0 minutes per game and OG Anunoby wasn’t far behind at 38.1.
If the Raptors want another chance to try and defend their title, they won’t be able to afford another start like they had in Game 5. But for Lowry, that doesn’t mean forgetting the game.
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