Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 112-94 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
One — Lopsided: This was a carbon copy of their 122-100 loss to the Celtics in the seeding round. Toronto had a miserable first quarter — 11 fouls committed, Nick Nurse blew his challenge unsuccessfully then picked up a tech, Pascal Siakam had three fouls, and they trailed 39-23 — and never recovered. Each time the Raptors got close, the Celtics answered with a slew of tough jumpers to push their lead back to a comfortable distance. Although it is just Game 1, there is plenty of cause for concern.
Two — Lifeless: The Raptors just can’t score on the Celtics. It’s been the running theme through their four losses against Boston. The Celtics do a great job of switching on the perimeter to deny the Raptors any opportunities to get into the paint, which cuts off the oxygen for the rest of their team. Toronto’s halfcourt offense is average to begin with, but where they do succeed is getting their guards with a head of steam towards the rim, collapsing the paint, then kicking it out for three. There was none of that tonight. The scant bits of offense the Raptors got were mostly in isolation, and with all due respect to the defending champions, they don’t have anyone who can score efficiently by themselves.
Three — Predictable: The worst fears about Pascal Siakam’s struggles came true in this loss. Siakam was saddled with three fouls early on, his intensity level dropped off, and he didn’t come close to being a No. 1 option offensively. Siakam missed a few threes early and abandoned every option except going to the post. There, the Celtics did a good job of sitting on his patented spin move, being physical, and occasionally sending a second defender. But with every passing miss, the Celtics were content to let him attack, and still Siakam couldn’t score. It’s not so much about Siakam missing makable shots around the basket, which are bound to fall eventually, but the issue is Siakam can’t create anything else for his teammates. The threat of his offense doesn’t move defenders out of place, as Kemba Walker or Jayson Tatum can whenever they attack off a high pick-and-roll. Siakam slash to the rim a few times against Boston’s second unit, which produced an open three for Fred VanVleet, a tough floater, and two free throws. That’s something, at least.
Four — Discipline: The other issue for Toronto’s offense is that they’re not getting anything in transition. Boston is top-five in the league at getting back, and they limited the Raptors to only seven fast-break points despite committing 21 turnovers. There’s nothing to analyze in particular in this front, as the Raptors just need to show more of a willingness to run. They were sluggish tonight.
Five — Burst: The only real positive to come out of this game was the play of Kyle Lowry, who was their most energetic player despite playing on a bum left ankle. Lowry gave the Raptors a shot in the arm in the third quarter with his frantic rampages to the basket, typified on one possession where he coyly elbowed Daniel Theis in the ribs, before careening through Semi Ojeleye at the basket for an and-one. Lowry was the only one who was able to turn the corner and pressure the rim against the Celtics, but at the age of 34, it’s unreasonable to ask him to carry the load by himself. VanVleet and Siakam must help him in this regard. It’s not as if Lowry is doing it with otherworldly skill or blazing agility — it’s his daring nature to blow through cracks and brave whatever contact is his consequence.
Six — Frustrating: VanVleet can definitely do better in this series given that he’s being guarded by the lone weak defender in the Celtics’ starting five. Walker did a nice job of following the game plan and taking away the pull-up three, but this isn’t anything VanVleet isn’t used to. VanVleet can do a much better job of attacking the basket off the pick-and-roll, and that’s going to show on tape. A lot of his shots were open, especially the pull-up three against centers that usually drop back and he needs to continue taking those shots. One adjustment could be to set the screens up higher so Boston’s bigs have to firmly commit to guarding away from the paint and potentially force switches. The other adjustment would be to play faster in general as VanVleet tends to dribble it up instead of throwing the hit-ahead pass.
Seven — Unexpected: It’s strange that neither one of Marc Gasol nor Serge Ibaka played particularly well given that Boston’s strategy usually involved leaving them open to help elsewhere. Gasol couldn’t hit any of his threes from the top, and although he mixed it up with the occasional roll to the basket or post up, those don’t scare Boston one bit. Ibaka came in hot with two threes off the bench, but also got lost in the shuffle and cramped spacing by always trying to post-up, or by lingering around the elbow hoping for a kickout. Given their need for scoring, it makes more sense for Ibaka to play the bulk of minutes in this series, but that is also contingent on Ibaka being defensively focused at all times, which he isn’t.
Eight — Unsustainable: Toronto’s defense on the whole was fine. It wasn’t their best showing but it wasn’t awful. Aside from that awful first quarter where they couldn’t stop fouling, the Raptors did a great job of keeping the Celtics off the offensive glass and off the free-throw line, while also keeping a tight lid on Jayson Tatum who mostly hit off-balance jumpers that can’t really be contested in the first place. Where their issue is, and continues to be agains the Celtics, is the corner three. Toronto is so help-focused that they are always cheating off in the corners, and Boston knows exactly how to find their shooters open. It’s against their instincts, but the Raptors must be more disciplined in staying at home, while also playing better one-on-one defense. Yes, the Celtics are still deadly in isolation, but that’s a lot better than leaving someone open in the corner all the time.
Nine — Quiet: Norman Powell failed to impact this game, which is another huge blow for the Raptors offense. Boston was diligent in transition, which erased most of what Powell is good at. However, there were still chances for Powell to attack in the halfcourt, either cutting off the ball and getting downhill, or by spotting up for three, and those looks weren’t there. The deeper the playoffs go, the more the Raptors will come to rely on Powell for his scoring. He can’t be as invisible as he was tonight.
Ten — Curveballs: Nurse junked up the game in the second quarter with a dual-center lineup that primarily defended in zone. The Celtics struggled to get to the basket, and both Ibaka and Gasol were just good enough on the perimeter to contest shots from Jaylen Brown and Tatum. Those few minutes, along with Lowry’s burst, were the only two good stretches in the game for the Raptors. Expect Boston to practice counters in anticipation of Game 2, mostly by shifting Walker onto the floor for those minutes. He will have plenty of space to shoot off a high screen against a zone.
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