After two games in the Eastern Conference finals, Toronto Raptors are staring right in the face of elimination from the playoffs. Despite advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a clean sweep over a depleted Brooklyn Nets, the Raptors have struggled to impose themselves on Boston Celtics and are currently 2-0 down in the series. The Raptors lost the first game against the Celtics 112-94 with a 102-99 loss in the second game damaging their hopes of making the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight season. However, the Raptors have five more games remaining in the series and would have to avoid defeat at all costs in the next two games of the series to prolong their stay in the playoffs and stop the Celtics from getting a clean sweep over them.
The Raptors are in familiar territory for a second season, having come from a 2-0 deficit to win 2-4 and eliminate Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals on their way to their surprising NBA title triumph last season.
However, it is a different scenario all together this season as the Raptors face a daunting task against a hungry and dominant Celtics team that is yet to taste defeat in the playoffs so far this season. Moreover, the Raptors are without Kawhi Leonard, who scored the crucial points in their comeback win over the Bucks last season.
Ahead of Game 3, we take a look at some of the talking from Toronto Raptors’ two defeats against the Boston Celtics in their series so far.
The effects of Kawhi Leonard’s departure beginning to show in the team
With Kawhi Leonard in the team, the Raptors relished the challenges from top opponents in the big games as they had a player who could quickly finish off opponents. He was also the man behind the Raptors’ historic NBA title win last season. However, he has moved on this season and is currently making significant strides with the Clippers.
In Kawhi’s absence this season, the Raptors were excellent throughout the regular season, finishing second in the Eastern Conference behind the Bucks and booking an early playoff qualification. They were also brilliant in the first round, recording a clean sweep over the Brooklyn Nets. However, the Raptors have struggled against the Celtics so far and seem not to have a player who will score the crucial points for them.
Heading into the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Celtics, there were expectations that Power Forward Pascal Siakam would step up and be the go-to guy for Toronto Raptors. Siakam was instrumental for the Raptors from the regular season to the first round, with his usage rate.
His usage rate increased from 21% of the team’s plays last season to a team-high 28% this season even though his true shooting percentage has dropped from a hyper-efficient .628 mark to around league average (.554).
However, in the two games against the Celtics, Siakam has struggled to make any meaningful impact for the Raptors. In Game 1, Siakam shot an abysmal 5-for-16 from the field before another unconvincing 6-for-16 shooting in Game 2. Siakam’s shooting percentage from both games is his worst of the season.
Even though his shooting has been low in both games, Siakam has been decent with his playmaking, racking six assists in Game 2. He has also provided strength in the Raptors’ defense in both games against the Celtics.
If Raptors are to overcome the 2-0 deficit and win this series, Siakam or any player on the Raptors’ talented roster will have to step up and replicate what Kawhi Leonard did last season and score significant points for the Raptors in the remaining games.
Toronto Raptors lack an efficient sixth man this season
In the two matches against the Celtics, the Raptors have lacked an efficient sixth man who can make a difference off the bench when the starting lineup is struggling. Coach Nick Nurse has relied on Center Serge Ibaka for that role throughout the playoffs. However, he hasn’t made any massive impact in both games. The likes of Norman Powell, Chris Boucher, and Terence Davis have all failed to step up whenever they play.
For the Raptors to overcome the 2-0 deficit, they will need an efficient sixth man who will provide the kind of performances similar to that of Fred VanVleet in that role last season. VanVleet, who is now a regular starter, averaged 24.7 in the previous season’s playoffs and made significant contributions to the Raptors’ success from the bench.
Raptors struggling with their 3-Point shooting
In the two games against Boston Celtics, the Raptors have struggled immensely with their 3-Point shooting. In Game 1, Toronto managed to shoot only 10-for-40 from the 3-point range. In Game 2, the Raptors shot another abysmal 11-for-40 from the 3-point range. Their 3-point shooting percentage has significantly dropped to 26% in those two games.
Their poor 3-point shooting in both games is a complete contrast to their numbers throughout the regular season, as they scored a lot of 3-pointers while implementing a defensive game plan. In the regular season, Toronto Raptors had the fifth-best 3-point shooting percentage in the league.
The Raptors will have to improve their 3-point shooting percentage if they are to qualify for the next round and go on to retain their title.