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GAMBLING AGAINST GREATNESS: CELTICS TRY TO FINALLY FINISH OFF THE RAPTORS WHILE THE CLIPPERS LOOK TO PUSH THE NUGGETS TO THE BRINK

@The Will Baldwin

Toronto Raptors vs Boston Celtics

Line: Boston -3.5

Pick: Raptors +3.5

All season long, there has been something special about this iteration of the Toronto Raptors. Time and again with their backs against the wall, the team has refused to give in so why should tonight be any different?

Sure you could argue if Kemba Walker remains aggressive like he was in game five or if Jaylen Brown continues to shoot it well, the Celtics are just the better team. On face value you wouldn’t be wrong and frankly, your point is full of the logic I normally pride myself in thinking with.

However, this Raptors team isn’t logical.

They defy convention with how they dominate adversity. The whole world is telling them they may as well pack their bags and leave the bubble. This exact moment of mass thought against them is exactly what this team lives for.

Nick Nurse has used seemingly every card in his hand at this point of the series. He played the final one after game five when he called out All-Star forward Pascal Siakam for not being an All-Star level player since he arrived in the bubble. It was Nurse’s final calculated move he could play.

The one to push his star into being one again.

The first half of game five was an embarrassment for Siakam. As the team fell further and further behind, he disappeared further and further into the shadows. By half he had taken just 3 shots despite playing over 20 minutes. Moments like that aren’t acceptable.

It’s no coincidence the team won game four when he took 23 shots. Sure he was 2-13 from three but at least he pressed the action on Boston. If the Raptors are going to win tonight, they need that aggressive version of Siakam.

The rest of the roster just needs to be better. Fred VanVleet’s shooting has been anemic, Marc Gasol looks afraid to shoot and Norman Powell is playing like one of the Monstars took his skillset.

There’s no more chances or excuses. It’s now or never.

My confidence in this team remains high because I know how much they thrive on everyone being against them. Down 3-2 against a better team is what they were made for. I’m not sure if they’d win a game seven or maybe even necessarily this one.

But I’m sure they will play one of their best games of the season tonight. Whether Boston as a young team is ready for it or not is something I doubt. Give me the Raptors to shock the world one more time.

It’s just what they do.

Los Angeles Clippers vs Denver Nuggets

Line: Los Angeles -8

Pick: Clippers -8

For the first time in this series, Vegas has moved the line off of -9, a testament to the Nuggets and how competitive they’ve been. The fact it’s still -8 though tells you something Vegas thinks that I agree with, this Clippers team is markedly better than this Nuggets one.

That fourth quarter of game three, the Clippers showed the world who they really are. With the Nuggets up 7, they felt teetering on the brink of disaster.

Then they tightened up to the team many of us expected them to be all season. We saw the incredible power of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard defensively on the wing. Ivica Zubac even found a way to make Nikola Jokic work for buckets in a way few can.

Even when Zubac fouled out, Montrezl Harrell came back in and reminded us just how deep this team is. Kawhi shot it terribly, Lou Williams continues to be off and still they keep finding a way to win.

It feels like only a matter of time until they put it all together.

What’s worrisome is they haven’t quite done it yet so until it happens we can’t guarantee anything. But, regardless of if it has happened yet or not, it has become factually obvious this is the team with far and away the highest ceiling in the playoffs.

The Lakers role players have produced well against the Rockets but they remain a series of unproven names. LA’s other team has the reigning sixth man as the fourth option down the stretch in a lineup that also features the Morris twin that shot 40.8% from three this season as the fifth best player!

Jamal Murray struggled being guarded by George in game three and who can blame him. George is the ideal defender for the league’s best guards and Murray is no exception.

Denver clearly has something with Jokic, Murray and Michael Porter Jr and the rest of the core brewing soon. It just feels about a year early right now which is why I’ll take the Clippers to win and cover tonight.

Usually the better team takes game four for a stranglehold in the series and that’s what I expect to play out tonight.

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