Well, folks, here we are for Game 4. Despite the dismal three-point shooting, missed free throws, Kemba Walker’s brilliance (and his apparent inability to miss quarter-ending buzzer-beaters), the Raptors’ sometimes stagnant half-court offense and Pascal Siakam’s well-documented struggles — despite all that, here we are. It’s two games to one. (Shoutout to G.R.O.A.T Kyle Lowry and his “balls of steel.”)
At this point, you or someone you follow on Twitter have probably noticed the similarities between this series and last year’s battle between the Raptors and Bucks. Both times the Raptors fell down 2-0, then squeezed out a gruelling, back-and-forth victory in Game 3 so intensely scream-inducing that my dog is now afraid of me. The road back now, which requires winning four out of five games, is perhaps more daunting this time around. There’s no Kawhi Leonard, as you have also probably noticed, and there’s no raucous Toronto crowd to cheer on the squad and shame the referees. But this year’s team has something that last year’s didn’t: the knowledge that it can be done because, well, they’ve done it. (And also Matt Thomas.)
Game 3 was an emotional rollercoaster which, by the power of OG Anunoby, ended with elation. But the Raptors can’t celebrate for long — nor will they. As Kyle Lowry put it post-game, “Great emotional moment right there, but that’s over. Now we have to focus on the next game.”
Game 4 may not have quite the same “must-win” feel that Game 3 did, but make no mistake: the stakes are as high as ever. Anunoby’s game-winning shot gave the Raptors new life, but now they have to capitalize. Here’s what you need to know about tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 6:30 PM EST
Get Siakam Going
It’s not hard to tell that the Raptors’ All-Star forward has struggled on offense throughout the series. Jaylen Brown has defended Pascal Siakam tremendously in the post, and from long-range Siakam is shooting just 2-for-11. The Celtics have been tight with their transition defense, an area where Pascal usually excels. Overall, he’s been held to 36 percent shooting this series. Add in some early foul trouble and you have some quiet performances. (It shouldn’t be overlooked that he’s been strong defensively, however.)
Siakam’s post possessions have been largely fruitless, so if he continues to struggle with his jump shot, look for Toronto to run some off-ball action to get him open. Siakam found more success in the second half of Game 3, as the Raptors kept looking for ways to get him going. In the previous game’s third quarter, for example, the Raptors attacked a 2-3 zone look from Boston by running a Lowry-Ibaka pick-and-roll. Lowry tossed it to Ibaka at the top of the key, who then found a cutting Siakam wide open under the basket for an easy dunk.
Boston’s defense is tough to crack, but in order to claw back from this 2-1 deficit, Siakam will have to get above the 20-point mark.
The Bench Blues
Ah, depth. A regular season asset, a postseason enigma. The Raptors’ bench scored 100 points in Game 4 vs Brooklyn — in Game 3 vs Boston, they scored a grand total of 10 (Boston’s comparatively weak bench scored 20). It took a masterful, 46-minute game from Lowry to keep the Raptors in the series. Why did he play so much? Because the team’s offense couldn’t survive without him.
Score in Raps-Celtics series in 121 minutes Kyle Lowry has played: Raps 121, Celtics 115
Score in series in 23 minutes he’s been on the bench: Celtics 66, Raptors 40
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) September 4, 2020
Here are some facts: Lowry is 34 years old. He just played 46 (very physical) minutes. The Raptors play every other day. I’m not saying Lowry can’t continue being spectacular, but that kind of performance just can’t be expected from him every game.
Someone on the bench needs to step up and breathe life into the Raptors’ offense when Lowry is sitting (which is hopefully a longer period than 1.5 minutes). Ibaka had some huge defensive plays in Game 3, but shot just 1-for-6 from the field. Norman Powell, meanwhile, hit a couple big threes, but was limited to scoring eight points in 15 minutes.
The Celtics are not a particularly deep team, but with the Raptors’ bench scoring below its regular season clip, they’ve failed to take advantage of that. Look for Ibaka or Powell — or perhaps even Thomas, who added some spacing to the offense in his five minutes — to be aggressive early on.
One great storyline from this series has been the battle between two of the league’s best coaches: Nick Nurse and Brad Stevens. Between every game both coaches make adjustments, as well as anticipatory adjustments, and anticipatory adjustments in anticipation of the opponents’ anticipatory adjustments. It’s a lot.
We’ve seen the Raptors go to multiple zone looks, such as the 2-3 zone and triangle-and-two defenses. Meanwhile, Stevens always has a situational substitution up his sleeve, whether it be one or both of the Williamses, Semi Ojeleye or, yes, Tacko Fall.
If both teams stay healthy and the Raptors’ offense can give Lowry some more scoring support, this series may come down to the coaching battle. Who will make a costly mistake? We saw Stevens put big-man Enes Kanter — a notably weak defender — in Game 3 for a few minutes for added scoring. The Raptors reacted immediately, attacking Kanter on every possession by forcing him into switches to put together a slew of drawn fouls and buckets in the paint. The Kanter substitution gave the Raptors some much-needed offensive momentum — Stevens subbed him out after four minutes.
If both teams play well, Game 4 may indeed come down to the Xs and Os — and which coach will make the first big mistake. We’ve got a series, folks. These are two excellent, well-coached teams, and yet it seems neither one has shifted into full gear. Let’s see if the Raptors can build off their newfound momentum to make that happen.