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Playoffs 2020

Semifinals Preview: How can the Raptors tackle a tough Celtics team?

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Jaylen Brown, Pascal Siakam (NBA Getty Images)

Now the real fun begins.

After taking care of business against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, the Toronto Raptors have advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the fifth season in a row.

MORE: Takeaways from Raptors historic Game 4 | Raptors re-write history with Game 4 win

Their opponent this time? The Boston Celtics, who finished the regular season five games behind the Raptors in the Eastern Conference standings.

NBA.com is your destination for complete coverage of every series from now through the end of the NBA Finals.

Series Schedule

  • Game 1 - Sunday, Aug. 30
  • Game 2 - Tuesday, Sept.. 1
  • Game 3 - Thursday, Sept. 3
  • Game 4 - Saturday, Sept. 5
  • Game 5 (if necessary) - Monday, Sept. 7
  • Game 6 (if necessary) - Wednesday, Sept. 9
  • Game 7 (if necessary) - Friday, Sept. 11

Season Series

Result: Celtics won 3-1

Best game: Oct. 25, 2019 - Celtics 112, Raptors 106

Best performance: Kyle Lowry (Dec. 28, 2019) - 30 points (10-17 FG, 5-10 3PT, 5-6 FT), 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals

The Raptors and Celtics started their regular season series with a bang.

In only the second game of the season for both teams, the Celtics outscored the Raptors 36-24 in the fourth quarter to mount a comeback and come away with the win.

Pascal Siakam (33) and Kyle Lowry (29) dominated with a combined 62 points, but it wasn't enough to overcome a balanced effort from the Celtics that saw Marcus Smart (10), Gordon Hayward (15), Kemba Walker (22), Jaylen Brown (25) and Jayson Tatum (25) each score in double figures.

The second meeting wasn't nearly as close.

Without Siakam, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol, the Raptors couldn't keep up with the Celtics on Christmas Day despite a strong showing from Fred VanVleet, who posted 27 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals.

The game quickly became the Jaylen Brown show, as the 23-year-old went off for 30 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field and 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. 16 of those points in the third quarter to end any hope of a Toronto comeback.

Based on Game Score, which gives "a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game," it was Brown's best game of the season.

It didn't take long for the Raptors to get some revenge.

Three days later, Lowry led the Raptors in an impressive road win against the Celtics with 30 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals. The Raptors were still without Siakam, Powell and Gasol, but they got a big boost out of VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Patrick McCaw, the latter of whom flirted with his first career triple-double with 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

While Walker scored a team-high 30 points for the Celtics, the Raptors were able to hold Tatum, Brown and Hayward to a combined 11-for-32 shooting from the field.

The final meeting came in the bubble with the Celtics coming up with the 122-100 victory.

The Raptors had all but clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference at that point so it was hard to take too much away from the game, but the Celtics were able to limit the Raptors in transition, which is one of the keys of the series.

Key Storyline: Can the Celtics keep the Raptors out of transition?

According to NBA.com, the Raptors averaged 27.8 points per game in transition during the regular season, which accounted for more than a quarter (21.6 percent) of their offence.

Why is that noteworthy? It was the highest mark in the NBA.

Additionally, the Raptors ranked in the 93rd percentile with 1.15 points per possession. The only teams that were more efficient than them in transition were the Phoenix Suns (1.20) and Miami Heat (1.18).

Where things get interesting is that the Celtics gave up only 17.7 points per game in transition in the regular season, the fifth-lowest rate in the league. And teams had a tough time scoring on them in those situations, with the Celtics ranking in the 69th percentile in allowing 1.08 points per possession.

In other words: Toronto is the best team in the league at punishing teams in the open court, but Boston is one of the best teams in the league at preventing their opponent from generating early offence.

If there's one concern with this Raptors team, it's that they weren't great in the halfcourt this season. (As Blake Murphy of The Athletic noted, Synergy Sports had the Raptors ranked 16th in the league in points per halfcourt possession heading into the season restart). Siakam has grown tremendously as a go-to scorer, but he's around the league average in efficiency when it comes to scoring in isolation or the post. It's a similar deal with VanVleet and Lowry. Both are among the most prolific pick-and-roll scorers in the league, but neither of them are big-time one-on-one scorers.

That's why all eyes will be on the transition game. If the Raptors can figure out a way to score off of defensive rebounds and turnovers against the Celtics, it could give them the edge in the series. But if the Celtics are able to slow the game down and make the Raptors rely almost entirely on their halfcourt offence, it could tip the scales in their favour.

Four Players to Watch

Jaylen Brown

Not just because the Celtics will need his offence against the Raptors.

According to NBA.com, only five players spent more time defending Siakam than Brown in the regular season. The numbers point to Brown having a lot of success against Siakam, holding him to 23 points on 10-for-24 shooting from the field in the two games they played against each other.

Brown did his best work against Siakam when the Raptors and Celtics met in the bubble during the seeding games. Siakam has a slight height advantage, but Brown is both strong enough and quick enough to stay in front of him.

Brown won't be the only player on the Celtics who will be matched up with Siakam in the series - Boston switches quite a lot on defence and has a couple more players in Smart and Tatum who are capable of defending the one-time All-Star - but he will almost certainly draw the primary assignment.

Fred VanVleet

Siakam has had his ups and downs in the season restart, but it hasn't mattered much due in large part to VanVleet.

VanVleet was dynamite in Toronto's seeding games, posting averages of 17.8 points, 6.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. He then kicked it up a notch in the first round against the Nets to the tune of 21.3 points, 7.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds on 55.9 percent shooting from 3-point range.

It won't be on just VanVleet to step up against the Celtics - the Raptors will need more consistent play from Siakam, as well as for Lowry to be at his best - but if he can continue to play the way he has lately, Boston is going to have its hands full.

Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam

This will be an opportunity to see two of the NBA's brightest young stars in Tatum and Siakam go head-to-head for up to seven games.

We've been going back and forth all season long on NBA.com on which player we think is better, a debate that is made all the more interesting by Tatum and Siakam posting almost identical numbers on the season.

Jayson Tatum vs. Pascal Siakam (2019-20 season)
Player PPG REB AST STL BLK FG% 3PT% FT%
Pascal Siakam 22.9 7.3 3.5 1.0 0.9 45.3 35.9 79.2
Jayson Tatum 23.4 7.0 3.0 1.4 0.9 45.0 40.3 81.2

Again, neither the Raptors nor Celtics are one-man teams, but all eyes will be on the rising stars when the series tips off.

In four games against the Raptors in the regular season, Tatum averaged 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists on 37.7 percent shooting from the field and 36.8 percent from 3-point range. The Raptors were able to hold Tatum to less than 20 points in all but one of the four games.

In two games against the Celtics in the regular season, Siakam averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists on 43.2 percent shooting from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range. Siakam scored 33 points in the first meeting, followed by 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting in the second.

Injury Report

Hayward suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain in Boston's first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers. He's expected to be sidelined for four weeks, making a return in this series highly unlikely. Hayward averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 0.7 steals per game in the regular season.

For the Raptors, McCaw left the NBA Campus in Orlando before the playoffs to receive treatment for a reoccurrence of a benign mass on the back of his left knee.

Additionally, Lowry suffered an ankle injury in Game 4 against the Nets, though the severity of the injury is yet to be determined. Lowry averaged 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game through the first three games of the playoffs.

Picks and Predictions

Scott Rafferty: Raptors in six

Yash Matange: Raptors in seven

Gilbert McGregor: Celtics in seven

Kyle Irving: Celtics in six

Stat Breakdown

Copy: Toronto vs. Boston
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