Raptors Cage

Raptors find themselves in an unfamiliar place

The 2019 NBA defending champions, have been pushed to the brink of elimination by the shorthanded Boston Celtics, after being blown out in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Last night was just the seventh time all season that the Raptors have lost a game by 15 or more points, and interestingly enough, four of those seven losses have come against the Boston Celtics. Two of those four have been within this playoff series.

With last night’s outcome, Boston has taken a commanding 3-2 series lead. Based off historical data, teams in the Celtics’ position end up winning the series 82% of the time. Still, the Raptors should be grateful that they are in position to potentially force the series to a Game 7, and give themselves a shot to win.

Without OG Anunoby’s miracle game-winner to close out Game 3 and finally get Toronto on the board, the Raptors could’ve found themselves packing their bags to go home this morning. The Raptors have shot an abysmal 30.8% from behind the arc in this series. They’ve struggled to put the ball in the basket, only dropping 97.2 points per game, and only eclipsing 100 points twice. Simultaneously, their league-leading defense has struggled to stop the Celtics’ three-headed monster of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum, giving up 104.2 points per game.

While the numbers get the story right – and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that the matchups in this series favour Boston – part of the Raptors’ inability to score or get stops comes down to the hustle battle.

From the tip last night, Boston looked like the hungrier and more energetic team. Though the basketball guru’s would claim that the Raptors had all of the momentum heading into Game 5, basketball series don’t work like a perfect pendulum. If they did, sports betting would be easy, and we would all be rich.

The Raptors’ rotations were slow out of the gate, they weren’t contesting shots at the rim, they weren’t fighting over screens as aggressively as they should have been, and they weren’t boxing out. Having to look up at the scoreboard after the first quarter was their punishment for such a subpar effort in the opening 12 minutes.

Through the first 8:53 of the game, the Raptors had 18 possessions, and shot 2/15 from the floor, essentially gifting the Celtics an 18-5 lead, which they just built on throughout the remainder of the game. Ultimately, the Raptors would end the first quarter with only 11 points, and the half with only 35, which are both postseason lows for any team thus far.

Questions have surrounded the Raptors ability to score within the halfcourt for the entire year. They’re a team that relies heavily on moving the ball until an open shot becomes available, without depending too much on one player in particular. Reminiscent of the 2017-2018 Toronto Raptors team where they would do much of the same, any success that this style of play breeds tends to come to a screeching halt in The Playoffs. Theoretically, using all five players on the court as a threat makes a team harder to guard than if they were to use just one or two. Unfortunately for the Raptors, the opposite holds true. Without a superstar offensive player on the court who commands multiple pairs of eyes on him at all times and can draw double teams easily, opponents can play the Raptors with single coverage, and with a team as solid defensively as the Celtics are, that makes it hard for Toronto to find any open looks.

Being without their best three-point shooter of The Playoffs, and arguably their best player of this series in Serge Ibaka for Game 6 could make for another disastrous game. Ibaka is currently listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game with a twisted ankle. He is currently averaging 15.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks, while shooting 52.8% from deep, and 60.7% from the field in The Playoffs.

If there’s any solace that Raptors fans can find in losing such a pivotal Game 5, it’s this: last time Toronto lost a Game 5, Kyle Lowry had one of the best performances of his entire career in the following game… oh yeah, and the Raptors won a championship.

Hopefully the shades of having their backs to the wall against LeBron James don’t haunt these Toronto Raptors, and they’ll be able to overcome the young superstardom of Jayson Tatum to force this series to 7 games.

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