Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 102-99 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
One — Heartbreaker: This one hurts, no matter how you slice it. The Raptors bounced back after a disaster in Game 1 and had control with an eight-point lead heading into the fourth. However, that advantage was quickly erased by Marcus Smart of all people, who reeled off five-straight threes, including a four-point play to get the Celtics ahead when they had nothing else going. Toronto clawed to remain in striking distance, but Pascal Siakam stepped out of bounds, then Fred VanVleet’s desperate heave was way off at the final buzzer. There has been so much talk all season about “championship experience” and this is where it needs to show for the Raptors. Having been sucker-punched, can they respond?
Two — Positive: What the Raptors showed today is that they can guard the Celtics. It takes all-out effort and full intensity for 48 minutes, but the reigning champs are capable of that. Sure, there are mismatches such as Kyle Lowry giving up seven inches in height to Jayson Tatum, but they are capable of slowing down the Celtics. The issue, however, is that the Celtics have a higher baseline as compared to the Raptors. Even if everything else fails, Tatum is still able to get you a tough basket or two free throws, and Kemba Walker has the killer crossover. Toronto doesn’t have that guy to bail them out, and so it’s going to need to make every chance count.
Three — Frustrating: The Raptors aren’t taking their chances right now. They shot 11-of-40 tonight from three-point range after an unsightly 10-for-40 performance on Monday. Credit the Celtics for pressuring the Raptors and staying locked in on defense, but there are plenty of open looks and the Raptors just can’t hit. As rough as they look following a collective 3-of-20 shooting performance from deep, those looks will eventually fall for Lowry and VanVleet. The Celtics have lots of length on the perimeter and their centers have done a good job of playing the space between contesting the threes while also denying the drive, but it’s nothing that Lowry and VanVleet haven’t seen before. It must be incredibly frustrating to miss repeatedly, but they have to keep the faith.
Four — Heavy: These are the times where Siakam needs to shut out the crowd and focus on the next game. He’s going to be lambasted in the press for his shortcomings, his status in the league will be questioned, fairweather fans will turn on him, and every play will feel like a referendum on his ability. That’s the life as a No. 1 player making the max, and it’s not fair. The only way he can escape this is to play out of it. Right now he doesn’t look the part, and he is nowhere near the level that he showed at the beginning of the season, but so what? The Raptors are in this position because he was great in the regular season, and he needs to keep his confidence. All the expectations don’t matter, it’s just about making the right play. Siakam wasn’t great down the stretch, but he made positive contributions. He took it strong for two free throws to end the Celtics’ run, then swiped Smart before finding VanVleet for three to get the Raptors back in the game. Toronto doesn’t need Siakam to become something he’s not — he just needs to keep playing his part. Game 2 was better than Game 1. Keep building on it.
Five — Silly: All the Raptors can do is make life easier for him. Down three with 40 seconds left, Nick Nurse called for a ball screen so Siakam could attack the smaller defender in Smart, but that’s a trap. They tried this twice in the fourth and both times it went nowhere. Siakam needs to drive downhill and use his quickness against bigs, and besides, Smart is an elite defender who isn’t a mismatch for any player in this league. There is no sense in that, and the fault rests with Nurse. It’s especially dumb considering that Walker is the clear mismatch to hunt, if that was what the Raptors wanted.
Six — Breakout: Lost amid the crushing sadness of this loss was that OG Anunoby had a playoff career-high 20 points, while continuing to play lockdown defense against Jaylen Brown. Ironically, Anunoby’s previous record was 18 in Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game in which he cooly tied the game with a three in his rookie year, but that nobody remembers because LeBron James hit the game-winner over him on the next play. Anunoby is still raw, but he shows no fear. He jab-stepped Brown before pulling a three over him, side-stepped Tatum for another, and against Boston’s best shot-blocker in Robert Williams, he smartly set him up for a spin move for a clean layup. This will likely be an outlier game for Anunoby, but it’s something for the future. If he ever puts it together on a consistent basis, watch out.
Seven — Missing: While Smart was busy bombing threes, the Raptors’ sixth man in Norman Powell was nowhere to be found. Powell couldn’t shake free at any point, and was limited to four points in 13 minutes while providing little on the offensive end. The Raptors badly need Powell’s efficient scoring, both to keep the second unit afloat and to supplement VanVleet and Lowry, but he can’t even get a look. Powell is too explosive and too skilled to be shut out, and it would be a shame if all the progress he made this season was all wasted when it mattered most. Toronto’s bench should be their advantage, but right now it’s their Achilles’ heel.
Eight — Energetic: Marc Gasol fouled out on a questionable call in the fourth, but was better on the whole than he was in Game 1. The scoring is just not there for Gasol — every basket he makes is a minor miracle — but he’s doing enough on defense to make up for it. Gasol’s energy and hustle in the third quarter was one of the main reasons why the Raptors got out to their lead, and his ability to distribute the ball when games get tight is crucial. There is a case for Serge Ibaka to start ahead of Gasol, but it’s tough to make that call after this one. The starters were fine in the first and third quarters.
Nine — Exhausted: Even though the Raptors have more pieces on paper with Gordon Hayward being out, they were the ones struggling with depth. Nurse had his top-three guns in Lowry, VanVleet and Siakam all playing over 40 minutes, and he effectively ran a six-man lineup for the second half. It’s understandable why he did it, but that’s just not sustainable. At the very least he needs to ride it out with Powell, while hopefully another wing joins in. Nurse went to Chris Boucher as a power forward in nine minutes, but he failed to impact the game with his length and energy. Nurse also tried Terence Davis, but the rookie’s bad habit of reaching on defense resulted in three quick fouls in the second quarter. Something has to give eventually, because the starters cannot sustain this workload if they have any chance of winning four of the next five games.
Ten — Something: The Raptors continue to have success running their zone defense against the Celtics. At first it was just to mask their two-center lineups, but it worked in the third even with their starters. Boston is not an easy team to zone because it has so many shooters, but it’s a worthwhile gamble. If they miss a few, which happened in the third when Brown and Smart misfired, the Raptors were able to capitalize by getting out in transition. It’s definitely worth trying again.
More coverage on Yahoo Sports Canada