It comes down to this one game to decide the series. With the series tied at 3-3 after a double overtime thriller in Game 6, the Celtics have just one chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Home court advantage has meant little to these teams in this series with each game going to the road team. This could bode well for the Celtics as they are the road team for this game.
The Celtics have had 32 Game 7’s in their history and this is the most in league history. The Celtics are 23-9 in those games. They have played in 5 game 7’s since 2011 and have won 3 of them. Since 1980, the Celtics are 6-2 in Conference Semifinals Game 7’s. Brad Stevens is 2-1 in Game 7’s in his 7 seasons with the Celtics. The Raptors are 3-2 all time in Game 7’s with Kyle Lowry being 3-0 in Game 7’s.
The starters for both teams played heavy minutes in Game 6. Anunoby (49), Siakam (54), VanVleet (50), Lowry (53), Tatum (51), Brown (51), Theis 47), Smart (50), and Walker 52). The only starter who didn’t play big minutes was Gasol (16). The Raptors played small ball quite a bit and Serge Ibaka, who was questionable going into the game with an ankle injury, played 21 minutes. The Raptors played 8 players in Game 6 while the Celtics played 9. The starters for both teams played through the whole second half and both overtimes.
Gordon Hayward has cleared quarantine and is back working out with the team. He is expected to miss this game but if the Celtics can win this one and advance, he could be available in the next series. Vincent Poirier is still listed as day to day after leaving the bubble for the birth of his child. Marcus Smart was pretty much battered and bruised in Game 6, several times coming up limping or holding his back. I expect him to be available for this game. Patrick McCaw (knee) and Oshae Brissett (knee) remain out for the Raptors.
Probable Celtics Starters
Probable Raptors Starters
Oshae Brissett (knee) out
Patrick McCaw (knee) out
Marcus Smart vs Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry willed his team to their 3 wins in this series. He has played the hardest and most minutes of any player on either team. It makes sense for Marcus Smart (1st team All Defense) to defend Lowry, who has been Toronto’s best player. Lowry said several times after Toronto’s blow out loss in Game 5 that he needed to be more aggressive in Game 6 and he definitely was, putting up 33 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. He shot 60% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc. Lowry is 3-0 in Game 7’s over his career and has the most experience of all players in this situation. The Celtics must find a way to slow down Lowry if they hope to win this game.
Kemba Walker vs Fred VanVleet
When Kemba plays well, the Celtics play well and when Kemba struggles, the Celtics seem to struggle as well. In Game 6, the Raptors realized this and played box and one for much of the game to limit Kemba. Kemba struggled in Game 6, scoring just 5 points while shooting 18% from the field and 16% from beyond the arc. He also grabbed 4 rebounds and 7 assi8sts. VanVleet had 21 point, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists but shot just 31% from the field and 23% from beyond the arc. The Celtics have to find a way to help Kemba get going in this game and he needs to be the leader that he came to Boston to be.
Jaylen Brown vs Pascal Siakam
Brown has been the primary defender on Siakam for this series and has pretty much shut him down. Jaylen has also been a difference maker on the offensive end in all but Game 4. In Game 6, Jaylen led the Celtics with 31 points, 16 rebounds and 2 assists. The Celtics need to continue to keep Siakam from being a difference maker on the offensive end. They also definitely need an aggressive Jaylen Brown if they want to win this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense is always a key to winning and especially so in this series. Both teams have played tough defense in this series. The Raptors have thrown the Celtics off a bit by playing zone defense and throwing different looks at them on the defensive end. The Celtics, playing lock down defense, held the Raptors to just 11 first quarter points and just 35 points in the first half of Game 5. If the Celtics hope to win this game, it is going to have to be with that same lock down defense. They have to come out strong and not allow the Raptors to get anything going. They can’t give them any confidence because when the Celtics allow them to feel good about themselves, it always ends poorly.
Much of rebounding is effort and desire. The Celtics have won the rebounding battle in all but one of their games against the Raptors this season and that one game that they were out rebounded was their only loss in the regular season. They have to work harder than the Raptors on the boards to grab rebounds and to convert those rebounds into points. When the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into other parts of their game.
Move the Ball Carefully
The Celtics must move the ball and find the open man. When they play hero ball, it rarely ends well. But the Celtics must take care of the ball as the Raptors have win the turnover battle in all but one game in the series. The Celtics had a couple of costly turnovers late in the game that could have been avoided. They need to play team ball and they also have to continue to take care of the ball and limit their turnovers.
