Celtics Insider

Blakely: Have C's pushed Raps to brink of extinction?

Celtics Insider
Raptors' Pascal Siakam, Celtics' Kemba Walker

With the Boston Celtics holding a commanding 2-0 series lead over Toronto, it’s clear the Raptors have to make some changes. 

Doug Smith, longtime Toronto Raptors beat writer for the Toronto Star, has an idea. 

“I’d start Serge (Ibaka) over (Marc) Gasol,” Smith said on the Celtics Talk Podcast. 

While that certainly would provide a jolt offensively to the Toronto starting lineup, it also means Gasol would come off the bench and be matched up with Robert Williams III, who has been among the most productive backups in this series. 

After having scored a total of six points in his first 12 playoff games, Williams has tallied double figures in each of his last two games. 

Having the uber-athletic Williams matched up with the slower-footed Gasol might be a big enough caution flag for Toronto head coach Nick Nurse to bypass making that change and look to make another adjustment elsewhere. 

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But as Smith pointed out, the Raptors are the defending NBA champions and won it all in part by displaying an elite level of mental toughness when adversity struck - similar to the hole they now find themselves in.

And while Smith still thinks this best-of-seven series has “a little bit of juice” left to it, the only way this can become a series again is if Toronto addresses its thirst for success with a Game 3 win.

“They do have that mental resiliency,” said Smith, who added, “I think they can (make it a series again) but these are odd and strange times."

 

He added, “if they lose on Thursday (in Game 3), you might as well get the plane there Friday noon because they’ll be home by Sunday morning.”

 Celtics Talk Podcast: Raptors reeling; are C's title contenders? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

One of the biggest surprises for Smith and the Raptors has been the scoring of Marcus Smart.

An all-NBA Defensive First Team member a year ago, it has been Smart’s shooting that has factored heavily in Boston’s 2-0 series lead which is part of a flawless 6-0 record in the playoffs.

In the two games against the Raptors, Smart is averaging 20.0 points on 52.2 shooting from the field and 55 percent shooting (11-for-20) from 3-point range.

“Marcus Smart turned into Larry Bird, which was kind of an unexpected thing in game 2,” quipped Smith, who added that Nurse had said prior to the series that Smart was a bit of a wild card. “And now the wild card is an ace. And you hope it’s a two and it hasn’t been.”

If that continues, this series will be over and Toronto’s reign in the NBA will be a short-lived one.

And for Smith, that would mean the Celtics would be on their way to a return to the NBA Finals.

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While Milwaukee had the best record in the NBA this season, Smith feels the Miami Heat will win that series before losing to either the Celtics or the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

"They are a great team," Smith said. "I’m not sure they can make the necessary adjustments in a seven-game series to win it. There's just something about the Bucks … I don’t think they’re tough enough. I don’t think they are mentally tough enough to beat Boston or Toronto or Miami." 

But for now, much of the attention in the East is on the Celtics-Raptors series that's only two games in and already at a pivotal turning point for the defending NBA champion Raptors, who are in a world of trouble right now. 

“They (Raptors) have to do something to juice everybody, different matchups, different looks,” Smith said. “Because what they are doing now ain’t working.”