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NBA Playoff Series Betting Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors 


Eastern Conference contenders Boston and Toronto wasted no time setting up this much-anticipated second-round matchup. Both the Celtics and Raptors swept their first round opponents and will meet for Game 1 on Thursday evening. Let’s take a look at the series price and the opening lines for Game 1, and see if there’s some value to be had. 

These two Atlantic Division foes have arguably been the best teams in all of basketball since the restart. Boston posted a 2nd best net rating of +8.3 in the seeding round, going 6-2 SU, but only 4-4 ATS. The Raptors went 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS. No team came into the bubble more focused than the Raptors, who are once again determined to fight against what they still perceive to be a lack of respect in the basketball world. The 2019 NBA Champions posted a higher winning percentage and net rating this season, despite being somewhat written off when Kawhi Leonard departed for Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Celtics, buoyed by breakout seasons from young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, have also exceeded expectations, and completely rediscovered their strong chemistry following the departure of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. The bookmakers like the Raptors, reflected by a series price that lists Boston at +130 and Toronto at -150. The opening line for Game 1 is Toronto -2. 

There’s plenty of reason to like Toronto. The Raptors possess an incredible team cohesion on both ends of the floor, bolstered by world-class head coach Nick Nurse and a great degree of familiarity and continuity of both personnel and scheme. Plus, the Raptors are that rarest of breed: A team that seems to be playing with an element of revenge despite being the defending champs. The Raptors can use anything and everything for motivation, and that can be very difficult to combat. The team play is exemplified on the offensive end, as the Raptors move the ball much better than the Celtics. Toronto ranks 9th in the league with an AST% of 62.7%, while the Celtics rank only 26th at 55.7%. This could be critical in a series that features two of the top four defenses in the NBA.  

Also, the Raptors are clearly very comfortable shooting the ball in the bubble gyms. Toronto shot a spectacular 43.3% from beyond-the-arc on 41.0 attempts in the four-game romp over Brooklyn. The Raptors also connected on 39.1% of shots from distance in the seeding round.  

On defense, the Raptors have solid wing defenders Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to try to blunt the offensive brilliance of Boston’s Jayson Tatum. Tatum struggled against the Raptors in three regular season. He averaged only 16.6 PPG on 16-of-47 shooting. However, it should be noted that these games all took place before the end of 2019, before Tatum really took a leap. In the seeding round matchup, Tatum scored 18 points on 50% from the field.  

It’s that 122-100 victory for the Celtics on August 7 that does raise some questions for the Raptors that will likely reappear during this series. The Raptors were certainly not lacking for effort on the night, as evidence by a grinding, halting first quarter in which the two teams combined for only 35 points. However, Toronto was absolutely decimated in the second and third quarters. At one point, Boston led Toronto by 40 points. Jaylen Brown was a force, as he has been all season against the Raptors. With extra attention likely put on Jayson Tatum, Brown will be called upon to continue his excellent play against an opponent he has had great success against. He and Marcus Smart have also been pretty effective limiting the efficiency of Fred VanVleet, who averaged 21.3 PPG in the sweep of the Nets. If VanVleet cannot score consistently, and Kyle Lowry, who sprained his ankle in Game 4 against Brooklyn, misses time or is at less than full health, Boston should be able to have some success on defense.  

Rebounding has been a massive factor in the four games between these two teams this season. Boston went 3-1 SU and ATS against the Raptors, and the victor won the rebounding battle in each game by at least 9. Boston has the advantage here, particularly on the offensive glass. The Celtics rank fifth in the league in Offensive Rebounding Rate, while the Raptors come in at 24th. Extra possessions could be the difference in such a tight series. 

Just as there’s little to choose between these two teams, the coaching matchup provides no real advantage either way. Simply put, these are two of the best in the business. Brad Stevens and Nick Nurse are both expert at adjusting scheme and tweaking rotations. Both coaches continue to make changes even after winning games, so as to keep opponents off-kilter. This will be a truly fascinating battle by two of basketball’s brightest minds. One thing to look for is Stevens sprinkling in some zone defense against Toronto. The Raptors rank last in the NBA on offense when facing the zone, scoring only 0.78 PPP. The Celtics, meanwhile rank first in the league in zone defense, giving up only 0.78 PPP. If Stevens can employ this at some key junctures, it could be a factor. 

These two teams are neck-and-neck and should provide fans and bettors with a long an exciting series. However, the value here seems to be on Boston to win the series at +130, and getting the two points in Game 1.