The Celtics and Raptors will face off for the first time in postseason history on Thursday, kicking off what will be the most anticipated second-round matchup of the NBA playoffs. We will have a multi-part scouting report on the series in the coming days, but here are some initial pressing questions about the matchup after reviewing film of the team's regular season contests.
1. What is the condition of Kyle Lowry's foot?
The Raptors had a walkover in their first-round series against the Nets that wrapped up on Sunday, but there was a significant development in the first half. All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry went down with a foot injury that sidelined him for the game.
— Matthew (@Matt_Rodrigo_) August 23, 2020
The Raptors have diagnosed him with a sprained left ankle on Monday, but his status for Game 1 has not been disclosed yet. The ankle sprain does not appear to be nearly as severe as Gordon Hayward’s (Lowry tried to play through it initially in Game 4) but it does not appear Lowry will be at 100 percent for Game 1 even if he does suit up.
This is a huge deal for Toronto, since Lowry is the heart and soul of their top-2 defense. He usually takes on the toughest defensive assignment every night and that’s been Jayson Tatum in his meetings with the Celtics this year. Lowry is giving up roughly 10 inches in that matchup, but he’s managed to make life tough on Tatum for most of the season (16.5 ppg, 37.7% FG). Boston’s All-Star forward did have a strong game against the Raptors in the bubble, so he’s improved a lot from his early-season matchups (three before January 1st) so it’s tough to read too much into the ugly shooting numbers. Still, the Raptors will be in a bind defensively if Lowry isn’t close to 100 percent. They don’t have an appealing alternative off the bench if Lowry can’t go. While OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are good defenders, both are probably a bit too slow to hang with him off the dribble consistently.
We will know more about Lowry’s status in the coming days, but this could be an injury that balances the scales a bit for Boston with Gordon Hayward sidelined for the series.
2. Can Jaylen Brown win his matchup against All-Star Pascal Siakam? Technically, Siakam is the only All-Star in this head-to-head matchup, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is the better player, particularly in the postseason. Brown has been one of the few Celtics who have maintained their regular-season production when given opportunity in the postseason. He dominated Al Horford in Round 1 and averaged 18 points per game in his sophomore season in Boston when he turned into a surprise second option for that Cinderella run to the East Conference Finals. He’s serving a similar role now in this postseason with a pair of high-level scorers next to him in Tatum and Kemba Walker.
Siakam will be a far stiffer challenge than Horford from a defensive standpoint in this series. He has a couple more inches, added bulk and more athleticism than the aging Horford, but his offensive game remains limited. Siakam has tried to develop into a high-level 3-point shooter, but that success hasn’t translated in the postseason so far. He’s shooting just 29 percent in his career from 3-point range in the playoffs, including 28 percent in the first round against the Nets. That should allow the Celtics to be willing to sacrifice some looks to him from 3-point range as long as they can keep him out of the paint.
Brown’s job in this series will be to hold up from a strength standpoint. Siakam will try to bully him in the post down low but Brown needs to stay disciplined, avoiding fouling and making it tough on the fourth-year forward. Siakam’s offensive game is much more straight forward than Tatum’s, so it doesn’t translate as well to the postseason. That should play to Brown’s advantage on the defensive end. The Celtics don’t need to win this matchup outright, but they must have Brown play Siakam to a draw in terms of production. Brown’s track record this season along with his improved 3-point shooting (35 percent in the postseason) signals he should be up for the challenge. Neutralizing Toronto’s top offensive weapon will open the door for Boston to take control of this series, since the Raptors really can struggle operating in the half court against a solid defense like Boston.
3. How will Jayson Tatum be deployed defensively?