BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics were very business-like after completing a sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. They’re happy to be moving on in the NBA playoffs, but a celebration will have to wait.
That’s because they knew what lies ahead: The Toronto Raptors, the defending NBA champs and one of the best teams in the league. The matchup became official Sunday evening, after the Raptors completed their own first-round sweep over the Brooklyn Nets. It marks the first time that the two franchises will meet in the playoffs.
Boston took three of the four regular season matchups against Toronto, but they know they’re in for a battle in the next round. The Raptors were a wagon this season despite losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency, winning 53 games while touting one of the league’s best defenses. They’ve lost just one game in the NBA bubble, improving to 11-1 in Orlando on Sunday.
That one loss, however, came at the hands of the Celtics. And it was an absolute blowout.
Still, this is going to be a difficult series for Boston. They looked sluggish in Games 3 and 4 against Philadelphia, but came away with wins because they were the more talented team. Jayson Tatum will once again be the best player in the series, but the Raptors roster from top to bottom will have the advantage over Boston.
The Celtics will have to play near perfect basketball if they want to win the series. Don’t rule out the Celtics making it to the Conference Finals, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park. It’ll boil down to Boston’s wing players outplaying Toronto’s bigs, which won’t be easy.
Here’s a quick look back at the four Celtics-Raptors matchups during the regular season, and a few notes to get ready for what should be a great postseason clash.
Oct. 25 @ Boston: Celtics 112, Raptors 106
In Boston’s second game of the season, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both scored 25 points against the Raptors to lift the C’s to their first win of the year. Brown hit a key three with 2:49 left to seal the victory. Kemba Walker scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, as the C’s closed the game on a 30-17 run. Pascal Siakam had 33 points and Kyle Lowry had 29 (on six threes) for Toronto in a game that featured 12 ties and 19 lead changes.
Dec. 25 @ Toronto: Celtics 118, Raptors 102
The Celtics had lost eight straight in Toronto heading into their Christmas Day tilt with the Raptors. It wasn’t looking good for them after Toronto started the game on a 10-0 run.
But the Celtics shook off that ugly start and put together one of their best wins of the season. Boston woke up and went on a 28-9 run and never looked back. Brown scored 30 points off 10-for-13 shooting, hitting five triples. Kemba also hit five threes and finished with 22 points, while Enes Kanter added 12 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Fred VanVleet had 27 for Toronto in the loss.
Dec. 28 @ Boston: Raptors 113, Celtics 97
The Raptors got their revenge a few nights later in Boston, handing the Celtics a 16-point loss. Lowry dropped 30 points and Serge Ibaka had 20 to snap Boston’s five-game winning streak.
Walker had 30 points in the defeat.
Aug. 7 in Orlando: Celtics 122, Raptors 100
In their most recent matchup, Boston absolutely destroyed Toronto in the NBA bubble. The C’s never trailed and built a 40-point lead at one point, handing the Raptors their worst loss of the season. How ugly was it? The Celtics led 91-57 entering the fourth quarter.
Brown had 20 points and Tatum had 18 for the Celtics. Walker added 17 points in 23 minutes. Again, this is Toronto’s only loss in the NBA bubble.
– Brown was electric against Toronto this season, averaging 23 points off 56 percent shooting. Kemba had the next-highest PPG average against Toronto at 22.8.
– Tatum struggled in the two December matchups,, hitting just eight of his 25 shot attempts. He shot 37 percent in his four games against Toronto, averaging 16.5 points.
But those two games were a long, long time ago, and Tatum is fresh off a big series against the 76ers, averaging 28 points and 9.8 rebounds against Philly along with some spectacular defense.
– Hopefully you like defensive basketball, because these were two of the best defensive teams during the regular season. Boston was first in opponent field goal percentage at 38.6 percent, while Toronto was second at 39.7 percent. The C’s allowed just 98.7 points per game, behind only the Lakers. The Raptors were third at 100.3 points per game.
Toronto had the NBA’s best point differential at plus-18. The Celtics were third at plus-14.3.
This is going to be quite the battle.
– The Celtics are going to have their hands full with Toronto’s backcourt of Lowry and VanVleet. Lowry averaged 21 points and six assists in four games against Boston this season, hitting 52 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three-point range (on 7.5 attempts per game). VanVleet averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 assists and four rebounds over his four games against the C’s.
– Something to keep an eye on this week: Lowry turned his left ankle in the first half of Sunday’s Game 4 win and did not return. The team offered no further updates.
Lowry is a stud and Toronto’s quarterback, averaging 19.4 points off 41 percent shooting to go with 7.5 assists and five rebounds during the regular season. He averaged 16 points and 8.7 rebounds in the first three games against the Nets.
– Siakam averaged 22 points over his two games against Boston, but he was a mixed bag in those two games. He had a big game in the first matchup of the season with 33 points, but struggled on Aug. 8, hitting just five of his 15 shots for 11 points.
– Toronto has some absurd depth, with its bench averaging 42 points against the Nets over the first three games in the first round. Why only average the first three games? Because the Toronto bench scored 100 points off 64 percent shooting in Game 4, a 150-122 blowout. Yes, 100 points by their bench.
They won’t flirt with the century mark against the Celtics, but it goes without saying that the Raptors have a great bench. A lot of that was thanks to Serge Ibaka, who averaged 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds during the regular season and 19.3 points off 63 percent shooting against the Nets. Norman Powell is also a beast off the pine, averaging 16 points per game during the season and 17.5 points per game against Brooklyn.
– Toronto’s sweep of Brooklyn was the franchise’s first ever postseason sweep.
– Brad Stevens and Nick Nurse are going to have quite the chess match in this series. Stevens’ Celtics are 5-3 against the Nurse-led Raptors over the last two seasons.
– As the No. 2 seed in the East, Toronto will be the “home team” for the first two games. The dates of each game are below:
Game 1 – Thursday, August 27
Game 2 – Saturday, August 29
Game 3 – Monday, August 31
Game 4 – Wednesday, September 2
Game 5* – Friday, September 4
Game 6* – Sunday, September 6
Game 7* – Tuesday, September 8