Monday’s Game 5 between the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors was greatly anticipated, especially after the Raptors clawed back to tie the series at 2-2. In short order, though, the anticipation evaporated, with the Celtics zooming to a virtually insurmountable 62-35 halftime lead and cruising to a lopsided 111-89 victory to take a 3-2 series lead.
With Game 6 looming and the Raptors facing potential elimination on Wednesday, here are three takeaways from Game 5.
1. The first quarter was a perfect storm of bad for the Raptors
Frankly, the entire first half was a disaster for Toronto, so the issues weren’t limited to the opening period. Still, the Raptors’ offense put together an embarrassing performance coming out of the gate, even if some of the credit goes to Boston’s defense.
The Raptors opened the game by missing 13 of their first 15 shots and, with the added headache of five turnovers, Toronto scored only five points in nearly minutes. Mercifully, Boston also scuffled offensively during this stretch, but the Celtics still led 18-5 and never looked back.
Toronto shot 4-of-20 from the floor in the first quarter, missing eight of nine three-point attempts and committing six turnovers. In fact, the Raptors didn’t even reach double figures until there were only 23.3 seconds remaining in the opening period, and Toronto tied a franchise record for futility, matching its lowest scoring output for any playoff quarter.
Hiccups happen, even in the playoffs, but there was nothing the Raptors could do to erase what transpired at the outset.
2. The Celtics are scary good on defense
Even before this dominant performance, Boston’s defense was excelling in the postseason. Brad Stevens’ team entered the night with the best defensive rating (103.0) in the NBA Playoffs, with league-leading marks in effective field goal percentage allowed (46.2 percent) and three-point shooting allowed (29.1 percent) in the postseason.
On cue, the Celtics utterly dominated the proceedings in the first half, taking advantage of Toronto’s aforementioned issues and squeezing the life out of their opponent. Boston allowed fewer than 0.8 points per possession in the first 24 minutes, with the Raptors connecting on only 30 percent of their shots and 4-of-18 attempts from three-point range.
It was a team-wide effort from the Celtics as well, starting with the team’s defensive leader in Marcus Smart.
Smart is one of the league’s best and most multi-faceted defenders, and it is an X-factor to have a player of his versatility, strength and intelligence on the floor for the majority of the game. He isn’t alone, though, with Daniel Theis making a sizable impact at the rim and Jayson Tatum flashing his impressive off-ball feel, anticipation and play-making on the defensive end.
Jayson both making the rotation over from the corner behind Theis rotating on the drive AND stealing the kick to the corner. Special defender pic.twitter.com/xvbc87g0jl
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 7, 2020
The Raptors certainly played a part in the destruction that was the first half of Game 5, but the Celtics aren’t a fluke on the defensive end. They are very, very good.
3. This isn’t over yet
Despite the lopsided result in Game 5, no one should write the Raptors off in the series. That honestly goes without saying in a match-up that was so closely contested in the first four games, and the Raptors looked notably better on both ends of the floor after halftime on Monday. Overall, Toronto is an experienced, mentally tough team that has been in this kind of position before, and that is key to remember.
Granted, Kawhi Leonard isn’t walking through that door, but the Raptors came back from a 2-1 deficit against Philadelphia and a 2-0 deficit against Milwaukee during their run to the 2019 NBA title. Even within this series, Toronto showed resilience in avoiding a collapse after Game 2 and, with the Raptors capable of high-end defense and enough shot-making to beat anyone, knocking off Boston in back-to-back games (on a neutral floor) is far from unthinkable.
With that said, the Celtics are now (clearly) favored in the series. Even if one viewed these two teams as equal, the math stacks up against Toronto with the need to win two in a row against a comparable opponent, and there isn’t a change of venue coming to aid in that pursuit. If anything, Boston is probably the more talented team, with Tatum and Kemba Walker operating as top-flight shot creators and the team’s aforementioned stellar defense to carry the day.
It will be exceedingly interesting to see how the Raptors respond to this thrashing, with a few quality data points in the second half. At the very least, Game 6 is (very) likely to be more competitive and, if Toronto can steal a win, anything can happen in a winner-take-all Game 7.