Round 2 – Celtics vs Raptors
The Raptors were a team that greatly overachieved in 2020. The loss of Kawhi Leonard was supposed to keep this team from reaching the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Instead, the incredibly well built and well coached Raptors took off from the gate and just kept winning. No Claw? No problem. Siakam took a leap and replaced much of the scoring. Lowry scored the most PPG he has in 3 years. VanVleet, undrafted out of Wichita State, looks to be a more than capable shooting guard to go along with Lowry in the backcourt. He raised every meaningful statistic during the regular season. The Raptors are a team that knew how to play together, and all got better together and can beat anyone in the NBA. However, this is also a team that the Celtics will beat because the Raptors can’t handle a one Jayson Tatum.
Jayson Tatum progressed even as the year went on for the Celtics, and this series ends up being all about Tatum. JT vaults himself into superstardom during this series with a combination of scoring and defense on Siakam that has the 76ers regretting Fultz even more.
The Last Gasp of the Raptors
Game 1 is a close game, Siakam is doing his usual controlled frenetic and high energy thing, dictating play early. Kemba is off to a good start shooting the ball, and makes 2 threes in the first quarter, and the Celtics are down 3 after 1. The 2nd is a seesaw, and into the 3rd the back and forth continues. Siakam has put up 20 points through 3, and OG Anunoby hits a shot at the horn of the 3rd to tie up the score. Tatum has 15-7-4 at this point, Kemba has 18, and nobody else on the Celtics has more than 10.
In the fourth quarter the Raptors machine starts clicking, leading to a few open looks early. The Celtics call a timeout down 10 with 3 and a half minutes left. Off the inbound, Kemba makes a great pass off his drive to Theis in the corner, who nails a 3. The Smart manufactures a turnover on the other end, gets fouled driving to the hoop, and makes 1 of his 2 free throws. Boston won’t get closer. The Raptors call a time out, regroup, and end up winning game 1 by 6.
Game 2 has a similar feel, except this time the Celtics come out of the gate hot, and Siakam and the Raptors are not. The Celtics, on the back of balanced play and 4 assists from Marcus Smart, lead after one. In the 2nd quarter sees the Raptors shooting even colder than the 1st. VanVleet is 1-7, Lowry seems to have raptor arms shooting the 3, and Siakam is not getting the transition opportunities he is accustomed to. The Celtics head into halftime up 13. The Raptors attempt a comeback and come within 5 midway through the 3rd, but strong play from Brown and Tatum hold them off and the Celtics go on to win by 11.
The Celtics Take Control
Game 3 is a thriller. This was the game of the series for a neutral fan. The Raptors hold a lead for most of the game of 5-10 points. It has the feel that the Celtics just cannot get over the hump. With 4 minutes left in the third, the Raptors get a ticky tack call on a OG three pointer that banks in, and he makes the free throw to make it a full four point play. The Celtics now find themselves down 12. Stevens is irate, and so is Kemba, who starts to walk toward the referee before Kanter grabs him away.
After a timeout, Stevens draws up a play to get Tatum on the block working against OG. Tatum nails the easy fade against OG. Then hits a 3 the next time down. Stout defense gets the ball back and Jayson hits a runner the next time down. Another stop and then Tatum hits another 3. The Raptors call timeout. Tatum’s flame throwing now has the Celtics down 2. The tight D continues to stifle the Raptors and the Celtics find a way to be up 2 going into the 4th.
Game 3 Gets Interesting
This game becomes a slug-fest between two of the games young stars in Tatum and Siakim. They go back and forth, seeming to answer each other at every turn. With 7 minutes left in the fourth, Siakam gets his 5th foul and has to sit. He refuses the high five of Nurse, upset with himself for the foul trouble he finds himself in. Normally, this would be the moment the game turns, but the Raptors are built with depth and keep chugging along. Offense grinds to a halt and only desperation shots and high level offensive sets find their way through to the net.
Game 3 Comes Down to the Wire
With 2 minutes left and the score tied, Siakam is back in the game and stands at the line. He misses both free throws. On the other end, Brown makes a three in the corner. With 1:20 left, Lowry makes a three to match. The Celtics inbound the ball and get it up quickly to Tatum, who slices past Siakam, on his 5th foul, for a bucket at the rim. The next two possessions end in turnovers for both teams. Brad calls a timeout with 39 ticks left on the clock. Stevens draws up a play that sees Brown come off a screen and he hits a three off the rim.
Nurse calls a timeout, his last one, with the Raptors down two with 10 seconds left. After his in-bounds play fails, the in-bounded ball ends up with Ibaka, who takes an off balance mid-range shot that rattles out, and the Celtics secure the rebound with 3 seconds left. Brown is fouled, makes both free throws, and despite a last second heave from VanVleet, the Celtics escape with a win and a 2-1 series lead. Tatum ends up with 35-9-6, and while he didn’t make the biggest play of the game, was the engine who kept the Celtics offense trucking. Siakam gets 34-11-4, but it wasn’t enough in a game that he had to sit for many of the crucial moments.
The Extinction of the Raptors
In contrast, Game 4 and Game 5 are snoozers. Tatum averages 28 and 8, and is showing himself to be the best player in the series. The Raptors win game 4 by 17 and the Celtics failed to show up in this one. Boston dominates Game 5 in a fashion more commanding than their 12 point win would appear. However, for Toronto, elimination looms.
Finally, game 6 comes around and both teams are ready. As the game gets underway the game stays close, and it stays that way, at halftime both times are knotted up at 56. The leading scorer so far is Lowry with 14. In the 3rd, the emergence of Tatum continues. With 11 in the quarter he pushes the Celtics ahead by 6 heading into the 4th. The Celtics are confident, and sense the Raptors letting go after a Kemba 3 early in the quarter takes the wind out of their sails. The Raptors don’t get closer than 7 from here, and the Celtics win by 8. Kanter ends up with 18 points and 18 rebounds, in what turns out to be his best game of the playoffs. He gives up the same amount of points on defense but nobody talks about it after.
The Celtics move on from the Raptors to face the cream of the crop from the East; Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks.
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-Brent Buckley (@bigbucksbuckley on the t)