The Celtics and Raptors are both going into the second round feeling very good about themselves. Boston coasted through the first round in a sweep of the 76ers, and Toronto also swept their first round opponent in a lopsided series against the Brooklyn Nets.
While any sweep is impressive, it should be noted that Philadelphia was without arguably their best player in Ben Simmons who left the bubble prior to the series to undergo arthoscopic surgery on his left knee. The Celtics did what they were supposed to do by sweeping the banged up 76ers. Similarly, the Raptors did what they were supposed to do by sweeping a Nets team that was missing a handful of key players, most notably Kyrie Irving and of course Kevin Durant, who has yet to suit up for Brooklyn.
As we look ahead to this second round series between Boston and Toronto, don’t look too far into how players on these two teams performed in the first round. Anyone can put up big numbers in the noncompetitive environment that was evident in the respective first round match ups for the Celtics and Raptors. The competition for both teams will be brought to a whole new level in the second round, and so will the intensity.
When game planning against the Celtics, the most important thing always seem to be finding a way to guard all of the skilled, versatile wings that Boston has. The good thing for the Raptors is that Gordon Hayward will not play in the series as he recovers from an ankle injury. Toronto has a starting lineup that includes two players that are only 6 feet tall, and Boston could’ve exploited this mismatch all series long if Hayward wasn’t injured. With Hayward out, we can expect Toronto to match up well defensively. Siakim’s length should give Tatum a lot of trouble, and OG Anunoby should be able to keep Jaylen Brown in check. In the back court, Kyle Lowry will be a pest to Kemba Walker throughout the series, and with Marcus Smart sliding into the starting lineup due to Hayward’s injury, VanVleet probably won’t be exposed the way he would’ve been if he had to guard Hayward or Jaylen Brown.
While Marcus Smart might be a downgrade offensively from Gordon Hayward, we cannot ignore what a difference maker he is on the defensive side of the ball. With Smart in the starting lineup, he is going to be able to get Kyle Lowry out of rhythm early in games. When Lowry isn’t playing well, the Raptors are a much easier team to beat. Marcus Smart is one of the best defenders in the league and I believe he’s going to give Lowry a plethora of problems in this series, which will lead to an out of sink Toronto offense.
The depth on Toronto’s bench might prove to be a big advantage for them. The Raptors have a double-digit rebounder coming off the bench for them in Serge Ibaka (10.3 RPG). They also have a couple of versatile wings in Norman Powell (17.5 PPG) and Terrance Davis (11.3 PPG) who are both capable of providing a scoring punch for Toronto on a nightly basis. The Celtics do not get anywhere near this production from their bench. In the postseason, their highest scoring bench player has been Enes Kanter and he is only averaging 5.5 PPG. If the Raptors can wear down Boston’s starters, the Celtics will be put at an extreme disadvantage because no one on their bench can be relied on to put up points.
Although Boston lacks depth, they make up for it with their star power. The Celtics had three players averaging over 20 PPG in the regular season, and this has continued into the postseason with Jayson Tatum averaging 27 PPG, Kemba Walker averaging 24.3 PPG, and Jaylen Brown averaging 21.5 PPG. There is a major drop in offensive production after these three players, but there is something to be said for having multiple star players that are capable of taking over a game at any moment. The star power is also a huge advantage in clutch situations. Instead of relying on one guy to always take the last shot, the Celtics have three players who can step up in a big situation.
All in all, this is undoubtedly going to be a fantastic series. Both teams are well coached and have been clicking on all cylinders recently. If Toronto forces Boston to consistently go to their bench, it would put them in a great position to win this series. If not, the Celtics’ stars should be able to put up points in bunches and control the game from start to finish. Either way, I expect this to be a hard fought series that goes 7 games.
As a Celtic fan, I’m a bit biased, but I’ll give you my prediction anyway: I think the Celtics will overcome their lack of depth by getting superstar level production from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, and they will lead Boston to a series victory in 7 games.