Good basketball teams jump out to early leads; great basketball teams never let their opponents recover.
That's what the Boston Celtics did all afternoon against the Toronto Raptors. Any time the Raptors went on any sort of run, trying to claw out of a big first quarter hole, the Celtics came storming back, nailing buzzer-beating shots and clutch 3s to quell any chance of a Raptors comeback. Ultimately, there was nothing Toronto could do in Game 1, falling 112-94 to take a 1-0 series deficit on Sunday afternoon.
It would have been easy for the Raptors to make excuses after the game following a very emotional week that included a strike after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Coming into the game, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said the week off felt like three weeks off because of all the emotions. But after the game, Kyle Lowry wouldn't use it as an excuse.
"Yeah, we all felt that, emotionally, it hit us hard," Lowry said. "Today we just didn’t play well. I don’t know, I just think we didn’t play well enough to win the basketball game and no excuses made, we gotta play hard, we gotta go out there and do our jobs harder, do our coverages harder, you know, execute better."
The Raptors looked off right from the start. They got into early foul trouble and were missing pretty easy looks in the first quarter. In that first frame alone, they recorded 11 personal fouls and made just eight shots, a ratio that typically doesn't lead to success.
Down nine late in the quarter, a struggling Pascal Siakam got underneath a Jaylen Brown 3-point jump shot, stepping into his landing area and drawing his third foul of the game. Toronto unsuccessfully challenged the call and after a technical foul on Nick Nurse, the Celtics took a 13-point lead.
"The third foul on Pascal that I tried to review was microscopic. I don’t know how you see that," Nurse said. "So it was tough, but it was all part of a bad rhythm."
Nurse did seem to stumble onto a fairly successful lineup to start the second quarter, using Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on the court together. It worked briefly, holding Boston scoreless for the first two minutes while pulling to within nine points offensively, but once Ibaka subbed out, the Celtics got back on track, stretching their lead to all the way to 17 to end the half.
"I was searching a little bit," Nurse said. "It was hard when just nothing was going right, nothing, the ball wasn't bouncing our way, we were making bad decisions, and the whistle was funky, layups were being missed, wide-open threes were being missed, it was hard, I was just trying to search for anything to slow 'em down and it was great."
Defensively, the biggest problem for the Raptors was the Celtics' ability to nail corner 3s. Toronto led the NBA in corner 3s allowed this season but made it work by forcing the ball into the hands of bad 3-point shooters and protecting the rim. Against Boston, Brown and Marcus Smart made Toronto pay, nailing seven of the Celtics' 10 corner 3s.
"There was some mistakes that we made to give some of those up," Nurse said. "There was a couple of really blatant ones. There was a couple where guys were bottled up and we just ran to double-team for some reason and left the corner 3 guy out there. So I've got to take a look at those, because there was a couple of really blatant ones that were just breakdowns."
Coming into the series there were still some question marks surrounding Siakam's ability to be the lead guy for the Raptors in the playoffs. He hadn't looked great in the seeding games and wasn't particularly efficient in the first round against the Nets. On Sunday, he didn't silence the doubters, shooting just 5-for-16 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3-point range.
"I think I got to where I wanted to," Siakam said. "I’ve just got to finish some of the shots that I took."
Conversely, Fred VanVleet came into the series looking like the Raptors' best player. He was averaging 21.3 points on 52.7% shooting coming into the second round. That didn't continue against the Celtics who focused on VanVleet and held him to just 3-for-16 with 11 points.
"I don’t think he had as good opportunities maybe as Pascal did," Nurse said of VanVleet. "They played really good defence and they were active and they had us out of rhythm."
While Sunday's loss should certainly be concerning for Raptors who have now lost four of five games to Boston this season including their only two losses inside the bubble, the Celtics made 3-pointers at scorching hot 43.6% clip while the Raptors missed an unusual number of 3s, shooting just 10-for-40 from behind the arc.
The Raptors will look to even the series up on Tuesday. The time of the game is yet to be announced.