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Monday, August 24, 2020

Toronto Versus Boston Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#2 Toronto (53-19) vs. #3 Boston (48-24)

Season series: Boston, 3-1

Boston can win if…the Celtics' perimeter players--particularly Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker--outplay Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet. Tatum led Boston in scoring (27.0 ppg), rebounding (9.8 rpg), and blocked shots (2.3 bpg) during Boston's four game sweep of Philadelphia. Walker averaged 24.3 ppg versus Philadelphia, and Brown averaged 21.5 ppg. The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward to a season-ending injury in game one and seemingly did not miss a beat, but they will miss the talent and depth that he could have provided in this series.

VanVleet led Toronto in scoring (21.3 ppg) and assists (7.8 apg) as the Raptors swept Brooklyn. Siakam added 20.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 4.8 apg, but he shot just .417 from the field; to beat Boston, Toronto will need for Siakam to maintain or increase his production while also boosting his efficiency. Kyle Lowry's box score numbers (12.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.8 apg) do not always capture his value.

If Tatum establishes himself as clearly the best player on the court during this series, then the Celtics could outlast the Raptors.

Toronto will win because…The Raptors are more battle-tested, and they are more consistent. Before this season, I underestimated this team. I knew that they would play hard and play smart, but I thought that without Kawhi Leonard they did not have enough talent to make a deep playoff run. Instead, several Raptors improved individually (including Siakam and VanVleet), and the team improved collectively; this squad has a legitimate chance to not only beat Boston but to advance to the NBA Finals. The Raptors play suffocating defense, and they have a lot of offensive weapons. The only thing that they lack is a proven superstar to take over close games down the stretch.

Other things to consider: This will be a hard fought and closely contested series that will probably not be decided until the closing moments of game seven. Before the season began, I expected Boston to be a better team than Toronto, but after watching the "first" regular season, the "second" regular season (the eight seeding games), and then the first round of the playoffs, I am impressed with Toronto's defense, toughness, and focus. Neither team has one of the top five players in the NBA--though Tatum and Siakam each could potentially reach that level--but both teams have a deep rotation of high quality players.

The lack of any home court advantages eliminates what otherwise could have been a huge factor: game seven being played in Toronto. 

I am picking Toronto in seven games, but I would not be shocked if Boston wins the series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:32 PM



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