Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
The two teams the Toronto Raptors must avoid here are the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. The Toronto Raptors are a combined 1-4 in these games, but in three of them, they didn’t have Pascal Siakam. So it’s not an entirely fair debate since Siakam is the focal point of this Raptors team.
Nonetheless, in the lone game, the Raptors did face the heat with Siakam, he did have a hard time scoring with Bam Adebayo guarding him. Adebayo is an emerging player just like Siakam, but Adebayo seemed to be able to completely shut him down, so that is a scary thought.
Another reason they should avoid the Miami Heat is that both of these teams play in the same way. They both don’t have superstars but Erik Spoelstra is a mastermind of a coach like Nick Nurse is. He maximizes all his players on the court and is not afraid to make mid-game adjustments just like Nurse. It would truly be a battle of chess between the two.
Already we saw Kyle Lowry be the primary defender on Jimmy Butler and vice versa, while Adebayo is the one covering Siakam. And we also have already seen Spoelstra implement zone defense when necessary. I truly believe this would be a toss-up and the Toronto Raptors better cross their fingers they don’t meet in the group stage.
I’m sure that the Toronto Raptors can take on the Boston Celtics. One of the losses was a fourth-quarter blow-up by the Raptors and had Marc Gasol miss all eight of his field goals taken. The second loss had Patrick McCaw in the starting lineup instead of Siakam. They actually did win one the games with McCaw instead of Siakam.
The Toronto Raptors are actually one of the teams that can shut down Jayson Tatum. Albeit it was before Jayson Tatum was playing at an MVP level, the Raptors got him to shoot a combined 16/47 (34 percent) across all three games they played each other. The Raptors’ loss is more the Raptors not playing to the level they should be than the Boston Celtics winning.
I still wouldn’t write off the Boston Celtics for two reasons. One is Brad Stevens and the second is surprisingly Jayson Tatum. Although I am confident that the Raptors can continue to shut down Tatum, a player with Tatum’s talents can carry a game on any night. He may not be a superstar yet, but he is close to being one soon enough.
Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets
I am not going to spend too much time on these teams. The Toronto Raptors probably want to face the Utah Jazz the most.
The Utah Jazz have a team with a center straight out of the 1990s. A center that protects the rim, screens, and doesn’t stretch the floor. The reason this is good for the Raptors is obvious, both centers that the Raptors can stretch the floor. As great a defender that Rudy Gobert is, he’s an interior defender, not a perimeter defender. Taking Gobert away from the paint pretty much results in an easy way to the bucket or an open option for three.
(Donovan Mitchell also shot 6/16 in BOTH games played against the Raptors)
The Denver Nuggets did win the only encounter they did have this season, but the Raptors were without their best tools to face the Nuggets: Gasol and Ibaka. Jokic ultimately scored 23 points on an 8/11 shooting night. The Nuggets do have the superstar, but the Toronto Raptors do have the tools to match up with Jokic nicely.
It also helps that both Utah and Denver won’t have their altitude advantage at home.