The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics are two of the NBA’s most elite teams. They’re two teams whom, coming into the NBA bubble, were both widely expected to contend for a championship; two teams who are led by young and budding superstars, finally meeting each other for the first time ever in a playoff series. This afternoon’s contest marked the first game of what many expect to be one of the most exciting series of the entire NBA Playoffs, and one in which the winner could possibly go on to be crowned 2020 NBA champions.
For somebody who doesn’t follow the NBA, who didn’t read any series predictions or previews, and who watched the contest without any volume on their TV, the aforementioned wouldn’t be so clear. The Celtics looked dominant, dynastic, and commanding. The Raptors on the other hand… well, they looked like the opposite. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Boston was defending their championship, and Toronto was the team just looking to sniff The Finals for the first time in over a decade.
Overall, it was an ugly, and frustrating game for Raptors fans to sit through. Boston couldn’t miss, and Toronto couldn’t make. It seemed like a devolution to Toronto’s 2015 form in which they would perennially be sent to Cancun by LeBron James. Today was a day in which the Kawhi Leonard posters in Torontonians’ bedrooms were stared at for an extra second with fondness.
But the day shouldn’t be all glum. It’s just Game 1, and to Raptors fans, Game 1’s have no meaning. Here are a few reasons to be optimistic heading into Game 2, and to not be so fast to call this series a wrap:
An Story of The First Quarter
Toronto’s first quarter performance was futile, and unacceptable, and with how they played defense and shot the ball through the first 12 minutes, they would have struggled against the New York Knicks, much less have a fighting chance against the Boston Celtics in The Playoffs.
Boston threw the first few punches of the game, getting out to a quick 5-0 lead, and extending it quickly to 11-3 before Nick Nurse was forced into calling a timeout.
To add to the issue, Pascal Siakam picked up three quick fouls in the first six minutes of the game, while Marc Gasol was also whistled twice forcing him to the bench. Though the Raptors bench easily played better than the starters today, the quick early fouls never allowed the Raptors to get into a rhythm, threw off Nick Nurse’s rotations, and opened the floodgate for the Celtics’ stars to pile onto an existing lead against Toronto’s secondary players.
So what’s the positive? After losing the first quarter by 16 points, Toronto only lost the following 36 minutes by two points, and they still played relatively poorly. Hopefully that first quarter was just the team readjusting to playing some quality competition for the first time in a few weeks, after a fairly uncompetitive first round against the Brooklyn Nets, and the remainder of this series will look more like the second, third, and fourth quarters.
The Law of Averages
Among the eleven players who saw the court today, only two shot the ball at a clip over 50%. Pascal Siakam shot the ball 5-for-16. Fred VanVleet shot 3-for-16. Norman Powell shot 4-for-12. Serge Ibaka shot 4-for-10. While part of Toronto’s abysmal shooting can be attributed to Boston’s bolstering defense which didn’t give the Raptors any easy driving lanes, the aforementioned players typically don’t shoot this poorly even against good defenses.
As a team, the Raptors shot 10-for-40 from behind the arc as well, which is uncharacteristic for the 5th best three-point shooting team in the league. I hate to get into hypotheticals, however, if Toronto even shot their average percentage from deep, they would have only lost today’s game by three points.
Mathematically, averages adjust over the long run, and a mathematician would call this game an outlier, because of how odd a 48 minute sample it was. A game in which Toronto shoots as poorly as they did today is unlikely to occur twice in a seven game series.
Our spirit animal; our king; our lord; our leader; the Greatest Raptor of All-Time; NBA Champion; Olympic gold medalist; Kyle Lowry still showed up to play when nobody else did. If you assembled a team of 15 players with minimal basketball skill, but they all possessed the heart and the hustle of Kyle Lowry, I’m confident that they would contend for the championship year after year.
Despite being questionable heading into today’s game with a sprained ankle from Game 4 of Toronto’s First Round series, Lowry came out to play… and man, he played. Though his shot wasn’t falling for the majority of the game and he looked unusually turnover-prone, his defense was spectacular, he was the only Raptor who was able to get any penetration into the heart of Boston’s defense, and he’s the lone reason why Toronto had any spark of hope to come back into the game after they fell into a twenty point hole.
While his teammates didn’t hit enough of their open shots to bring the Raptors over the hump, Kyle Lowry’s effort is one thing that is guaranteed in every game. As long as Toronto has him, they have a chance.
In conclusion, today’s game was ugly, and should never be re-watched by anyone. The internet should collectively agree to delete that game from our memory forever. What game, you may ask? Good job.
It’s still going to be a long series. The Raptors are definitely not out of it yet. Boston needs to be ready to get hit hard in the first quarter on Tuesday, because these guys don’t want to go home.