Celtics

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Raptors?

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Raptors?

Despite their quarter-century existence, the Toronto Raptors have never faced the Boston Celtics in a playoff series. That seems likely to change when the NBA resumes play in Orlando.

The Celtics and Raptors project to land the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the East, putting them on a collision course for a conference semifinal matchup.

Yes, the uncertainties of the bubble environment make that less of a slam dunk than most years — and let’s cross our fingers an unexpected shutdown wouldn’t deprive us of the pairing yet again — but Boston and Toronto clearly slot among the elite in the East.

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Who wins a best-of-seven series between these two Atlantic Division foes? The elimination of home-court advantage removes maybe the biggest advantage one of these teams could own, so much so that Boston has only limited motivation to make a surge for that No. 2 seed during the eight seeding games leading up to the bubble playoffs.

Even without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this season, the Raptors are battle-tested as defending NBA champions. They won’t be fazed by the moment. The Celtics’ young core, though, has also played an awful lot of playoff basketball, while Kemba Walker will have no shortage of motivation despite being a postseason spectator for much of his time in Charlotte.

All of which leaves Celtics-Raptors as seemingly a coin flip. In fact, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, which gives the matchup an astounding 84 percent chance of happening, forecasts Boston with the slightest of edges in the matchup (52 percent to win the series).

Yes, the smallest of advantages could swing this series. Maybe it’s Walker’s health. Maybe it’s whether Jayson Tatum or Pascal Siakam emerges as the more impactful young star. Maybe it comes down to bench play. Maybe it's coaching and whether Brad Stevens or Nick Nurse can push the right buttons in an unprecedented environment.

The Celtics won two of the three head-to-head matchups during the regular season, emerging in Boston’s home opener and a Christmas Day showdown. The Raptors got revenge in late December while spoiling a Kemba Walker 30-point night.

One thing is certain: The Raptors had an elite defense, ranking second in the NBA behind only the Bucks while allowing 104.9 points per 100 possessions before the season paused.

Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol provide a sturdy back line that can fluster Celtics players near the rim and force the Celtics to rely heavily on jump shots. Boston’s offense will have to be particularly crisp and it must avoid playing a half-court game against the Raptors.

PREDICTIONS FOR CELTICS-RAPTORS PLAYOFF SERIES

Chris Forsberg: Maybe the biggest advantage of the restart for the Celtics is not having to play any of the East's top dogs on their home floor in potential playoff matchups. Milwaukee and Toronto could have really benefited from that edge — especially in any seven-game series — but now one of the keys will be how role players, who typically feed off home crowds, perform in the quiet Disney bubble.

The Celtics, if healthy and playing to their potential, have a slight overall talent edge here and should steal the series on a neutral site. But a seven-game tango seems inevitable with these two evenly matched foes.

Prediction: Celtics in 7 games

A. Sherrod Blakely: The Kemba Walker-Kyle Lowry duel will be one of the best we’ll see in the playoffs. In any other year, whoever has home court would be the favorite in this series. But ultimately, Boston has more big guns offensively than the Raptors and that more than anything else will determine the winner of this series.

Prediction: Celtics in 7 games

DJ Bean: I didn't believe in the Raptors when they had Kawhi (smart, DJ), so I'm sure as hell not going to believe in them with just Siakam and Lowry. 

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

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Is Jaylen Brown the NBA's best shooting guard? Kendrick Perkins makes case

Is Jaylen Brown the NBA's best shooting guard? Kendrick Perkins makes case

Jaylen Brown didn't make the All-Star team this year, and you likely won't find him on a 2020 All-NBA squad.

But if you ask Kendrick Perkins, the voters should re-evaluate their choices.

After Brown dropped 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting and played impressive defense against Raptors star Pascal Siakam in the Boston Celtics' 122-100 dismantling of Toronto on Friday night, Perkins went on NBC Sports Boston's "Celtics Postgame Live" to drop a spicy take.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

"Jaylen Brown, to me, is the best all-around shooting guard in the league," Perkins said. "Pure point blank."

Brown is enjoying a career season, averaging 20.6 points on 48.8 percent shooting with 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while continuing to play elite defense. The 23-year-old has been particularly hot of late, scoring 20 or more points in nine of Boston's last 10 games.

But is Perkins saying Brown is the best shooting guard in the NBA -- better than All-Stars like Bradley Beal and Devin Booker, not to mention MVP finalist James Harden?

Here's Perk's explanation:

He don't search for shots. He's not a high-volume scorer. But when you look up at the end of the night, he's got his 20 points on over 50 percent shooting. And he locks up the best guy every single night. You can't find that. And his playmaking is underrated. He's got a very high (basketball) IQ.

There are better scorers at the position -- including Harden, the NBA's most prolific scorer -- but you could argue Brown has become one of the league's strongest two-way shooting guards.

And Perkins very much would like to make that argument.

Perkins might take heat for declaring Brown the cream of the shooting guard crop, but his bold take shouldn't distract from the fact that the fourth-year wing is becoming an elite NBA player before our eyes.

Report: 76ers star Ben Simmons to leave NBA bubble for knee surgery

Report: 76ers star Ben Simmons to leave NBA bubble for knee surgery

Is the Philadelphia 76ers' worst-case scenario playing out?

All-Star guard Ben Simmons will leave the NBA bubble to undergo surgery on his left knee, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Saturday.

The procedure will "remove a loose body" from Simmons' knee, per Charania. The timetable for his recovery is unclear, but ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski suggested he'll at least miss the first round or two of the NBA playoffs.

Simmons injured his knee Wednesday during Philly's win over the Washington Wizards and was diagnosed with a subluxation of his left patella, or kneecap.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

His injury obviously has massive implications for the Sixers and the rest of the Eastern Conference -- particularly the Boston Celtics, who would match up with Philly in the first round if the season ended today.

Boston currently is the No. 3 seed in the East, while the Sixers are the No. 6 seed but have the same record as the No. 5 Indiana Pacers with four seeding games remaining.

Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, eight assists and a league-high 2.1 steals for Philly and is the team's best player outside big man Joel Embiid. His absence changes the entire dynamic of Philly's offense and makes the Sixers a much less formidable playoff opponent.