10 things from the Toronto Raptors’ 111-89 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
One — Blowout: This one was never close. Toronto’s energy was off right from the jump, and it never recovered. Boston came prepared to play, whereas the Raptors didn’t. There isn’t even that much to analyze from a result as bad as this one because it wasn’t even a game. The Raptors now face elimination on Wednesday, and as lopsided as this game was, there’s no reason why it needs to carry over. Toronto showed in Games 2-4 that it can compete with the Celtics so long as they give effort and remain locked in for the full 48 minutes. The champions are on the ropes, but they’re not done yet.
Two — Crucial: It’s been the same story for the last seven years — the Raptors go as Kyle Lowry goes. When Lowry started off Games 3 and 4 aggressively by getting to the basket, the team followed his lead and won. When he doesn’t play all-out, the Raptors have no chance against a team as talented as Boston. The Celtics wisely assigned Marcus Smart to guard Lowry early on, and refused to concede any switches. Lowry tried to get other players going early, but nobody picked up the slack. After logging over 90 minutes in the last two games, it wasn’t reasonable to expect Lowry to maintain his level. The Raptors need to establish Lowry early in Game 6, or there won’t be a Game 7.
Three — Sloppy: Ideally, if one All-Star isn’t going, the other one would pick it up. That’s how the Celtics operate with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, but it wasn’t the case for Pascal Siakam. Put aside the shooting woes, but this was just a sloppy and undisciplined game from Siakam on the defensive end. He is normally a versatile and dogged defender who unlocks most of Toronto’s versatility on defense, but he was downright awful. Siakam gave up way too many line drives from smaller Celtics players, then took himself out of the game early in the third quarter by committing needless fouls which cut off any faint hopes of a potential comeback. Siakam has a lot to make up for on Wednesday.
Four — Gassed: Marc Gasol was not the only culprit, but there’s something so utterly deflating about his lack of ability to score at the rim. Even with the defense doubling guards, where the 7-footer catches a pass right at the rim for a layup, it still isn’t a guarantee for Gasol. Those types of misses just suck the life out of a team, especially when nobody else can score. Gasol missed four easy looks early in the game and it put the Raptors into a hole they couldn’t get out of, and it also left him stapled to the bench, as he played half as many minutes as the next closest starter.
Five — Desperate: Nick Nurse tried every trick to get his players going. He went to the zone early on — not as an attempt to stop the Celtics so much as a genuine effort to rally his team — then tried the smallball lineup without his centers, and followed up with a full-court press. Realistically, on a night where the players couldn’t even communicate with one another to secure a completely uncontested rebound, there wasn’t going to be much cohesion in any scheme Nurse tried. Besides, the Celtics are too experienced of a group to fall for gimmicks. These aren’t the Dallas Mavericks on a road trip in December.
Six — Disappointing: The only way to characterize Norman Powell’s performance in this series is disappointing. After such a promising breakout year in which he garnered legitimate Sixth Man of the Year buzz (he was ineligible because he started slightly more games), and coming off a dominant series against the Nets, Powell has been downright terrible in this series. Even in the games where Toronto won, it was clear that Powell’s focus was a few notches lower than the rest of his teammates. And it’s not just about the lack of scoring from Powell, it’s the unforced errors on defense. Sure, he can’t create his offense and the Celtics are exceptional at denying off-ball opportunities, but Powell can’t even give the starters a spell on defense. He keeps needlessly fouling Tatum instead of using his positioning and length to bother the shot, he gets comically low in his stance and almost squats on the floor which allows Walker to blow past him every time, and his help defense was never good to begin with. Even in transition where Powell normally excels, he still finds ways to make the wrong read. He can’t even outplay Brad Wanamaker. If you don’t know who that is, well, that’s the point.
Seven — Promising: Matt Thomas gets targeted every play, but at least he shows an ability to follow the game plan. Thomas knows where to be, he knows the scheme, he stays engaged, he rarely fouls, and he shows effort. It’s a shame that he’s too small to get his shot off against Boston’s starters, because there’s a legitimate case to be made that he should split seventh man duties given Powell’s struggles. As usual, Thomas was solid when the Raptors needed him tonight, knocking down threes, making the right passes when driving past closeouts, and showed a willingness and understanding of how to defend. In a game that felt suffocating from start to finish, Thomas was a breath of fresh air.
Eight — Worry: Serge Ibaka checked out early with what might have been a foot injury and headed for the locker room before the game was over. It didn’t appear to be anything too serious, as Ibaka had enough juice in his legs to meet Tatum at the rim for Toronto’s only good defensive stand of the night, but it’s something to monitor. Toronto’s rotation is short enough as it is, and they cannot afford to lose Ibaka’s scoring, especially since Gasol couldn’t toss a beach ball into the ocean if he was standing waist-deep in water.
Nine — Valiant: Fred VanVleet’s heart is in the right place. He tried to pick up the energy from Lowry but couldn’t will his team to life. There are times where he is forcing it by jacking up a pull-up shot, but Lowry does that too. The main difference between the two is that Lowry sparks most of his comebacks playing fast, whereas VanVleet still is too willing to kill the pace. Still, the Raptors played their best basketball at the starter of the fourth quarter, and VanVleet was the lone starter shepherding the bench.
Ten — Exhaustion: There will always be reactionary takes following playoff loses, and the latest one is that the Raptors extended their players too much and burned them out. Even if that were the case, is there any point in belabouring it? Would it be better if Nurse took the Mike Budenholzer approach and kept his guys fresh down 3-1 in the playoffs? It’s hard to win in the playoffs, and you need to do whatever it takes. That’s the approach that the Raptors need to take in Game 6.
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