The second round of the NBA playoffs officially begins on Sunday with a fierce fracas. The defending champion and #2 ranked Toronto Raptors square off against the #3 Boston Celtics in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Raptors head into Game 1 of the semifinals with starting guard Kyle Lowry nursing an ankle injury. His status will be a game-time decision.
The Celtics and Raptors both swept their first-round opponents during a rather easy opening round draw.
The Celtics reached the Eastern Conference semifinals for the fourth season in a row.
The Raptors are a 2.5-point favorite over the Celtics in Game 1. They went 7-1 during the restart inside the Disney Bubble, with their sole loss coming against the Celtics in a 22-point blowout.
#3 Boston Celtics (48-24) vs #2 Toronto Raptors (53-19)
Tip-off: 1:00 PM ET
Point Spread: TOR -2.5
Total: 216 O/U
Money Line: TOR -134 / BOS +122
Series Odds: TOR -143 / BOS +115
DraftKings updated its NBA Playoffs series odds with the Raptors coming into the east semis as a -142 odds favorite to win and advance. The Boston Celtics are +122 underdogs to knock out the defending champs and advance.
Presumably, the winner of this series will battle the Greek Freak and the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals. The Bucks meet the #5 Miami Heat on the other side of the East playoff bracket.
Based upon the most recent update by the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, the Raptors are 7/1 odds to repeat as NBA champions. The Boston Celtics are 10/1 odds to win the championship.
Game 1 Begins After Delay
The Celtics and Raptors were scheduled to play Game 1 of the East semifinals on Thursday. The NBA delayed the start of the series after the Milwaukee Bucks staged a work stoppage and walkout in Game 5 of their series against the Orlando Magic. The NBA postponed games for three days as a sign of unity in wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
A faction of players wanted to end the postseason. Michael Jordan, the current Charlotte Hornets owner and former NBA star, acted as an intermediary between players and ownership.
On Saturday, the playoffs resumed and it was back to business.
If you’re from Boston or Toronto, you’re probably wondering if the Celtics and Raptors come into Game 1 rusty after inactivity for a week?
“It felt like another restart almost,” said Toronto head coach Nick Nurse. “It’s like you haven’t played a game for a while and now you haven’t practiced for a while and you go back and you’re just working on passing and catching the ball and dribbling a little bit and just kind of getting the cobwebs out.”
The Celtics are focused at the task on hand, yet still processing the events from Kenosha.
“A lot of things are bigger than basketball, and we understand that,” said Tatum. “We’re people, first and foremost. Not just basketball players. The feeling of being isolated from the outside world, that’s how I feel right now. Other guys feel the same way.”
Toronto Sweeps, But Kyle Lowry Goes Down
Kyle Lowry didn’t last a full quarter of Game 4 against the Nets before he suffered an ankle injury. He left the game prematurely and tallied just 2 points. Prior to Game 4, he averaged 16 points per game in the postseason.
The team upgraded Lowry’s status from questionable to probable on Saturday after he participated in a light practice.
“He looked okay,” said Nurse. “We’ll see tomorrow. Obviously a game-time decision.”
Lowry, a six-time NBA All-Star, averaged 19.4 points per game this season. Lowry is also the Raptors’ best playmaker, leading the team with 7.5 assists per game. He’s also a valuable on-court general who does an excellent job at getting the ball to the hot hand, especially himself.
Fred VanVleet (21.3 ppg) led the Raptors in scoring thus far in the NBA playoffs, with Pascal Siakim not far behind (20.8 ppg). VanVleet came off the bench during last season’s championship run. This season, head coach Nick Nurse relied on him as the starting shooting guard.
Lowry missed 14 games this season, but the Raptors thrived without him with a 12-2 record.
The Toronto bench mob will be ready to spring into action in place of a banged-up Lowry. The Raptors’ reserves set an NBA record with 100 points in the series-deciding victory in Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets.
Norman Powell (18.7 ppg) is ready to roll. He led the team in scoring with 29 points off the bench during the bench’s record-setting performance.
“We just have confidence in each and every one of us that step on the floor and we work on offense,” said Powell. “I don’t think it really matters who’s in the game.”
The Raptors started the postseason 3-1 ATS.
The Celtics come into this series also missing one of their starters. They lost Gordon Hayward for a couple more weeks with a sprained ankle.
Without Hayward, the Celtics will rely on their holy trinity of stars: Kemba Walker (24.3 ppg), Jayson Tatum (27.1 ppg), and Jaylen Brown (21.5 ppg). Each of them has the ability to unleash a monstrous game and drop 40-plus.
During the series against the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brad Stevens made the proper adjustment against the Sixers’ troublesome “lock and drop” defense. Overall, the Celtics led the NBA in fast-break points in both the regular season (18.8 ppg) and postseason (18.5 ppg).
On the defensive side of the court, the Celtics held the Sixers to 100.5 ppg in the first round. The under is 3-1 in the first four games for the Celtics.
In the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Celtics won three close games in crunch time against the Sixers. They covered three times during their 4-0 sweep.