By Tiger Xie
On Monday, the Raptors fell 18 points short of Boston to start off the Eastern Conference semifinals. For those that watched the game, it was indubitably a disappointing experience. From a Toronto point of view, we struggled to find any rhythm while the Celtics lit it up from beyond the arc. Pascal Siakam, who usually carries our offensive load, shot 31% from the field. Perhaps calling players “Playoff P” was never the greatest idea. Boston went on an early run in the first quarter and we were never able to recover. With Game 2 of the series soon approaching, let’s take a look at which factors lead to the Raptor’s defeat and takeaways from this game.
- Early Foul Trouble
12 minutes into the game, the Raptors have already racked up 11 personal fouls. As we see Coach Nurse pick up a technical foul for arguing, the myriad of fouls undoubtedly disturbed the Raptors gameplan and resulted in frustration. The Celtics capitalized on that, ending the quarter with a 34-13 run. Much of their success came from long-range: Boston made 17 threes on 43.6% shooting while the Raptors only made 10 on 25% shooting. This came as a slight surprise as the Celtics shot only 36% in the regular season. Encapsulating Boston’s strong shooting performance was Marcus Smart, who shot 5-9 from deep. While his three-point shot did improve throughout recent years, we most likely won’t see that carry on in the rest of the series.
On the other hand, the Raptors struggled mightily to hit shots, even those that were wide open. Fred Vanvleet, who has been one of our most reliable players in the bubble, shot 2-11 from deep. On the bright side, we were at least able to generate open threes. The next step is just to hit them. When the starters were unable to capitalize on these opportunities, it was a surprise Coach Nurse didn’t turn to the bench mob earlier. On that note, let’s move to how the bench performed.
- Rotations and the Bench Mob.
One key advantage the Raptors have over the Celtics is the overwhelming depth of the team. In the regular season, there was a “next man up” mentality in the team where every player could contribute to wins. In fact, 12 players on the current roster had 20-point games this season. So it wasn’t too surprising that when the bench was playing, we managed to outscore the Celtics. A run in the second quarter lead by Serge Ibaka and Terence Davis cut the deficit to 9 points at one point, and it looked as if a comeback was approaching. What was surprising is that Coach Nurse subbed the starters back into the game shortly afterward. Although Fred Vanvleet had a performance reminiscent of last year’s conference semis, he still played a total of 38 minutes. With this game behind us, expect Coach Nurse to turn to the bench more in the remainder of this series.
- How can we adjust?
Although Boston was able to put this game to sleep early on, there were flaws in their game as well. They’ve been playing a rather small starting lineup without Hayward: Kemba, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Tatum, and Theis. For much of the game, Boston assigned Marcus Smart with the task to guard Siakam, who is half a foot taller. While Smart is a skilled and experienced defender, the size advantage cannot be ignored. Siakam’s brings an extremely polished set of post moves and finishing skills, yet not much of that was on display in game 1. If the Raptors want to exploit the size advantage in the Boston defense, going to the post more is certainly an option.
On that note, this series is far from over. Don’t forget, the Bucks and the Lakers both fell to the eighth seeds in their first games. This will undoubtedly be an exciting series and odds are that another conference-semi Game 7 may be in order. For the time being, let’s all enjoy the return of the playoffs and pray that Drake shows up in a Celtics jersey soon.