In a series between evenly matched teams, this game felt like an outlier. Boston cranked up their defensive level, its starters played their best game of the postseason, and Toronto came nowhere close to matching it.
The result was a blowout where the Celtics were up by 14 after one quarter, 27 at the half, and cruised in for a 111-89 win. The Celtics now lead the series 3-2 and can try to eliminate the defending champions in Game 6 on Wednesday night.
Here are three takeaways from Boston’s Game 5 rout:
1) Boston’s defense smothered Toronto all game long
“I think the numbers bear out it’s two really good defensive teams, and it’s physical and makes it hard to score,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “I don’t know if the offenses will improve or not.”
That was Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse pregame, and he was half right — Boston was a really good defensive team on Monday and the Raptors offense did not improve.
Toronto shot 38.8% as a team for the game and had an offensive rating of just 92.7 (far less than a point per possession). Toronto shot just 13-of-31 (41.9%) in the restricted area, and was 12-of-40 (30%) from three — they shot well from the midrange, but that’s a tough way to beat Boston.
Brad Stevens put Marcus Smart on Kyle Lowry and the Celtics switched every pick-and-roll with Lowry, but that usually meant another strong defender (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, even Daniel Theis) was on him, and the Celtics did a great job switching back or jump-switching later to get back to the matchup they wanted. It worked brilliantly, and Lowry was just 3-of-8 shooting for the game and had 10 points.
Fred VanVleet was funneled into waiting defenders in the lane and couldn’t hit shots or find passing lanes. It was too late in the game when Toronto started running P&R sets for Pascal Siakam. But whatever Toronto went to, Boston smothered it. It threw the Raptors off their game.
Toronto needs to find those shots by Game 6.
2) Jaylen Brown bounces back; Celtics starters dominate
After a rough night in Game 4, Jaylen Brown bounced back and was the best player on the floor in Game 5 — 27 points, strong play defensively, and the dunk of the series.
Brown wasn’t alone, all the Celtics starters played well. Kemba Walker had 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting, Jayson Tatum had 18 points and his pick-and-roll decision making is impeccable, Theis had 15, and Smart had a dozen. Off the bench, Brad Wanamaker had 15 and that was all the Celtics bench scoring before the last shot of the game (a Grant Williams three).
Celtics fans can complain about bench play if they want, but if the starters play like this it doesn’t matter.
3) Toronto needs to get Siakam in more pick-and-rolls
First, the Raptors can flush this game… although they may want to watch the first quarter, see the hunger Boston came out with, and see if they can match it on Wednesday.
A couple of things became clear in Game 5. More Serge Ibaka and less Marc Gasol is in order, the matchups are just better for him. The other is Siakam has to be part of more pick-and-rolls, it was the only thing that showed promise offensively. Please don’t take my word for it.
Toronto played well against Philadelphia a year ago when facing elimination, but still ultimately needed Kawhi Leonard and four bounces on the rim to advance. This year the rest of the players have to step up, or the Raptors defense of their title ends on Wednesday night.