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The idea to boycott games in order to show more demonstrable action in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against racial injustice and police brutality was first floated by the Raptors and Celtics in media conferences leading up to the Bucks’ protest.
“It’s ongoing discussions. I think it is on the table,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse in a practice availability just a few hours before the Bucks opted to not take the floor. “There are some other ideas that are on the table as well.”
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Added the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum: “It’s an active discussion. Obviously, it started with the Raptors and obviously that’s who we’re playing. It’s been talked about with other guys on other teams. People are upset or angry and we’re just trying to come together and figure out a way we can do something. Obviously people are going to say, ‘Well, what is sitting out going to do?’ Obviously, if we sit out a game or the rest of the playoffs, we understand how big of an impact that will have.
“Everybody’s going to have to talk about it, continue to raise awareness. We don’t want to just keep playing and forget about what’s going on in the outside world, because it’s affecting us. It’s affecting everybody. We’re more than just basketball players — we’re people.”
The NBA announced on Wednesday that its three-game slate was being postponed and that Thursday’s contests – which included Game 1 between Toronto and Boston – were also postponed. NBA games will resume starting Saturday with the Raptors and Celtics tipping off Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET.
In light of recent events, basketball doesn’t seem all that important, but on Thursday morning players reportedly decided they wanted to play out the remainder of this post-season. As such, it’ll be game on.
Here’s a closer look at this second-round matchup between the Raptors and Celtics.
Head-to-head, the Celtics owned the season series 3-1, but with the Raptors using the same starters in just two of those four contests because of how banged up they’ve been all campaign long – in addition to one of those games coming during the NBA’s restart seeding period – it’s tough to take away much from their regular-season encounters that might be useful when trying to make assessments about this upcoming playoff series.
However, as mentioned before, when one looks at the entirety of the regular seasons of each team, it becomes apparent that both play remarkably similar to one another.
As the table above shows, the Raptors are a better overall defensive team but the Celtics have a slight edge in offensive efficiency. The most interesting intersection here is how good the Raptors are in transition – the league leader in fast-break points per game and points off turnovers per game – and how well the Celtics protect the ball, something that Nurse pointed out as a key aspect of the series.
“We love to score in transition and that’s one of the things we talk about,” said Nurse. “If we’re going to play all this darn defence, we better be getting something out of it at the other end. That’s gonna be a factor. We’re going to have to dig in and get into them and create some turnovers. I hope we can, we need them.”
And on the topic of all that “darn defence” Nurse was talking about, both the Raptors and Celtics play a lot of it.
Toronto and Boston were the second- and fourth-ranked defences in the league, respectively, this season and they did it in similar fashion with both sides playing an ultra-aggressive trapping, switching scheme designed to fluster opponents into making turnovers and rushed shots without allowing straight-line drives to the rim.
This is aided, as you can see in the two clips above, by versatile, fleet-footed defenders on both sides who are able to prevent deep dribble penetration and switch with impunity when caught up on screens in order to make a good contest.
Expect both teams to frustrate each other’s offence to no end in this series.
How each team fared in Round 1
Both the Raptors and Celtics swept their first-round opponents. But while Toronto’s plus-82 margin of victory for its series is certainly more impressive than Boston’s plus-47, when you take into account the Raptors were playing a severely undermanned and overmatch Brooklyn Nets team as opposed to the Celtics’ matchup in the Philadelphia 76ers – who may have been without Ben Simmons but still had key players Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Al Horford – it’s hard not to think Boston’s opening-round dominance was probably just a tad more impressive.
Outside of a Game 2 that saw them asleep at the wheel before finally turning it up in the fourth quarter, the Raptors weren’t really tested. But in the Celtics’ sweep of the 76ers, Boston had to overcome some adversity — most notably in Game 3 of their first-round series when they closed the contest on a 10-0 run and stole a 102-94 victory.
As far as momentum goes heading into this second-round clash, Boston’s “Big Three” of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown are all averaging 21.5 points or more and are shooting the ball from the field pretty well.
The Raptors’ hot hands coming into the series are Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka, with all three shooting better than 52 per cent from the field.
And as for injury issues, Celtics forward Gordon Hayward left Game 1 of the series against the 76ers with what turned out to be an ankle sprain that is now keeping him out for at least four weeks, meaning he isn’t likely to see any action this round.
Kyle Lowry also suffered an ankle sprain in the closeout Game 4 against Brooklyn, and his status for the series is still up in the air.
During the seeding games, the Raptors played the Celtics in what amounted to a meaningless contest as neither team had much to play for in the standings other than personal pride.
Boston ended up blowing out Toronto in that matchup, 122-100, and though it seemed at the time like there wasn’t much to take away from the game, Nurse believes otherwise.
“I think there are some things to study,” said Nurse. “I mean, they kicked our butts from start to finish. It was not a game. We weren’t very good and they were very good. I give them credit. They really wanted to play us and they wanted to take it to us and that is exactly what they did. But there are some things to learn from that, too, just tactically watching it.”
Who are we to argue with the 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year, right?
So, taking a look specifically at the butt-kicking the Raptors took from the Celtics earlier this month, here’s a look at the most important matchups in the series.
Vs. Tatum: Tatum is the Celtics’ top scorer and best overall player, and during the post-season he’s appeared raise his game even more, averaging 27 points on 48.7 per cent shooting against the 76ers, including a 45.2 per cent clip from outside. A naturally-gifted scorer, Tatum can fill it up from just about anywhere on the floor, but loves bombing triples from the wing in particular, as his season shot chart indicates:
Against the Raptors in that first bubble game, Tatum wasn’t overly impressive as he scored just 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but a notable takeaway from that performance was that Lowry got the bulk of duty defending him.
In fact, there’s no player Lowry has checked more this season than Tatum, an odd detail to consider at first but one that makes more sense when you consider OG Anunoby has primarily been given the Hayward assignment.
However, with Hayward essentially out of the picture this series and Lowry’s status still uncertain, there’s a good chance Nurse will look to put Anunoby on Tatum for no other reason than he is Boston’s most dangerous weapon.
“He has shown a level of super high interest in becoming a defensive stopper,” said Nurse of Anunoby. “He’s working at it, he’s got the desire, and it’s a sense of pride for him to go out there and play hard at the defensive end and guard the best players in this league.”
Like the Raptors, the Celtics have many weapons they can turn to, but a good starting point in trying to defeat Boston will be limit