If any franchise knows taking your opponent to the woodshed in Game 1 doesn’t matter the rest of the series, it’s the Boston Celtics.
It still feels good for the guys in Green. Boston thumped the Toronto Raptors in Game 1, winning 112-94 and cruising through much of the second half (they were up 17 at the break).
Toronto is now 0-2 against Boston in the bubble, having not led for a second in either game. The Raptors are 11-0 against everyone else.
Game 2 of the series is Tuesday. Here are the three big takeaways from Game 1.
1) Boston took away Toronto’s transition game, Raptors struggled in the halfcourt.
In the regular season, 18.4% of Toronto’s possessions started in transition (second highest in the league), and they had a 125.3 offensive rating on those plays. Put in counting stats terms, Toronto averaged 18.8 fast break points a game, most in the league.
Boston shut that down — Toronto had seven fast break points — and Toronto struggled to score in the halfcourt.
Just look at the Raptors shot chart.
After the game, Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said he thought the Raptors had more than seven fast break points and questioned the quality of the Celtics’ transition defense. That’s coach-speak — he knows how critical transition defense is for his team in this series, so he sent them a message through the media.
Boston will be able to limit Toronto in transition all series (playoff games tend to slow down), which is why the Raptors need to score more in the halfcourt.
2) About the Raptors halfcourt offense…
It wasn’t pretty. Don’t take my word for it, look at Nick Nurse.
Hey how's it goin' Nick pic.twitter.com/4QG2pP8DGI
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) August 30, 2020
Toronto’s three primary shot creators — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam — combined to shoot 13-of-44 (29.6%) and they were 3-of-19 from three (15.8%). The trio did combine for 18 assists, but they were not successful generating offense. Toronto had a 90.4 offensive rating.
Boston switched everything pick at the top of the key — the Celtics have the depth of personnel to do that with Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown/Marcus Smart— and Toronto could not find the mismatch. Boston chased the Raptors shooters off the arc and VanVleet, in particular, struggled to find space to operate in the middle of the court. The kick-outs to the corners were not there.
The alleged mismatches are against Boston’s undersized frontcourt, but Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are not the kinds of players who punish the other team for going small (Marc Gasol had 7 points, Ibaka 15 off the bench). Toronto had 38 points in the paint for the game, that’s not punishing anyone.
To be fair, the Raptors’ shooters just missed shots they usually hit. VanVleet is too good to go 2-of-11 again. Also, they were out of sync on offense and can create better looks, something that likely returns next game.
“We didn’t do as well as we wanted, but that’s why it’s a seven-game series,” Siakam said after the game.
He’s right. Siakam usually can do damage posting guys up, but the length and athleticism of guys like Smart make that harder. Still, Siakam missed bunnies he usually hits.
The halfcourt struggles, however, are not new.
Toronto’s offense all season long looked fantastic against the weaker teams in the league (top five), but against the league’s best teams the Raptors’ offense was average. Good teams — and Boston is that — knew how to defend them and the Raptors offense was pedestrian when it couldn’t feast on transition buckets. I could say, “this is where they miss Kawhi Leonard,” but that horse is dead, no reason to beat it.
Toronto has to find a way to score more efficiently in the halfcourt or this series will be short.
3) Boston’s offense was good enough, but Brad Stevens wasn’t happy.
Stevens was unhappy with the Celtics offense postgame, and while it was balanced it the Cs generated only a 105.7 offensive rating. Not great, although the Raptors had the best defense in the bubble coming into this game, and second-best in the regular season. They are not easy to score upon.
Tatum and Smart each had 21 points, and Smart found his shot going 5-of-9 from three. Boston was getting to the rim at will early, and that meant the Time Lord Robert Williams was getting buckets (he had 10 points on the night).
TIME LORD ⏰👑 pic.twitter.com/PqnHorXJPT
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 30, 2020
Boston was balanced, Tatum had 17 and Kemba Walker had 18, including the shot of the game.
CARDIAC KEMBA AT THE BUZZER ☘️👌🏾 pic.twitter.com/04mlGuWTwp
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 30, 2020
Expect Boston to be more efficient on the offensive end next game.
Although if they keep defending this well it may not matter.