The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team, as they were in Game 5. They have to come out strong and be aggressive right from the tip and not allow the Raptors to get anything going at all. The Celtics need to be aggressive on defense, on the boards, in going to the basket, and in diving for loose balls. They have to be aggressive from the tip to the final buzzer and not let up. In all 6 games so far, the Raptors have won the 3rd quarter as they come out strong and are aggressive while the Celtics let up somewhat when they come out in the 3rd quarter. The Celtics have to stop this trend and win each and every quarter with a strong and aggressive effort, especially after halftime.
The Celtics must come out with a laser focus and not let their focus waiver. They need to be focused on taking good shots, on hitting their free throws, on making good passes, on handling the ball without turning it over, on playing tough lock down defense and on playing as a team. They have to execute the game plan and play their roles to perfection. There isn’t a lot of room for error in this series and it will take laser like focus to win this game.
Going into this game, it was felt that the depth of the Raptors and the Celtics lack of a scorer off the bench would figure into this series. Norman Powell was the difference in Game 6 when he came off the bench to score 23 points on 54% shooting. Serge Ibaka has also been a difference maker for them. For the Celtics, Brad Wanamaker and Robert Williams have contributed over the course of the first 6 games. With the starters playing big minutes in Game 6, fatigue may come into play and both teams may need to get a boost from their bench. Hopefully the Celtics reserves are up to the challenge.
Coaching – The chess match continues between these two top coaches. The last move was from Nick Nurse as he changed up his defenses and played more small ball and we should expect some adjustments from Brad Stevens for this game to counter those moves. Brad needs to have the Celtics ready to come out strong right from the tip and be ready for in-game adjustments if Nurse changes things up.
Game 7 and Experience – The Raptors went all the way last season and won the title. Round 1 against Orlando ended in 5 games. Round 2 went to 7 games against the 76ers. The Eastern Conference Finals went to 6 games against the Bucks and the Finals went to 6 games against the Warriors. Kemba Walker has never been out of the first round in his time in Charlotte. The Celtics young core went to 7 games in Eastern Conference Finals vs Cleveland but lost. Kyle Lowry has the most experience of any player in this series, having played in 4 Game 7’s and having won his last 3. This game will come down to grit, heart, guts, hustle and hard work. Which team will have more and be able to sustain it through 48 minutes?
Officiating – Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. It’s hard to tell how a crew will call the game. They could call it tight or they could let them play. They could try to extend the series or call it straight. The Celtics struggled with foul trouble in Game 4 and somewhat in Game 5 with 4 on both Smart and Tatum. In Game 6, 2 starters had 5 fouls and 2 had 4 fouls with the fifth having 3 fouls. There were several calls late in Game 6 that could have changed the ending but they weren’t made. However the game is called, the Celtics have to keep their focus on the game and not allow the refs to sway that focus.
With Scott Foster as the lead ref, it’s hard to tell what we will get in this one. At times he calls games one sided and is a tyrant with the whistle, calling every little thing and at other times he calls it evenly and lets them play. Tim Donaghy described Foster as a company man who will do what is asked of him to keep his seniority among refs.
Foster was part of the 2010 Finals game 7 officiating crew that called the final quarter completely different than the first 3 quarters and very one sided for the Lakers with 21 free throws for the Lakers and 6 for the Celtics in the final 12 minutes. He was voted the worst referee in the league by the players and coaches in an LA Times article.
The Celtics are 8-2 with Foster in their last 10 games and 2-0 in the playoffs so far with him calling the game. Toronto is 7-3 in their last 10 and 1-0 with Foster in the playoffs. He is definitely an x-factor.
Zarba has been good in some games, letting the teams play. He has also been bad in some games. There are a few games where he has favored the Celtics with his calls and a few where the calls have gone against them. It depends on the game. Tommy has had a few choice rants against Zarba in the past.The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Zarba and 2-0 in these playoffs when he is calling the game. The Raptors are 6-4 in their last 10 with Zarba and 1-1 in the playoffs with him.
In the past, Guthrie has been a decent referee, usually letting the teams play rather than over-officiating but there have been a few where he has been very bad. The Celtics are 2-8 in their last 10 games when Guthrie is officiating. The Raptors are 5-5 in their last 10 games with Guthrie. This is his first game for either team in these playoffs.