Toronto Raptors second round preview: Breaking down matchup vs. Celtics

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics and OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics and OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors Brad Stevens
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens against the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

The coaches

Fresh off earning well-deserved NBA Coach of the Year honours, Nurse now faces down perhaps the best bench boss currently in the NBA to have never won the award.

After a spell at Butler University where he rewrote the Indiana basketball powerhouse’s record books, Stevens quickly made a name for himself in the NBA when he joined the Celtics in 2013 with masterful timeout usage and creative inbound plays. A coach’s coach who takes pride in detail and innovation, Stevens has established himself as somewhat of a savant, and is highly thought of around the league.

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Given Stevens’ mastery of the whiteboard and the legacy of winning in Boston, it comes as somewhat of a surprise this far into his tenure that the Celtics haven’t made a finals appearance with him as their coach. A scrappy team led by Terry Rozier and Isaiah Thomas took the Celtics to the conference finals in 2016-17, only to fall in five games to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.

The following year, Boston made it back to the conference finals and pushed Cleveland to seven games. James won out again however.

Last season, there was no playoff magic left. With Kyrie Irving in the fold and healthy for the playoffs, the C’s swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round. After winning Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, former Celtic great Paul Pierce infamously claimed that the series was “over.” The Celtics failed to win another game in the series, and Irving ditched Boston for Brooklyn in the offseason.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge found a more than adequate replacement for Irving in “Cardiac Kemba,” and with the emergence of Tatum, Coach Stevens now has the best arsenal of weapons he’s had in his time in Boston. An elite tactician and out-of-the-box thinker, Stevens’ Celtics teams will always be alert, malleable and quick to adjust.

Unfortunately for Bay Staters, so will Nurse’s Raptors. There’s no way to describe Nurse other than a complete wild card.

Liable to dial up any defensive scheme or offensive strategy at any time, the mind of the former British Basketball League coach never switches off. This was evident with his box-and-one defence that befell the Golden State Warriors in the Finals last year, and his radical lineup shifting that salted away Game 4.

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Of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams, the Boston Celtics are the only group the Toronto Raptors have never defeated in a playoff series. They’ll try and change that in the second round of NBA bubble playoff action.