A lot of people are buying what the Boston Celtics are selling. The Celtics can take a commanding lead in their series with the Toronto Raptors when the clubs meet for Game 3 on Thursday. The defending champs were in a similar position last year, falling down two games to none to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference final. We know how that turned out for them. The Raps won the next four to reach the NBA Finals. The difference this season is that there is no Kawhi Leonard to rescue them.
Boston has been one of the NBA’s better defensive clubs for a number of years and they throttled the Raptors in the first two games, holding them to fewer than 100 points each time. Boston improved its record this season to 5-1 against Toronto and has won all six playoff games while going 5-1 against the betting line. Oddsmakers aren’t counting the Raptors out installing the champs as a 1-point favorite for the crucial Game 3.
Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series will air live on TNT at 6:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, September 3, from inside the Florida bubble. BookMaker.eu will have betting options for every NBA playoff game.
Toronto Raptors (-1) Boston Celtics (+1) O/U 214.5
Head to Head
The Celtics are a confident bunch heading into Game 3. Over their last 11 games inside the bubble they are 10-1 SU and 8-3 ATS. Three of those wins were at the expense of the Raptors, who finished the regular season five games clear of the Cs in the standings. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Boston has won five of the six games played between the clubs this season, including all three inside the bubble. The Celtics won 122-100 in the seeding games and took the first two of this series outscoring the Raptors by an average of 14.4 points per game. The game plan is simple for Toronto – they need to score more points. In their five losses they averaged just over 100 points per game. In their lone victory they tallied 113 points. In their four-game sweep of Brooklyn the Raps averaged over 126 points, so we know they have it in them.
Like I said, the Raptors have been here before. They know better than anyone that it takes four games to win the series. Leaning on the experience of last season when the Raps overcame the No. 1 seed Bucks en route to the title should be encouraging. However, they still have to execute. That part of the equation was missing in Game 2. Toronto had an 8-point lead entering the fourth quarter but picked a bad time to go cold.
The big question is where does the offense come from? Hounded by the length and athleticism of the Celtics, the Raps made just 5 of 21 from the field and were 1 of 11 from three-point range in the fourth quarter of Game 2 getting outscored 32-21. That was the difference in the 102-99 setback. Leading scorers Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet combined to shoot 35 percent from the field and were a dismal 4 of 23 (17.4%) from three-point range for the game.
The Raptors know what the issues are. And they know Game 3 is the most important one for them. If last year’s series with Milwaukee taught them anything it’s that they won’t give up. Even without Leonard the Raptors are good, owning one of the best clutch records in the NBA. The game plan isn’t going to change, making a higher percentage of shots better.
This isn’t the time for the Celtics to take their foot off the gas. Even though they’ve beaten Toronto five times overall and three in a row inside the bubble, the Raps are the defending champs and they have some potent weapons. Boston has been able to silence those for the most part, and do what needs to be done on the other end to emerge with two straight wins. The Cs can take command of the series with a Game 3 victory.
A balanced offensive attack and a smothering defense make the Celtics a tough out. They are the only team in the NBA that had three players average more than 20 points during the regular season. Jayson Tatum had a team-best 23.4 scoring average and is averaging over 27 points in the playoffs. He dropped 34 on the Raps in Game 2, his third 30-point postseason game.
And when opponents think they have a blanket over Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown, a guy like Marcus Smart is waiting in the wings. Toronto didn’t account for Smart in Game 2 and he blistered them. Erasing a 12-point deficit late in the fourth quarter, Boston used a flurry of Smart three-pointers to turn the game around. Smart hit five triples in just over three minutes to change the momentum. They’ve done a good job defensively as well holding Toronto to 38.5 percent shooting from the field and 26.3 percent from behind the arc.
Raptors vs. Celtics Prediction
Pick: Raptors -1
The Celtics definitely have Toronto’s number this season winning five of six and the first two in this series. That’s even more impressive when you consider the Raptors had the second-best record in the NBA. I do expect Siakam to be more of a factor in Game 3 and the Raps will shoot the basketball better. They better or their season is most certainly over. It’s do-or-die time for the Raps and the championship pedigree will come through with a cover victory to get back in the series.