The Boston Celtics take on the Toronto Raptors on Monday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Here are three things to watch after the Raptors evened the series on Saturday with a 100-93 win.
- Brad Stevens often talks up his opponents, but you can always tell when he has an extra level of respect for a player or coach — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Erik Spoelstra, etc.
Kyle Lowry, it seems, has made Stevens’ list.
“I said going into this series that he’s an All-Star, but he might be the most underrated player in the league,” Stevens said. “I just think he’s a terrific defender, terrific leader, terrific effort player —
offensively he puts you in a bind by getting fouled, making tough shots. He does every little thing that helps teams win. Somehow he’s been under-appreciated. The more people watch him in these settings, the more he’s appreciated. He’s an amazing player, and certainly is a big engine for them.”
After a tough start to the series, Lowry may have been the best player on the floor in both Games 3 and 4 — he poured in 31 points in Game 3 and was a huge catalyst for Toronto on Saturday.
- The Celtics’ starters have struggled to score as a group in this series, falling behind early in the game and losing ground after halftime.
According to Stevens, those struggles start on the other end.
“I think the biggest thing is we have to defend better at the start of the first and third quarters,” Stevens said. “That’s something we’re paying close attention to for sure. And then that helps you get down the court, helps you get into space,
and then you get better looks. I thought we got good looks at the start of the third for sure, and in the first. It wasn’t bad, so we just have to keep playing the right way on offense and make it as tough as possible. But defensively we have to be better, especially in transition in those two quarters.”
- The Celtics are hoping to be a championship team, and becoming a championship team requires more than just talent. As Stevens noted, championship teams also need to be able to absorb a punch — or a pair of punches in this case — and swing back.
Boston has a chance to swing back against Toronto on Monday. The response will be immensely telling.
“One of the things we’ve talked a lot about is special groups — and if you want to be special, it’s only reserved for a few, right?” Stevens said. “Special groups have a great resiliency about them. They’re able to compartmentalize what went well, what didn’t go well, and say, ’I’m going to come back and be the best I can be, and realize it’s not going to be perfect. I realize this is part of competition, and being in this arena, and special is being able to get back off the mat.’
“That’s the fun part of it. To win a game against Toronto, you’re going to have to play your butt off and earn it. When we’re at our best it’s the same way against us. Ultimately this is just part of the fun. Resist all the stuff that doesn’t matter, don’t pay attention to that, pay attention to how we can be the best we can be, and just go out there and fight.”
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