The sweeps are behind us. A matchup in the making since the days of Demar DeRozan and Isiah Thomas, the Celtics and Raptors finally do battle in the second round of these NBA Playoffs.
A Tale of 2 Ankle Sprains
Both teams saw off their competition pretty comfortably in the first round, but got a little bumped up along the way. Kyle Lowry and Gordon Hayward both suffered ankle sprains, although of vastly different intensities.
Hayward was diagnosed with a Grade-3 Ankle Sprain after exiting early in Game 1 against Philly, and was ruled out for 4 weeks. There is very little to no chance that Hayward features in this series and of all possible opponents, it would affect the Celtics most against the Raptors. There are plenty of Hayward detractors among the Celtics fanbase, but he’s still a very important cog in Brad Stevens’ wheel. He is a versatile athletic wing, who has a great outside shooting stroke and keeps the ball moving on the offensive end. The Raptors are one of the teams that can matchup offensively and defensively with the Celtics, and they tend to switch as much as possible defensively. With Hayward out, it would make it much harder for the Celtics to get someone like a Jayson Tatum switched on to a smaller guard like VanVleet giving him the size-mismatch on the offensive end.
Ankle Sprains hurt like hell, but Kyle Lowry is a warrior. He is the heart and soul of this Raptors team and sets the tempo on both ends of the floor with his intensity, drawing charges(or flopping, depends on who you ask), diving for loose balls and mostly just balling out offensively. Lowry was upgraded from questionable to probable for Game 1 and will no doubt play.
The Superstar Matchups
Though both teams and coaches are advocates of Team Basketball, the overarching storyline of the series will be the matchup of Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam. Their quality is undoubtable, yet both play vastly different roles for their sides.
The Celtics are very much Jayson Tatum’s team and there is absolutely no doubt about that, his quality and confidence was palpable as he took on LeBron in a Conference Finals matchup as a rookie. Although he had an indifferent sophomore season, he has levelled up this year. Carrying more of the offensive load and scoring much more efficiently. His 3-point shooting has improved massively and he is much more active on the defensive end. This series might finally see Tatum blossom into Bostons new Superstar.
On the other hand there is, Pascal Siakam. His Journey from the G-League to NBA Champion is the stuff of dreams, and he’s also come on leaps and bounds as a player, winning Most-Improved last year. He took another step up this season, as he was a borderline MVP Candidate in the early parts of the season. His performance in recent weeks however has been average. The number of shots he takes has gone down, as Fred VanVleet has become more prominent in the rotation as a reliable scorer, but as the Playoffs progress and rotations become shorter his responsibilities will increase. He was a clear number 2 to Kawhi during the Raptors Championship run last season, but with no clear alpha this season, Nick Nurse will look to Siakam to take up the mantle in the big moments.
Celtics took the regular season series 3-1 over the Raptors, but this is the Playoffs and experience matters. The Raptors are the more experienced team, and have a much better bench than the Celtics. However, the Celtics have the star-power with Kemba, Tatum and Brown all fit and firing, but with Hayward missing they will be reliant more on Marcus Smart on the offensive end, who has shot poorly in the Bubble. The Raptors also have the advantage over the centre position with Ibaka and Gasol playing very well against the Nets and in the Orlando Bubble as a whole. A Theis and Gasol matchup will heavily favour the spaniard due to a lack of athleticism and shooting. Overall The Raptors have the better Roster and the Celtics have the best player, but in the end the Raptors’ playoff pedigree tips it in their favour. RAPTORS IN 6.