New on Sports Illustrated: Celtics Can't Kick Buzzer-Beater Hangover in Sluggish Loss to Raptors

September 06, 2020 at 08:36AM

Three thoughts on Toronto’s series-tying 100-93 win over Boston on Saturday.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Three thoughts on Toronto’s series-tying 100-93 Game 4 win over Boston on Saturday … 

The Raptors have life

Early in the seeding games, I had a conversation with Raptors official. Kawhi Leonard is gone, the official told me. But part of him is still here. Among the many things Leonard brought to Toronto was mental toughness, an ability to shake off losses and move on to the next game. It’s how the Raptors erased a 2-0 hole against Milwaukee last season. And it’s how Toronto has evened its second round series with Boston in this one. 

Make no mistake: This one wasn’t pretty. Toronto shot 39.5% from the floor (to Boston’s 44%); the Raps were markedly better from three-point range (38.6%) while the Celtics were downright dreadful (20%) with Jaylen Brown (2-11) the worst offender. 

In the aftermath of Toronto’s buzzer-beating win over Boston in Game 3, I wondered how the Celtics would come out. Not well, it turns out. Brown told me the team never seemed to get into a rhythm; Brad Stevens called his team “not crisp” and noted that players looked like they got down after each missed shot.

Toronto, meanwhile, was in control throughout. “First time all series that happened,” said Nick Nurse. The Raptors liked the looks they were getting from beyond the three-point line in this series; on Saturday, they started to go down. The defense, brilliant for most of the restart, locked in. “We understand that it’s the first to four,” Kyle Lowry said. “All you can do is continue to work...”

Welcome to the playoffs, Pascal Siakam

Siakam’s shooting woes have been among the top stories in the bubble, and early on Siakam (1-4 in the first quarter, 4-11 in the first half) looked like he might be headed for another tough night. Siakam, though, stuck with it. He made a three midway through the third quarter, letting out a scream as he ran towards the bench. He scored 11 points in the third quarter, helping Toronto turn a tie game into an eight-point lead. 

While the attention has been on Siakam’s offense—he still can’t buy many threes, finishing 2-13—his defense has picked up. He has been a primary defender on Brown and Jayson Tatum, who have been less impactful the last two games. He pulled down 11 rebounds in Game 3. He has found ways to make a difference. 

“Sometimes you can get caught up in makes and misses,” Siakam said. “I just have to understand that I have to keep doing other things. That’s something I’m focused on. I’m not worried about makes and misses. I’m worried about impacting the game in all different ways.”

Et tu, Boston?

Through six games, the Celtics were cruising. The offense clicked. The defense looked sturdy. 

In Game 4, it came apart. 

Stevens said he didn’t see any hangover from Game 3; he said he was encouraged by how the team responded after Thursday’s gut wrenching defeat. But Toronto has some momentum now. The Celtics need more from Tatum, who is 2-10 from three in the last two games. They need more from Brown, who fought through foul trouble in Game 4. They need more from Kemba Walker, who was limited to nine shots in 41 minutes. They need to be better in the third quarter, where Boston has been getting battered in lately. Stevens said the team talked about its fourth quarter struggles before the game. In Game 4, they were outscored 32-24. 

Boston is still in this. If not for perhaps the greatest inbounds pass—and a pretty good shot—in recent playoff history, they would be up 3-1. But Toronto, even without Leonard, is championship caliber. And the Raptors aren’t going away. 

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