For the first time in NBA history, the Boston Celtics (#3) and Toronto Raptors (#2) will face each other in the postseason. Both teams swept their first round opponents to make it to this series. How well do these teams match up?
The Case for Boston
Boston’s top-5 offense and defense were on full display in round 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite losing Gordon Hayward in game 1, the Celtics scored an average of 117.2 points per 100 possessions and held the Sixers to an average of 105, for a net rating of 12.3 points. Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Jaylen Brown led the sweep. Tatum led the team in points (27.0 per game), rebounds (9.8), and blocks (2.3) and shot 45.2% from deep on nearly 7.8 attempts per game. Walker, who led the team in assists (3.8), averaged 24.3 points and shot 49.3% from the field, while Brown averaged 21.5 on 45.0% shooting.
Boston is also 3–1 this season against the defending champs, including a 22-point routing in the bubble three weeks ago. They’ve averaged 110 points per 100 possessions in those 4 games and held the Raptors to 102.9. If Kyle Lowry is not back from his round 1 injury, that will present matchup challenges for Toronto’s defense as Tatum was his primary assignment. It also gives them a deficit of 22 points per game (versus Boston).
The Case for Toronto
Boston’s been a scrappy team this year, but the Raptors are still the defending champions and had the second-best defense in the league (better than Boston’s, in fact). Tatum may be on the rise, but All-Star Pascal Siakam has been to the promised land and continues to be the true “Playoff P, “ averaging 20.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Fred VanVleet averaged 21. 3 points per game, including shooting 55.9% from deep (on 8.5 attempts), as the Raptors swept the Nets. Serge Ibaka averaged a double-double of 19.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Yes, the Celtics won the season series 3–1, but they also just swept a team that did the same thing against them. The regular season is a factor, but not the end all, be all. Siakam only played in 2 of those games, but he averaged 22 points against Boston and shot 50% from deep (on 6 attempts per game!). They have no answer for players like him, who dominate the paint, just as they had no true answer for Joel Embiid in the first round. Lowry has also held Tatum to 19 points, and overall Tatum averaged 16.5 in the season series. VanVleet held Walker to 32% shooting. Patrick McCaw held Brown to 9 points while he was the primary defender.
Best Guess: Boston in 7
This series, between two of the best teams in the league, will come down to defense and coaching. While Boston won the season series and swept the Sixers, the Raptors are the team that took down the Sixers, Bucks, and Warriors last season to get the title and they’re still the 2 seed despite losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — meaning they were not the only reasons the team was good. This will be a tough one, but I think the Celtics can still pull it off.