The Toronto Raptors now have it all to do in their Eastern Conference second-round series against the Boston Celtics after Tuesday’s 102-99 defeat.
Stopping Jayson Tatum was always going to be key, and this is proving very difficult as the former Duke Blue Devil put up 34 points, eight rebounds, and six assists.
Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam both struggled in game one and while they mustered 19 and 17 points respectively in improved efforts in game two, neither made it count when it mattered most down the stretch and they, along with their teammates, will need to step it up from both an offensive and defensive point of view if the defending champions are going to get back into the series.
Toronto came into the series as -135 favourites, but with a 2-0 deficit, they are now priced at +425 on Bet365 to advance. If the last two season have taught us anything, it is that Nick Nurse’s team will not lay down and give up.
In the 2019 conference semi-finals, the Raptors were on the brink of elimination against the Philadelphia 76ers having trailed 2-1 in the series and also gone behind in the epic game seven. Of course, Kawhi Leonard was the driving force behind the ultimate triumph, but the rest of the team has stepped up this year and shown that Toronto should be taken seriously as a contender.
The Raptors have two days to prepare for game three, and it goes without saying that it is a must-win contest. The sportsbooks can hardly separate the two franchises in the betting odds for Thursday night, but the slight edge is given to Toronto at -115 compared with Boston’s odds of -105.
VanVleet’s shooting has been one of Toronto’s issues in the series thus far and if he can revert back to somewhere near his usual three-point percentage, there is an opportunity for them to get back into this.
The 26-year-old made two of 11 from the perimeter in game one, and three of 12 in game two. Compared with his 55.9% in the series against the Brooklyn Nets, and even his 39% regular-season average, there is scope for improvement.
Siakam has also been below his scoring average against Boston, while Kyle Lowry can also go up a notch and prove his All-Star credentials once again.
Another issue on Tuesday, at least according to Nurse, was the officiating. The Raptors had 19 trips to the line, a number which Tatum alone almost matched, as he took 14 of Boston’s 25 free throws.
“The only frustrating part about it is this,” Nurse said after the game. “He shoots 14 free throws, which is as much as our whole team shoots. That’s the frustrating part. I think our guys were working hard on him and we were doing a pretty good job.”
Game three takes place at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET.