It is an unusual Labour Day Monday in Canada. In place of big end-of-summer parties, the Canadian National Exhibition or CFL rivalry games, this year there is a Game 5 between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics – NBA teams that are locked in a captivating September playoff matchup.
Boston won the first pair of games, then Toronto stole the next two, completely transforming the vibe of the best-of-seven series.
Here are some questions to ponder about Game 5 in the Orlando bubble as the last summer weekend winds down.
Will the Raptors’ key players continue playing such heavy minutes?
Toronto coach Nick Nurse has relied almost exclusively on his top seven players in the past two games. In the first two outings, there were a few minutes for bench players such as Terence Davis and Chris Boucher, but in Games 3 and 4, Nurse called only on Matt Thomas outside his main seven. The Celtics, on the other hand, are using a nine-man rotation. Each Raptor starter is averaging more minutes a game than his Boston counterpart.
A few Raptors starters have played more than 40 of the game’s 48 minutes in each of the past three outings, including Lowry, who played nearly 47 on Thursday and almost 44 on Saturday.
“You’ve got to play this somewhat situationally and I just think that those guys that we didn’t sub much [Saturday] night, they were all playing very, very well,” Nurse said. “I thought there was an appropriate amount of breaks in the game. There seemed to be a lot of timeouts, there was reviews, there was challenges, there seemed to be some kind of built-in rest time.”
How are the Raptors handling this busy every-other-day-game schedule in the bubble?
The NBA defending champs, full of veterans, chose not to practise as a team on Sunday. About half of the players took some shots for a few minutes, Nurse said. Instead players focused on recovery, working with Toronto’s sports-science professionals, with ice baths, massages and physiotherapy.
While Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he goes for a walk around the NBA’s Disney campus every morning to clear his mind, Nurse said he has no set routine. Sometimes he goes for a bike ride or a jog on the property. “Kind of like our coverages, I like to mix it up a little bit, and just go with what I’m feeling on the day,” Nurse said.
Who will be the better three-point shooting team on Monday?
Through the first 10 quarters of this series, the Raptors made only 26 of 102 three-point attempts. That changed dramatically for Toronto, starting with the third quarter of Game 3. For the past six quarters, the Raps have made 26 of 62 shots from deep.
That’s important, because the team that has shot the most threes has won each game. The Celtics won the three-point battle 17-10 and 15-11 in Games 1 and 2; the Raptors won that category 13-9 and 17-7 in Games 3 and 4. Boston was a surprisingly bad 7-of-35 from deep on Saturday, including Jaylen Brown’s uncharacteristic 2-of-11 three-point performance.
Which Pascal Siakam can we expect Monday night?
The Raps star forward had a rough start to the series, struggling to score and getting in foul trouble. But then his scoring, decision making and rebounding improved. He was huge defensively on Saturday. But there was that ugly stat in his Game 4 box score: 2-of-13 from three-point range.
“I like the kind of look on his face when he made it or missed it or when he shot it. So I think there’s some continued growth there,” Nurse said. “I just want to keep giving him chances and then hope that he makes the right play, whether it’s a shot attempt or it’s an assist attempt.”
Is Marc Gasol shooting enough?
The Raps’ Spanish big man has taken just 25 shots through four games and made 12. His defensive presence is crucial, but could he score more instead of passing so often?
“Yeah, I think there’s probably a few more shots for him. But I do feel like he’s involved more, you know, so it’s not maybe a ton more at this point,” Nurse said. “It would be great if he can make a couple of those threes and continue to get some of these rolls and some of those mid-paint short rolls and stuff. But I think he’s got a nice combination, in the last six quarters of touches, where he’s passed it and taken attempts.”