You could start to sense the desperation. Toronto came out more aggressive from the start, they were attacking in Game 2 and it made this one a close game the whole way. But in the end, the same issues — smaller stars guarded by bigger Celtics, no halfcourt offense — came back to bite the Toronto Raptors.
The Boston Celtics won 102-99 and now has a commanding 2-0 series lead. There’s not a simple “if Toronto makes this adjustment” steps for them to get back in this series. It’s going to take something more than that.
Here are three takeaways from Game 2 and the series.
1) Toronto’s stars are not getting the job done
In Game 1, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet combined to shoot 3-of-16 from three. In Game 2, that was 3-of-19. Pascal Siakam was more aggressive in Game 2 but is still getting pushed around by smaller defenders and can’t score over them consistently. With the game on the line and a last chance to tie it up, Siakam stepped out of bounds.
Toronto’s three biggest stars are struggling, particularly in the halfcourt offense, it has put the Raptors in a hole and there are no simple fixes or answers. Scoring in the halfcourt was always going to be tough for the Raptors, but this is brutal. Toronto had 16 fast-break points in Game 2, closer to their season average, but easy buckets are a rarity. There are the few times Lowry gets a guy switched onto him he can take inside, but mostly the guys covering the Raptors two guards are bigger and more athletic, and that’s been a problem.
There are bright spots. Toronto’s defense was much better and sparked a third-quarter run. More guys need to cut like OG Anunoby off the ball. Toronto was attacking in Game 2.
But if the threes don’t start falling from Lowry and VanVleet, there aren’t Xs and Os Nick Nurse can draw up to change everything.
2) Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart are great — but what about the Time Lord
Jayson Tatum is the best player in this series. Flat out. And he had 34 points in Game 2.
Marcus Smart was critical for Boston with five threes and, as expected, some critical defense down the stretch.
6 minutes to play on ESPN pic.twitter.com/SuFnUwllmk
— NBA (@NBA) September 1, 2020
But what we really want to talk about is how the Time Lord Robert Williams carried this team in the first half.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) September 1, 2020
TIME LORD SWAT pic.twitter.com/wqh4EkIhB2
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 1, 2020
3) Toronto was down 0-2 to Milwaukee last playoffs and came back. This feels different.
In last year’s playoffs, it felt like Toronto was about to get steamrolled by Milwaukee, they were down 2-0, and they came back to win the series and the title. You have to knock out the defending champs, there will be no winning this on the judges’ cards for Boston.
Still, this doesn’t feel like a year ago. The Kawhi Leonard factor is part of it, but also that Raptors team just had more options to go to, and the Bucks didn’t have enough counter moves. Brad Stevens and the Celtics have plenty of counters.
Toronto has to start draining some threes at a ridiculous rate to turn this thing around.