Toronto Raptors vs Boston Celtics
Line: Toronto -2
Pick: Raptors -2
Here’s the good news for Raptors fans, last season I went to a game three the Raptors were playing down 0-2 and watched them in dramatic fashion save their season in double overtime. Here’s the bad news, no Kawhi and no homecourt.
So, what is the big card Nick Nurse can play to swing this series?
Against the Bucks it was Kawhi on Giannis, here the answer isn’t as obvious. For starters, before anything tactical you just need better production from Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and basically everyone else this side of OG and Serge.
When I look at that list of big named Raptors who have sucked against Boston, the names that jump out are Lowry and Siakam.
For Lowry, he needs to throw it back to his earlier Raptor days and take advantage of the Kemba Walker matchup by forcing Walker into pick and roll defence and isolations. The reason I prefer Kyle in this matchup over Fred is Kyle is a far better finisher at the rim which is what I think you’ll need to take advantage of Kemba.
In terms of Siakam, for the love of god Nick, STOP POSTING UP PASCAL. He doesn’t have that in his game yet fully and right now it’s just setting him up to fail. What he does have, is an under-utilized pick and roll game that could be the series changing card.
As a ball handler, the Raptors have never really unlocked Pascal in the pick and roll. As a screener, a lineup that could finally allow the Raptors to get out and run is Siakam at the 5. His extra athleticism with him there and say OG at the four could push the pace back into Toronto’s favour.
Regardless of what I think they should do, game three is a must win if the Raptors want to stay in the bubble. 0-3 is a literal guaranteed death sentence in pro basketball and something they must avoid at all costs to even extend the series past five games.
Game two was better and I think this is the game Nurse finds something to fully swing the series. Remember Rockets Thunder game three where OKC finally looked like the team we expected?
This team is too good and too well coached to not have an OKC like moment in this series. I expect Thursday to produce just that for the Toronto Raptors.
Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Clippers
Line: Los Angeles -9
Pick: Clippers -9
Denver is a great, fun, young story for the NBA. The second round of the playoffs though isn’t about fun stories anymore.
It’s often where the true title contenders separate themselves from the fun regular season and early playoff subplots (see the Eastern Conference for reference). With that in mind, this is where the Clippers will prove to be the team we all expected.
For the first time in their tenure with this re-vamped roster, the Clippers saw real adversity against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. They could’ve folded but Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t them.
Leonard has once again asserted himself as the best player in the world for the second straight playoffs in 2020. Denver has exactly no one with a prayer in guarding him.
The same can be said for Paul George. Playoff P famously struggled against Dallas however in this matchup with the Nuggets, I expect him to use it to full advantage and roll into the conference finals.
As you can probably tell by now, I hate this matchup for Denver and love it for LA. The Clippers have the best player, a better coach and all the best matchups.
I don’t even see a way Jamal Murray can go nuclear in this series with the George and Leonard defensive cards ready to be played at any time.
Denver is exhausted, coming off a seven game marathon versus Utah. The Clippers meanwhile are battle tested and ready to roll.
If this series extends beyond five games I’ll be utterly shocked. Expect tonight to be a beat down much like the last time they played in February when the Clippers won by 29.