The Boston Celtics took Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors, 112-94, on Sunday, drawing first blood in a highly-anticipated series between two teams with legitimate aspirations of winning the Eastern Conference. Tuesday afternoon marked Game 2, and despite entering the fourth trailing by eight, Boston came out on top, 102-99.
Now, Toronto finds itself in an 0-2 hole to an Eastern Conference foe for the second postseason in a row, while Boston is two games away from returning to the conference finals. But before what should be a scintillating Game 2, we took a quick look back on what we just witnessed.
Jayson Tatum is that dude
Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart struggled to get much going from the field for three quarters. Jaylen Brown started hot but cooled off and scored five points over the final three frames. Save for a first half explosion by Robert Williams, Boston’s big men didn’t exactly give them all that much of a scoring punch.
Fortunately for them, they have Jayson Tatum, who is in the conversation for being the best offensive player in the Eastern Conference. Heck, when he plays like he did on Tuesday, Tatum very well may deserve to be at the top of the list.
The All-Star forward was a smooth operator all night, scoring a game-high 34 points on 8-for-17 shooting, hitting four of his seven attempts from deep, and connecting on all 14 of his free throw attempts. To add to that, Tatum pulled down eight rebounds, doled out a team-high six assists, and played his increasingly usual brand of physical defense that can seem awfully tough to break down.
Jayson Tatum was locked in for Game 2
6 Ast pic.twitter.com/ggZKVFYeEu
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 2, 2020
All the other stuff that he does is legitimately really impressive, and outside of his rebounding, the fact that he is able to find ways to contribute to winning basketball besides scoring is something that didn’t seem guaranteed when he was first coming into the league. But he’s still refined all of that stuff, and man, can he really score the ball. Tatum can do a little bit of everything – he’s a wonderful pull up player, he can catch and shoot, he can take dudes off the bounce, and there is no area of the court where he can’t get buckets. Boston legitimately has a shot at winning the East, something that is, in large part, due to what Tatum can do every night.
There’s some sort of talismanic quality about Marcus Smart. It’s impossible to totally define, but he really is this team’s heart and soul, and even when he is not having his best game, he finds ways to leave an impact and help the Celtics play winning basketball. The other funny thing about this is that Smart seems to have this inherent sense of the moment and when Boston seem to be able to do that little something extra in the pursuit of picking up a win.
In Game 2, this came early on during the fourth quarter. Smart entered the frame with three points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field. Even though scoring has never been his thing, you still expect him to give you a little bit more than that. Then again, what ended up happening more than made up for three tough quarters.
SMART IS ON FIRE!
5 straight threes in the fourth pic.twitter.com/kvDrSHvkbF
— ESPN (@espn) September 1, 2020
Somehow, someway, Smart hit five threes in a row to help the Celtics go from eight points down to start the quarter to ahead at the 7:55 mark of the frame. After that final triple — which included a foul and turned into a four-point play — Kyle Lowry scored, and then Kemba Walker scored, and then Boston did not relinquish the lead en route to taking a 2-0 series lead.
But after a huge third quarter by Toronto — which included an 11-0 Raptors run to give them a lead that seemed at least somewhat comfortable — someone on the Celtics needed to give them the shot in the arm that was necessary for them to pull out a win. As his often times been the case during his tenure in the city, Smart gave that to them, the emotional boost that the team needed to pick up a win. On the night, Smart scored 19 points, with all six of his made field goals coming from deep.
Toronto’s offense needs to figure something out
Counting Toronto all the way out is, of course, incredibly premature. Even beyond the fact that they no longer have Kawhi Leonard, who got them out of this exact same hole last year against the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals, the raptors have carried themselves with the swagger in confidence that can only come from being champions all season long. It seems very, very unlikely that they will suddenly start doubting themselves.
Having said this, Nick Nurse and co. need to figure something out on offense. In Game 1, they scored 94 points, hit 36.9 percent of their shots from the field, and connected on 25 percent of their threes. In Game 2: 99 points, 40 percent from the field, 27.5 percent from three.
Toronto’s big thing all season has been that when they can get out and run, they are capable of beating anyone four times in seven games. Their issue, though, is that their halfcourt offense is not as good. They really have to find ways to manufacture points due to the lack of a true number one option in the halfcourt, and that just has not happened. The team’s nominal three-best options on offense — Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, all of whom are tremendous players — are a combined 32-for-98 (32.7 percent) from the field through the first two games.
Again, the Raptors are champions, and champions do not go down without throwing everything they have at their opponents. Nurse is the most creative coach in the league, and no one is more willing (and, thanks to the talent on hand, able) to try funky stuff with the goal of manufacturing points.