Celtics vs. Raptors preview: It won’t be a pretty series

0
11


Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics tussles with Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors in the game at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., November 16, 2018. /VCG

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics tussles with Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors in the game at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., November 16, 2018. /VCG

The Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors are about to meet each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals that will start on Sunday. Though they are the defending champions and surprised everyone with their performance this season, the Raptors are not as favored as the Celtics in this series.

Kemba Walker of the Boston Celtics handles the ball in the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the AdventHealth Arena in Orlando, Florida, U.S., August 11, 2020. /VCG

Kemba Walker of the Boston Celtics handles the ball in the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the AdventHealth Arena in Orlando, Florida, U.S., August 11, 2020. /VCG

Celtics have better offense

Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum make sure that the Celtics have advantage in both offense launch and isolation ability. Marc Gasol is still an All-Defensive-Team-level defender but he is also a 35-year-old seven-footer. When Walker calls screen, it’s hard to imagine that Gasol can cover both him and rim protection. Serge Ibaka is younger than Gasol and has better athleticism, but aging plus injury already turned him into a big man who preferred to stay in the paint.

As for Tatum, he has already proved that he is a league-top 5 isolation player with his performance in the series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Though they lacked Ben Simmons, Philadelphia still had first-class defense in today’s NBA, yet they allowed an average of 27 points by Tatum who kept a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 60.7 and a 3-point rate of 45.2 percent.

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics shoots the ball in the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the AdventHealth Arena, August 11, 2020. /VCG

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics shoots the ball in the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the AdventHealth Arena, August 11, 2020. /VCG

Of course, Toronto have the most effective defense to limit the opponents’ playmaker. No team’s ace have scored over 30 points in any game against Toronto this season. However, Walker and Tatum have the ability to break Toronto’s defense in the front line, even if Toronto’s forwards can make brilliant switch and help defense, Boston’s ball movement is good enough to change Toronto’s defense and create opportunities for others.

By contrast, Toronto’s offense does not seem so reliable. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet can both make decent screen plays but neither of them has been known for being massively productive. Pascal Siakam is the team’s best isolation option but his skills are not good enough in front of Boston’s defense. In fact, though Toronto swept the Brooklyn Nets 4-0 in the first round. Siakam only dropped 20.8 points per game with 50.3-TS% and 28.6 3-point rate against Brooklyn’s vulnerable defense.

Pascal Siakm #43 of the Toronto Raptors posts up against Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs at the AdventHealth Arena, August 17, 2020. /VCG

Pascal Siakm #43 of the Toronto Raptors posts up against Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs at the AdventHealth Arena, August 17, 2020. /VCG

Boston do not have enough size in the paint and that’s why they allowed Joel Embiid to get almost 30+10 per game in the first-round playoffs against Philadelphia. Nonetheless, Gasol is not Embiid. The Spanish giant intends to pop out in screen plays and Boston have enough strong perimeter players – Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown – to tussle with Gasol.

Ibaka may be a great offensive solution for Toronto with his middle-range and long-distance jumpers, but he’s only a finisher who needs feeding, not to mention that his jumpers can be a great test to his touch.

Caris LeVert #22 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots the ball when he is triple teamed by three players of the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs at the Field House in Orlando, Florida, August 23, 2020. /VCG

Caris LeVert #22 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots the ball when he is triple teamed by three players of the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs at the Field House in Orlando, Florida, August 23, 2020. /VCG

Raptors’ defense can make Celtics very uncomfortable

What makes Toronto’s defense a playmaker’s nightmare? For starters, you can hardly find any mismatch against them. Toronto’s major rotations are Lowry, VanVleet and Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Siakam, Ibaka and Gasol. They all enjoy decent strength and mobility, making them both tough one-on-one defenders and annoying help defenders. Moreover, the team can go extremely aggressive to trap the opponents’ playmaker at the cost of leaving free corner threes. Such defense partly explained why Toronto are the second-best fast break team of the league and averaged 18.4 points per game in this way.

When the game enters clutch time, Toronto can send the following squad to the court: Lowry, Powell, VanVleet, Anunoby and Siakam. Even Walker will find it hard to make screen plays against such defense, not to mention that any of the three guards can be sent to cover Tatum and make him suffer.

Norman Powell #24 of the Toronto Raptors dunks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at the Field House, August 23, 2020. /VCG

Norman Powell #24 of the Toronto Raptors dunks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at the Field House, August 23, 2020. /VCG

The other advantage Toronto have lies in bench unit. Powell, Ibaka, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher can basically carry on the team’s unreasonable defense from the starting-lineup. However, Boston’s bench unit is made up of Brad Wanamaker, Enes Kanter, Semi Ojeleye, Robert Williams III, Grant Williams and Romeo Langford. These players not only lack playmaking ability, but also have not shooting range. If Toronto don’t make big mistake, Boston can hardly score during this period of time on the court.

Brad Stevens (L), head coach of the Boston Celtics, and Nick Nurse, head coach of the Toronto Raptors. /VCG

Brad Stevens (L), head coach of the Boston Celtics, and Nick Nurse, head coach of the Toronto Raptors. /VCG

Conclusion: This series can be very ugly

Toronto must focus 100 percent of their attention and efforts on defense, especially when both sides send their starting squads to the court. If they allow Boston to grow hot from the 3-point line or fail to grasp the chance of Fastbreak offense, Toronto could be trailing by too much to come back from the beginning, especially considering their relatively weak offensive ability.

Coach Brad Stevens may want to change his long rotation with Boston. Their bench unit cannot match their opponents in either offense or defense and may easily fall into scoring drought or allow Toronto to launch scoring runs. Of course, despite their young age, how long can Boston’s starting players stand against their opponents’ smothering defense will also be a test.