Celtics vs. Raptors predictions, picks, schedule & more to know for 2020 NBA playoff series

What to know about Celtics vs. Raptors

These teams seemed destined to run into each other. The Raptors and Celtics entered the NBA’s “bubble” as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, and they never budged from their spots in the Eastern Conference standings.

While the Raptors (53-19) finished with a better overall record than the Celtics (48-24), Boston won three of their four regular-season meetings. The Celtics also handed the Raptors their only “bubble” loss on Aug. 7, but both coaches acknowledged the result of that contest ultimately didn’t mean much.

“Our guys played well, but it won’t mean anything in a couple weeks,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the win. Raptors coach Nick Nurse added, “I hate to say it, but there’s nothing really I learned.”

Toronto ran right through the Nets in the first round, completing the first playoff sweep in franchise history with a 150-122 victory in Game 4. Boston faced slightly more resistance against a Philadelphia squad playing without Ben Simmons, but the result was the same.

Now the Celtics and Raptors meet in what could be the most entertaining series of the postseason with a spot in the Eastern Conference finals on the line. Yep, this means something.

The key matchup

Jaylen Brown vs. Pascal Siakam

Only five other players defended Siakam more often than Brown during the regular season, according to NBA.com. The matchup data isn’t perfect, but Brown did a respectable job against Siakam, holding the All-Star forward to 10-of-24 shooting from the field.

Siakam’s combination of size (6-9, 230 pounds), skill and athleticism is impressive, but Brown (6-6, 223 pounds) has shown he is capable of challenging him. He is sturdy enough to wall up in the paint and long enough to contest shots if Siakam tries to rise over him.

Brown also possesses quick feet, which is important because Siakam’s herky-jerky movements keep defenders off balance. In the clip below, Brown stays in his stance and sticks with Siakam through his patented spin move.

The flip side of this matchup may be just as important: Brown has improved his ball-handling and shooting every season, turning himself into a 20-point-per-game scorer. But Siakam’s ability to quickly cover ground can cause problems for Brown.

These guys won’t be standing across from each other for every single possession, of course. The Celtics and Raptors are extremely switchable, and that’s part of what makes them two of the best defensive groups in the NBA.

Still, it will be worth watching this individual battle, especially now that the pressure is on Siakam to produce as the No. 1 option.

The big number

56.5

The Raptors averaged 56.5 bench points per game in their first-round series against the Nets. That number was inflated by the bench mob’s 100-point effort in Game 4 — the most points scored by a reserve unit in NBA history — but it also highlighted Toronto’s terrific depth. Serge Ibaka (19.3 points per game vs. Brooklyn), Norman Powell (17.5) and Terence Davis (11.3) each averaged double-figures in the first round and will be expected to contribute important minutes against Boston.

The Celtics, meanwhile, rely heavily on Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker to provide the majority of their points. That trio averaged more than 70 points per game in Boston’s first-round sweep, and the highest-scoring bench player was Enes Kanter (5.5).

Kyle Lowry and Gordon Hayward are both dealing with ankle issues. Lowry’s status for Game 1 and beyond is unclear, and Hayward should miss the entire series. That makes the other guys in the rotation that much more important.

Celtics vs. Raptors schedule

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Celtics vs. Raptors prediction

Raptors over Celtics, 4-3

After three of the East’s four first-round series ended in sweeps, this one should be a lot more competitive. It’s really a toss-up because the level of play, coaching and intensity will be so high across the board.

With that said, the slight edge goes to the Raptors here. The stars will shine bright in the “bubble,” but the difference will be Toronto’s depth.

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