Toronto Raptors Determined to Prove Their Playoff Run is Real
There’s been a tendency among some fans and bettors alike not to take the Toronto Raptors too seriously this season, with an emphasis on who is gone (Kawhi Leonard) rather than who remained…and improved.
That’s been a significant eh-ror, of course. Toronto had a better winning percentage in 2019-20 than during the regular season, and has been the best team in the bubble, or at least the best that wasn’t eliminated early because it was too far out, specifically the Phoenix Suns.
Now, though, they get their truest test, a match-up with a versatile, long, dynamic Boston Celtics squad that won three of four in the season series.
Can the Raptors win? Sure. They have the Coach of the Year in Nick Nurse, a rising star in pending free agent Fred Van Vleet, proven commodities in Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, and a star in Pascal Siakam, though he hasn’t always looked like one in Orlando.
Here are the Raptors' three keys to reaching the Eastern Conference Finals:
-- A healthy Lowry: The point guard’s ankle injury is a concern, because Kemba Walker (deeper into the playoffs than he’s ever been) is a problem, even on a knee that’s not 100 percent. Lowry must keep Walker in front, and hound him on pick-and-rolls, so lateral movement is critical. If Toronto can’t limit Walker under his regular season numbers in the season series (22.8 points per game, 44% shooting), that’s trouble in light of the Celtics’ rising wings.
-- Siakam outplaying Jayson Tatum: They were both All-Stars, and at the time they were chosen, Siakam actually had better numbers, but Tatum took another step in months prior to the Covid-19 break and since. He didn’t shoot well against the Celtics during the season (37.7%) but had by far the best plus-minus on the Celtics. Siakam averaged 22 points during the season against Boston, and needs to be in that range, or better, now, especially if Lowry’s gimpy.
-- Win the adjustments: These are two of the better coaches in the NBA, with their willingness to make in-game and between-game changes. Some say that Nick Nurse is who the world thought Brad Stevens was, and Nurse actually has the deeper roster with Gordon Hayward (ankle) out for the Celtics. These teams are so tight that the coach who tinkers most, and best, is likely the one that will advance.
The Better Bet: Raptors in 7. In the end, Hayward’s absence will matter. As will Toronto’s title experience.
-- by Juicy-J