Undefeated no longer.
After a 3-0 start, the Toronto Raptors suffered their first defeat in the season restart at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown led the way for the Celtics in the win. Not only did he score a team-high 20 points to continue his strong play, he had a hand in Pascal Siakam's quiet night.
For more on the game, here are some instant observations...
1. Yeah, these are two of the best defensive teams in the league
The Raptors have the second-best defence on the season, trailing only the historically dominant Milwaukee Bucks in defensive efficiency. Two spots lower are the Celtics, who are tied with the LA Clippers for the league's fourth-best defence.
It didn't take long for the Raptors and Celtics to show off their defensive chops. The first quarter was a struggle for both sides, as the Raptors held the Celtics to 21 points on 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) shooting from the field while the Celtics held the Raptors to 14 points on 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) shooting from the field.
The Celtics couldn't get anything from outside the paint to fall...
...while the Raptors couldn't get, well, anything from anywhere to fall.
It might not make for the prettiest basketball, but it is fun to watch the Raptors and Celtics thrive in different ways defensively. Whereas the Celtics are loaded with rangy wings, the Raptors are loaded with some of the most versatile defenders in the league at different positions. Should the Raptors and Celtics meet in the playoffs, it'll be a defensive masterclass.
2. Good luck scoring on Fred VanVleet
Earlier this week, I took a closer look at VanVleet's ability to defend out of his position and the impact it has on Toronto's defence.
There was an even better example of VanVleet scaling up in this game, as he found himself matched up with Jayson Tatum in the post early in the first quarter and didn't give him an inch.
The Celtics should not try to target Fred VanVleet with a Jayson Tatum post-up pic.twitter.com/fOgHkG1mU6- Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) August 8, 2020
According to NBA.com, VanVleet is allowing only 0.69 points per post-up possession this season, which ranks him in the 86th percentile in efficiency. While I wouldn't go as far as using that as evidence that he is one of the best post-up defenders in the league - defensive stats still leave a lot to be desired and VanVleet doesn't defend many post-ups - he's proven time and time again this season that he can hold his own against guards and forwards despite being only 6-foot-1.
3. Kyle Lowry does it again
It's getting silly at this point.
KLow's fearless pic.twitter.com/XOs23Y0F9f- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 8, 2020
That's now 34 drawn charges for Lowry on the season, the most in the league. (LA Clippers centre Montrezl Harrell ranks second with 30 charges drawn). Lowry's anticipation in those situations is incredible.
4. The game within the game
The Raptors have been the best transition team in the league this season. According to NBA.com, they came into this game averaging a league-leading 28.1 points per game in the open court. They've been incredibly efficient as well, ranking in the 93rd percentile with 1.16 points per possession.
What makes the Celtics a fascinating matchup is that they're among the best teams in the league at preventing those fastbreak opportunities that the Raptors feast on. Not only did they come into this game giving up only 17.3 points per game in transition - the fifth-lowest rate in the league - they're allowing only 1.08 points per possession, ranking them in the 83rd percentile.
Sure enough, Boston was able to prevent Toronto from getting out on the break, particularly in the first half when the Celtics jumped out to a double-digit lead that they held on the rest of the way. It forced the Raptors to lean more on their halfcourt offence where they've struggled to generate consistent scoring all season long, this game being no exception. That remains one of the greatest concerns with this team heading into the playoffs.
5. A tough night for Pascal Siakam
Not long before the season was suspended, our Micah Adams wrote about how Siakam hasn't shown up in high profile games this season, leading him to question how heavy of a load he can carry as the No. 1 option on a championship contender.
This game didn't exactly answer that question.
In his 27 minutes on the court, the Celtics limited Siakam to 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the field, making for his second-lowest scoring game of the season. He didn't get to the free-throw line once, which has happened only two other times this season. He also failed to dish out a single assist, which has happened only one other time this season.
Credit to Jaylen Brown, who spent most of the night matched up with Siakam. He did a terrific job guarding him.
Nice defense from the Celtics. Raptors go to a staple of having a guard set P&R for Siakam, this time it's FVV to get Kemba in the action. Kemba does a good job of showing early, making sure he stops the drive and then recovering. Then nice activity/effort from Brown vs. Siakam. pic.twitter.com/jofmdmTTLr- Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) August 8, 2020
The Raptors are one of the deepest teams in the league, so they can overcome an off night from Siakam against most opponents, but it's these types of matchups that they can't afford for him to fade into the background. You obviously don't want to overreact to one game, especially one that doesn't have a huge bearing on seeding or anything, but again, this isn't the first time it's happened this season.
It didn't help that Tatum had a solid game for the Celtics, going for 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists in his 27 minutes on the court. We've been debating all season long on NBA.com about whether Siakam or Tatum is the better player. One game won't settle the argument, but Tatum certainly got the better of him in this one.
6. Serge Ibaka leaves the game
Ibaka left the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit in the face from Gordon Hayward. The Raptors announced that he would not return because he was poked in the right eye.
Hopefully, it's not something that will keep him out for very long. We'll provide updates on his condition as and when they become available.
7. One more win
The Raptors would have clinched the Atlantic Division title for the sixth time in seven seasons, as well as the second-best record in the Eastern Conference for the second season in a row, had they beaten the Celtics on Saturday. They only need one more win to clinch it, so it should only be a matter of time.
8. What's next
The Raptors will be back in action on Sunday when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies.
It'll be the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Raptors may have the No. 2 seed basically locked up now, but the Grizzlies still have a lot to play for with the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns closing in on them for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Catch you then.
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