Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, bottom, goes up for a basket against Boston Celtics’ Robert Williams III during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)AP
The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors begin their semifinal series this afternoon at 1:00 PM on ESPN. Kyle Lowry, who sprained his ankle in the first round of the playoffs, is available. The Celtics will be without Gordon Hayward. Javonte Green and Tremont Waters are also out. Boston won the season series 3-1. Here are some pregame notes.
The Raptors were sixth in the regular season in forced turnovers and the second best team in terms of opponent’s turnover percentage. They want to get steals and get out and run.
“They over-help and they make multiple efforts to get back. They don’t rely on always getting back to their own (man),” Brad Stevens said Sunday morning. “They’ll scramble and rotate, they’ll always stay in plays with their effort. When you drive the ball, there is going to be hands in the gaps, there is going to be long arms in the gaps, swiping at every time you drive it. You have to get rid of the ball on time in this series. If you over-dribble, you are in trouble.”
A lot of coaches in this situation have basically abandoned crashing the offensive glass, instead electing to just get back and set their defense. The Celtics were the sixth-best offensive rebounding team in the NBA in terms of totals (10.7 per game) and fifth best in offensive rebounding percentage (28.3%). Enes Kanter helped fuel a lot of that because he accounted for 2.8 offensive rebounds per game and he grabbed 18.6% of available offensive rebounds.
There’s a strong chance he’s not going to play much in this series, so there might be less emphasis on crashing the glass.
“We just want to run good offense,” Stevens said. “Good offense means you make the right play when the right play presents itself. If you are supposed to go the glass based on the positioning you are in, go and everyone sprints back immediately to set your defense… the emphasis to go the glass or not doesn’t really change but the emphasis to get back and set your defense against Toronto is clearly a huge priority.”
When the Raptors get into their scrambling half-court defense, there may be a tendency for Boston’s good isolation players to simply try to do a lot on their own. That will not work.
“Isolation is not the answer. They just load up on you, so the ball has to pop, you have to move, you have to find a great shot when you can and you have to be patient enough to find it,” Stevens said. “It’s just a very solid, tough, physical team, predicated on help and recover with great effort. Everybody can talk about their defense being good and playing with multiple efforts, Toronto is as good as they come at playing with multiple efforts. That’s why they can over-help. They over-help because they know they can get back.”
The Celtics had 27 assists on 47 made baskets in their bubble matchup against the Raptors, and no Celtic had more than five. When Stevens says the ball has to pop, that’s what he’s talking about.
The Celtics are going to have a hard time keeping the Raptors in front of them defensively.
“They really can drive the ball,” Stevens said. “They don’t play anybody, for the most part, that doesn’t have at least strong capability behind the 3, but certainly they have a couple of great shooters that they play a lot. But I think the difference to me, between them and others, is they’re so hard driving and they can do it at every position… When they get their shoulder into you, you can’t get back in front of them, and I think that that, to me, stands out as a major difference in their team.”
The Celtics employ a defensive strategy of late switches that makes it seem like a beaten player is trying to recover when he actually is veering his guy into teammate. The wing player waits longer than usual to switch in hopes of baiting the driver into a pass that can be deflected or stolen.
Executing this strategy can swing the transition points into Boston’s favor and then rack up the assists as they feed each other for dunks and layups.
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