Raptors v Celtics - Game 6 Preview

by Chris O'Leary

Depending on how your team is doing, it’s either a perk or a quirk of the bubble life. 

Fred VanVleet was just out of practice on Tuesday, answering a question about the Boston Celtics when who else happened to walk by, listening to what he was saying about them. 

The Raptors’ guard was asked if that will ever feel normal for him. 

“I hope not,” he said, getting laughs from the people around him. 

“Personally speaking from what I know, I like the guys but right now I hate them. I don't want to see them. I don't want to look at them. I don't want to talk to them. So yes, it’s a little weird but this is where we're at.” 

Trailing 3-2 in their series against the Celtics, their season on the line on Wednesday night, is not where the Raptors wanted to be at, but it’s something they have to deal with and figure out. 

Here are some keys to evening up this series one last time, as the Raps look to force a Game 7. 

A possible test for the reserve bigs 

Serge Ibaka emerged from practice on Tuesday morning wearing an ankle boot, which was the first thing he was asked about when the reporters in Florida saw him. 

Ibaka said he twisted his ankle during Game 5 and that he’d have to see how he was feeling when he wakes up Wednesday for Game 6. The team officially ruled him questionable for the game after he spoke with the media. 

“We’ll wait and see, but like always we’ll just go to the next guy,” Nurse said of Ibaka’s situation. 

“We've obviously played Chris Boucher some in the series. It could be Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson), it could be somebody else. Same as always, if he's there we play him and I think there's a good chance of that. If he's not, then we'll move on to the next guy and see if we can get them ready to go.” 

And about that starting big…

Raps’ centre Marc Gasol struggled in Game 5, recording his first zero-point outing of the series on 0-4 shooting in 14 minutes. 

“We don't need a ton. It's not like we need 25 from him but we need him to chip in with some (offence) just because there are opportunities there for him,” Nurse said. “We need both him and Pascal to provide some offensive punch for us. That's when we're at our best and we need to be at our best to win a game here.” 

In the Raptors’ two wins in this series, Gasol’s offence wasn’t there as much as Nurse would have liked (10 points in Game 3, just four in Game 4), but he found other ways to contribute. He had six rebounds and three assists in Game 3 and five assists before fouling out of Game 4. Some of that three-point touch and more of the defensive toughness he’s shown through his time in Toronto and through his career would be a huge help, especially if Ibaka is limited in any way in Game 6. 

Get Pascal Spicy 

Nurse said after the Game 5 loss that Pascal Siakam hasn’t found a rhythm yet in the bubble, but there was still time. With the Raptors’ backs against the wall, the time is now. Siakam has tried just about everything with his three-point shot. He shied away from it when it wasn’t there in the first three games in the series, then tried to shoot himself out of his slump in Game 4, going 2-13. That’s been his best game of the series, though (he had 23 points and 11 boards) and it stemmed from his inside-outside work, taking advantage of Jaylen Brown in the post. 

“We've got to make a more concerted effort to find him and get him (the ball) in better spots,” VanVleet said, adding that he and Kyle Lowry have been looking for him, but the momentum that Lowry had at the starts of Games 3 and 4 set a different tone for them those nights. 

“If we need to get him going earlier in the game, then so be it.” 

The bounceback team 

One sign for hope that’s emerged with this team over the last two years is that it has handled adversity well and responded from difficult moments. In just this series, you can look at the recovery from the 0-2 deficit to the Celtics. Last year, of course, there was the 0-2 deficit against the Milwaukee Bucks that was erased. The Raptors responded to a disappointing Game 6 loss against Philly with a miraculous finish to Game 7 and even in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, after a troubling Game 1 loss to Orlando, the Raptors responded with the four consecutive wins that were expected of them. 

“If we come with the right mindset and energy and mentality then it's a good game,” Nurse said.

“We've kind of not shown up for two of the games in this series and the other three, two of them went to the buzzer each way really. If we bring that desperation mentality, or just what we should be bringing them, it should be a heck of a game and we’ll give ourselves a chance.” 

The make and miss factor 

VanVleet put it perfectly in the aftermath of Game 5: Not making shots on one end and not getting stops on the other end is a recipe to be down by 30. This is the most simple analysis anyone can give in basketball, but you have to make shots -- an 11-point first quarter is not the way to get your game started -- and you have to make stops defensively to have a shot at winning a playoff game. A strong start to Game 6 is a must. Kyle Lowry said he’d be more aggressive in Game 6, as he was in Games 3 and 4, but there’s also an opportunity for a number of players to step in and be a part of that drive. Siakam, Gasol, some long-range touch from VanVleet early, all of it would make a world of difference in a must-win game. 

The Raptors seem confident in their ability to do that. Every player on camera after Game 5 and after Tuesday’s practice seemed upbeat and like they’d left the sour taste of the loss behind them. 

“It’s not hard at this time of the year. You’re playing every other day and your season depends on it. So 3-2 you don’t really have time to look back,” VanVleet said. “You sit in it, it should hurt, it should sting, you should be disappointed, you should be pissed off but all of your focus and energy has to go into Game 6. 

“We’ve just got to get one. That’s our main focus right now, is locking in on Game 6 and coming out with a win because our season depends on it. It’s not really that hard. Short-term memory, we’ve been through the playoffs, we know the ups and downs and what it takes.” 

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