Score one for the good guys. The Boston Celtics picked up an 18-point victory in the first game of their second-round series with the defending champions.
The Boston Celtics opened the second round of the NBA playoffs with a 112-94 win against the Toronto Raptors. The C’s got out to an early lead in the first quarter, and never allowed their counterparts up north to get back into the game.
Following an offensive burst in the first quarter, the Celtics had gained a 39-23 lead, off the strength of great shot-making and hustle on the defensive side of the ball. They shot 59 percent in the opening period, while Toronto recorded six turnovers.
Raptors All-Star Pascal Siakam got into major foul trouble early, picking up his third foul within the first six minutes of the game. This predicament ruined the rotations for coach Nick Nurse, and limited their offense immensely. Without Siakam, Toronto is without a player who can take defenders off the dribble, shoot the three, and defend almost every position on the other end.
As for the Celtics, Marcus Smart had his best game of the playoffs. Finishing with 21 points, six rebounds, and four assists, along with shooting 6/10 from the field and 5/9 from downtown, he left his imprint on this one. Boston continuously found Smart open in the corner after swinging the ball around beyond the arc, as the all-defensive guard knocked down all five of his 3-pointers from the corner pockets.
On defense, he found himself guarding Siakam for the majority of the possessions and proved that he can defend him in the post. He tried to overpower Smart, utilizing his height advantage, but Smart can defend practically anyone, forcing “Spicy P” to take tough leaning shots again and again. In general, Siakam had a tough time against all of the Boston Celtics’ defenders in the post, including Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye, as he finished with only 13 points on 5/16 shooting from the field.
Jayson Tatum got off to a slow start, struggling to find his spots against Toronto’s tough wing defenders. However, he found a decent groove, scoring 21 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor, while grabbing nine rebounds. He tried to drive to the basket, but simply didn’t finish well, throwing up wild shots that had no chance of going in. In the second half, he got more to his game that Boston Celtics fans have loved to see, hitting side-step threes in the face of defenders.
Similarly, Jaylen Brown had a rough game by his standards, but contributed to the win nonetheless. Only shooting 6/18 for 17 points, JB found himself making an impact in other ways, recording five rebounds and four assists. In the first quarter, he helped Boston get out to an early lead by knocking down contested threes, but he didn’t find much success after that.
The Celtics went into halftime with a 17-point lead when Brown and Tatum were shooting 8/24 from the field – something that shouldn’t be possible.
Kemba Walker led the Boston Celtics offense on Sunday afternoon, recording 18 efficient points and 10 assists. He often dribbled into traffic, caused defenders to help onto him, and kicked out to open shooters, an area where the Celtics excelled this game. Although Toronto has two great defensive guards in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, Walker’s quickness off the dribbled and ability to find the open man was too much to contain, as he was getting to any spot on the floor he wanted.
Daniel Theis got extended minutes after taking a backseat in the first round of the playoffs, scoring 13 points and grabbing a playoff-high 15 rebounds. He was able to defend the Raptors’ bigs effectively, and secured defensive rebounds better than expected, as the defending champs only had seven offensive board on the game. Theis went a perfect 7/7 from the line showcasing his improved shot-making, something that can elevate his offensive game to the next level.
In the backup center minutes, second-year man Robert Williams got the call from coach Brad Stevens. In his first real playoff minutes, Timelord scored 10 points on a perfect 5/5 from the field, to go along with five rebounds and two blocks. In 19 minutes, Williams showed how he’s a good matchup against this Raptors team, not getting overpowered on the defensive end by Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, while he can protect the rim easily against their smaller guards.
On offense, He’s quicker than both of the aforementioned big men, as he was able to use his huge catch-radius to finish at the basket at a high percentage.
As for the rest of the Boston Celtics’ bench, Brad Wanamaker and Semi Ojeleye got the rest of those minutes. In 28 minutes, Wanamaker scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds, and shot 2/4 from downtown. Coach Stevens went to a lineup with both Walker and Wanamaker on the floor, matching the Raptors’ two-point guard lineup – and it worked to great success. Brad can operate as an off-ball shooter quite effectively, as he sneakily has one of the quickest releases in the NBA.
Semi had an off game on offense, but once again proved that he’s one of the best defenders on this Celtics team. Often matched up against Siakam, “Spicy P” was not able to gain any sort of advantage, as few can move Ojeleye in the post. Although he only hit one of his shots on the day, he still has improved his outside shot, forcing the opposition to respect it more than in previous years.
For the defending champs, their top three players struggled to shoot the ball. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Kyle Lowry shot a combined 13/44 from the field and 3/19 from distance. If Toronto wants any chance in this series, they’re going to have to find their stroke from outside, as they rely heavily on the 3-point shot.
Overall, the Raptors had an abysmal shooting day. Sure, they’re most likely going to hit more shots in Game 2 – but Boston contested practically every jumper they took. The effort level was there on defense, and that’s how you win this type of series.
It’s going to be a grind, and the Boston Celtics are off to a good start.