The first two teams to advance in the NBA postseason will face one another in the East semifinals. The Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics swept their first-round opponents in four games and will meet Thursday in Game 1 with a berth in the Eastern Conference finals on the line.
Boston took the regular-season series, posting a 2-1 record straight up and against the spread with a + 7.1 net rating. It is hard to take much from the regular season, considering Toronto played with a fully available roster just once in the three matchups. However, a few things can be gleaned from not only the two postseason series but the eight seeding games as well.
Toronto’s offense really showed up against Brooklyn in the sweep. The Raptors averaged 122.9 points every 100 possessions and shot 49.5% from the floor and 43.3% on 41.0 3-point attempts per game. All excellent figures, but is everything fixed with a Toronto offense that was inconsistent in the seeding games?
The Raptors finished the seeding games averaging 106.9 points every 100 possessions, the 19th-ranked offensive rating in the bubble. However, they finished with the sixth-best 3-point shooting percentage at 39.1%. In other words, their offense relied on the 3-point shot, and when it was not falling, their efficiency suffered. Just look at Game 2, in which Toronto shot 26.5% from deep and needed a second-half comeback to win.
How that offensive approach works against one of the best perimeter defenses in the NBA will go a long way toward deciding this series. Boston allowed just 34.6% to opponents from 3-point range, the second-best percentage in the league. In their seeding games that number was 32.6%, and Philadelphia managed just 26.4% from beyond the arc against the Celtics.
Boston just seems to be playing at another level on both sides of the floor. The Celtics averaged 117.2 points every 100 possessions against Philadelphia, the best offensive rating in the postseason before Monday’s games. They finished sixth in offensive efficiency in the seeding games, posting a 116.7 offensive rating. But will this offense be able to sustain itself against Toronto?
Despite their inconsistent offensive play, the Raptors have been stupendous on defense, all season long and in Orlando. Toronto allowed just 104.7 points every 100 possessions in the regular season and clamped down on Brooklyn’s offense to the point it averaged just 102.4 points per 100 possessions. The Raptors have shown that this defensive style translates to almost every matchup they have played this season.
Every matchup, that is, except Boston. Part of why Boston won two of three against Toronto was its offensive success. In their three games, the Celtics posted a 110.0 offensive rating while shooting 44.3%. Those are not eye-popping metrics on the surface, but they become more impressive when it is against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Boston seems to have an advantage in this series, and it has played out in the three games.
This is all without mentioning the potential absence of Kyle Lowry, who was reportedly diagnosed Monday with a sprained ankle. Should Lowry miss time, it will be trouble for the Raptors. He was not an incredible offensive piece in the Brooklyn series, but he was a fine defender. He was on the floor for each game against Boston when the Celtics found consistent success on offense. What does this series look like without him?