After Boston was 0.5 seconds away from taking a 3-0 series lead and pushing the defending champion Raptors to the brink, Toronto has clawed their way even with the Celtics thanks to a miraculous three at the buzzer from OG Anunoby in Game 3 and a dominant defensive performance in Game 4. On Monday, the two sides will be looking to take control of the series in Game 5, both knowing the importance of taking a 3-2 advantage (particularly given the neutral floor environment).
Thus far, the series has been extremely even, with the Celtics currently holding a narrow +3 advantage in the series with every game being decided by single digits. There’s little reason to expect anything different going forward in what has been a sensational defensive series from both teams. That end of the floor should see high level play throughout, with the main questions coming for both teams on the offensive end, where they must solve the puzzle that is the opposing defense.
With that in mind, let’s look at three keys to Game 5 that will swing the series in favor of either Toronto or Boston.
1. Three-Point Shooting
I really wish the biggest thing wasn’t so basic, but as we’ve seen in just about every game in every series thus far, this is the biggest difference maker in today’s NBA. Boston dominated from beyond the arc early in the series, with Toronto struggling mightily to find their rhythm from deep until late in Game 2. In the past two games, things have flipped in the Raptors’ direction from deep, as they’ve connected on a solid 30-of-84 (35.7 percent) from three-point range, while Boston has hit just 16-of-64 (25 percent) in their two losses.
As the series moves forward, whichever team can create and knock down good looks from the outside will have an advantage. These are two excellent defensive teams who are very good at taking away your first (and often second) option, leading to role players being asked to knock down shots. As simple as it may be, the team that gets the most assistance from its non-stars from beyond the arc might just be the one to make it to the conference finals.
2. Can Pascal Siakam Assert Himself?
The first three games of this series were rough for the Raptors All-Star forward, but he came alive in Game 4 with 23 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-23 shooting (he was 8-for-10 inside the three-point arc). His three-point woes single-handedly dragged the Raptors team shooting numbers down in Game 4, but his willingness to take those shots from deep is actually part of what helped open things up for him inside. The Celtics have thrown a variety of defensive looks and matchups at Siakam in this series, but the one thing that’s been clear is that they’re happy to let him try and post up one of their many shorter but strong defenders. The reason for that is, Siakam’s not great at creating good looks for himself backing down an opponent, as it often results in a semi-contested push/hook shot from 6-8 feet from the rim. Those are shots Boston will live with and Siakam has to avoid settling for too often — especially before he gets into a rhythm.
In Game 4, his shooting from the outside was dreadful at 2-of-13 from three, but he drew defenders further out and was able to put the ball on the floor and attack downhill, which is exactly what the Celtics want to avoid by baiting him into post-ups. If Siakam can find his jump shot, it could be the thing that swings this series to the Raptors, but even if he doesn’t, taking open shots (although, maybe not 13 if you can’t buy one) is important to open the driving lanes that allow him to be at his best going to the basket with a head of steam. There are times to go to the post, but in early games he fell in love with post attempts and they simply weren’t effective. Going forward, he’s best served facing up opponents and driving by them, at worst forcing the Boston defense to collapse on him to allow for kickouts. Siakam has to be a playmaker, both for himself and to get the rest of the offense moving, so Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet can at times work off of him in secondary action once the Boston defense is already scrambling. Game 4 was a good start, and he has to build on that confidence in Game 5.
3. Can Anyone Other Than Tatum Get To The Rim?
Boston’s got to shoot better from the outside, but when the threes aren’t falling, they have to find a way to get easy looks for someone other than Jayson Tatum. Tatum was 9-for-12 inside the arc in Game 4, but the rest of the team struggled to get inside consistently. As a team they were 26-for-40 from two-point range, which is insanely efficient. The problem was their inability to regularly attack downhill against the ever-changing Toronto defense that confused them into taking 35 threes (of which they made seven) with their various zone looks intertwined with aggressive man-to-man ball pressure.
They need Kemba Walker, who has been great in this series, and Jaylen Brown to figure out how to probe and attack the Raptors downhill. To do so, they might have to get creative by trying to get those guys catching the ball on the move, working them off screens and action off the ball so when they catch it, they’ve got the Raptors defense already in motion and can maybe find some more gaps to slip inside. This is, of course, easier said than done against a defense that throws, quite literally, every look possible at you and moves around their bigs to confuse the offense. Still, there’s success to be had inside the arc if you can get there. Boston’s just got to get Tatum some more help in that area.