For the second straight year, the Celtics have won each of their first five playoff games.
However, they’ll now try avoid repeating what followed those five straight victories in 2019, which was four straight losses to the Milwaukee Bucks to eliminate the C’s in the second round.
After Sunday’s 112-94 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, All-Star forward Jayson Tatum was asked why he and his teammates are confident they won’t experience last year’s fate again.
“Man, we just won a game, do you have to bring last year up,” said Tatum, followed by a short laugh. “This is different, this is just a different environment, different team. Obviously, we remember we won the first five games of the playoffs last year and then we lost four in a row. But, you know, last year’s vibe and this is just different all-around. We know it’s not going to be easy, (Toronto) is the defending champs for a reason. We just got to take it one game at a time.”
Being together in the Walt Disney World bubble for the last two months seems to be having a positive impact on the C’s team chemistry.
“I believe in each and every one of those guys in that locker room,” Tatum said. “We’ve spent so much time together down here, putting in work every day. We come prepared.”
Starts with defense for Raptors
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had high praise for the Raptors before his team took the floor for Game 1.
The defending champions have proven to once again be potent on both ends of the floor, but particularly so on defense. During the regular season, Toronto was first in the NBA in points allowed per game (106.5), second in opponents’ field goal percentage (42.8) and second in opponents’ turnovers per game (16). Those impressive numbers have carried into the playoffs.
“They over-help and they have multiple efforts to get back,” Stevens said when asked what makes Toronto so strong defensively. “They don’t rely on always getting back to their own, they’ll scramble and rotate, they’ll always stay in plays with their effort. But when you drive the ball, there’s going to be hands in the gaps, there’s going to be long arms in the gaps, and every time you drive it you got to make sure you get rid of the ball on time. In this series, if you over-dribble, you’re in trouble.
“It’s just a very solid, tough, physical team, predicated on help, and they recover with great effort. Everybody can talk about their defense being good and playing with multiple efforts — Toronto is as good as they come at playing with multiple efforts. That’s why they can over-help. They over-help because they know they’re going to get back. It’s an impressive defensive team, it’s an impressive team overall.”
The Celtics overcame 22 turnovers to still easily win Game 1.
Raptors forward Serge Ibaka and Celtics center Daniel Theis got into a brief tussle that resulted in Ibaka being called for a flagrant foul with 7:43 left in the game.
The C’s were ahead, 96-78, at that point, so it may have been a result of frustration for Ibaka. Either way, Theis isn’t taking it personally.
“It’s the second round of the playoffs. It’s nothing dirty,” said Theis, who made both free throws after the foul. “It’s a fight out there, the whole game we played physical. There’s no bad feeling or anything, it’s just one game.
“Every team wants to compete, every team wants to win. That’s what you expect from a series with Toronto and Boston.
Raptors all-star guard Kyle Lowry, whose status had been uncertain for the game because of a sprained left ankle, started Game 1 and had a team-high 17 points to go with eight assists in 35 minutes.