After six closely contested games and plenty of drama, the remaining Eastern Conference Semi-Finals matchup will be determined today. The Toronto Raptors will play the Boston Celtics tonight at 6 PM PST/9 PM EST on TNT. Neither team will go out easily, and we are bound to see another down to the wire game from these two Eastern Conference powerhouses.
Preview: The Boston Celtics
The Celtics come into this game as the favorites and for a good reason. The team is very well rounded from top to bottom. The Celtics have three players averaging over 20 points per game in the playoffs and 6 averaging over 10 points per game. They have primarily utilized an eight-man rotation throughout the playoffs. The Celtics have Brad Wanamaker, defensive specialist Grant Williams and center Robert Williams as the primary contributors off the bench. However, this game will not be won by the second unit but rather by the strong first unit that Boston boasts.
The Celtics starting 5 of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis has been one of the most consistent in the league. Tatum, Brown and Kemba have shown advanced shot-creating ability throughout the course of these playoffs. While Theis and Smart don’t play as much of an offensive role, their value on the defensive end does not go unnoticed.
Keys to the Game, Future
The key to this game for the Celtics will be making sure their stars get going, early and often. Tatum has been guarded by a variety of Raptors, all who have made it difficult for him. Tatum needs to perform well to prove he is ready to take that next step to the superstar level. Defensively, it will be on Smart and Walker to help neutralize the dynamic backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
This is the year for the Celtics to capitalize with the roster they currently have. While they have already paid Walker and Brown their max deals, the Celtics have yet to extend Tatum after his rookie deal. That next contract for Tatum figures to be a max deal, which will give the Celtics even less financial flexibility. Smart and small forward Gordon Hayward will also be eligible for contract renewals in the next two years.
Preview: The Toronto Raptors
A year after losing Kawhi Leonard, few thought the Raptors would be in the position they find themselves in today. When they lost arguably their best player, the Raptors were poised for a down year. However, Nick Nurse has turned the team into a contender with the pieces he still had.
While Pascal Siakam figured to be the next star for the Raptors, it has not been that way for the majority of the playoffs. While he is averaging 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, some of his shooting splits have been far below average. His 19.2% from 3 on about five attempts per game ranks second last on the entire team. His offensive box plus-minus is -1.9, good for 3rd last on the team. Siakam appears uncomfortable in the offense and slightly unsure of what his role is. However, where Siakam has fallen off, many other players have stepped up.
The backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Raptors. VanVleet is averaging 19.6 points per game in the playoffs, with an outstanding 38% from 3 on ten attempts. While Lowry hasn’t been as good from 3, the former Villanova guard has stepped up in other departments. He is second on the team in points per game with 17.9 points per game. Lowry has also been stellar defensively in the pick and roll and also battling on every possession. He has a high defensive IQ and has shown the ability to make crucial plays when his team needs it.
Keys to the Game, Future
The Raptors have shown they can beat the Celtics, but they will need the team to continue to perform at a high level. VanVleet and Lowry will need to continue their offensive output and defensively look to slow down Kemba Walker. Siakam and OG Annouby will be tasked with guarding Tatum and Brown. Siakam is a little more uncertain than Annouby, but the Raptors will need their best work to help neutralize the Celtic’s best offensive threats.
The X factor for the Raptors will be guard Norman Powell. Powell exploded onto the scene with his Game 6 performance. He scored an efficient 23 points on 50% from 3. He was also excellent defensively and proved to Nick Nurse that he could be trusted in the lineup in crunch time.
This may be the Raptors last season with this roster still intact. Going into 2021, the Raptors only have seven players under contract and going into 2022, only 5. Some of the key names that are up for a new deal next year are Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet. While Ibaka and Gasol are currently earning over their market value for this season, they are still integral parts of the team. And while VanVleet is not worthy of the max, he will likely command a contract in the range of 13-17 million dollars per year. This may be the Raptors’ last chance to capitalize on a very well-rounded roster.
While the Raptors have put up a good fight thus far, ultimately, their lack of a true star player will catch up to them. While guys like Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby have been reliable, they have not shown the ability to push the team over the edge when needed.
The Celtics are the complete opposite, with a myriad of superstar talents. All three of Tatum, Brown and Walker have the potential to carry the team and take their game to the next level. This attribute is essential when playing a do-or-die playoff game. The Raptors overachieving season will come to a close at the hands of the Celtics.
Final Score Prediction: 113-105, Celtics Win