The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics swept their way through the first round of the NBA playoffs, so one of them will suffer their first postseason loss in Sunday's Game 1 of the conference semifinals.
Despite not having Kawhi Leonard in the fold, Toronto is proving it still has enough firepower to stage a gallant defense of their championship. However, Boston has the depth and hardened team mentality to knock the Raptors out.
Read on for the rest of abe Insights' Celtics-Raptors preview, wherein you'll find the best odds available, analysis of the primary betting lines, key stats to consider and more to aid your thought process before you throw down some wagers.
Date: Sunday, August 30
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Celtics 47%; Raptors 57%
Spread: TOR -2
Moneyline: BOS +115; TOR -133
Celtics point guard Kemba Walker hasn't really shown any ill effects from the knee injury that plagued him during the regular season. Unfortunately, Boston's playoff opener saw another injury setback, as All-Star Gordon Hayward sprained his ankle and left the bubble thereafter, although he plans to come back at some point.
Walker's counterpart Kyle Lowry left Toronto's close-out game against Brooklyn due to an ankle sprain and is questionable, so it's worth monitoring his status throughout the series. Lowry is a stout defender and emotional leader who was vital to the Raptors' title run.
33.7 vs. 34.0: Boston was mere percentage points behind Toronto for the league lead in opponents' 3-point field goal percentage during the regular season. The Raptors have maintained a similar level in the postseason (33.7%), but the Celtics were even better versus the 76ers (26.4%).
59.2 vs. 52.3: Toronto does have a huge edge in effective field goal percentage thus far in the playoffs, though. Only Utah is ahead of the Raptors in that category, whereas the C's rank 12th among 16 teams.
62.7 vs. 55.7: In addition to executing better on offense of late, during the 2019-20 campaign, Toronto ranked ninth in assist percentage, whereas the Celtics were just 26th. Ball movement and relying less on isolation may be key for the Raptors in what should be a series rife with stout defense.
Whether or not Lowry can play will go a long way in determining this one, but Fred VanVleet shouldn't be underestimated. The young guard has been mentored by Lowry and is coming into his own. VanVleet averaged 17.6 points per game in the regular season, and shot 39% from deep with 6.6 average assists and a turnover-to-dime ratio over 3-to-1.
The head-to-head battle with Raptors star Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum will be one to watch. They're two of the NBA's most improved players, and especially Tatum has garnered recognition as a legit, superstar-caliber player.
It is worth noting that the Celtics got the better of three out of four regular-season meetings, including on August 7 in the bubble when they won 122-100. That contest wasn't even that close, as Toronto outscored Boston 43-31 in the final quarter. The Raptors notched almost half their points during garbage time.
That's how downright scary the Celtics can be on defense, and it's not like they stepped up extra to elite competition. They managed only a 16-15 record against .500 or better opponents, while Toronto was 15-15 in such situations. Those marks make this series all the more difficult to forecast.
Lowry was brilliant against Boston during the 2019-20 campaign, averaging 21 points on shooting splits of 51.9/46.7/87.5. His potential absence definitely leaves more of a void for the favorites than Hayward's does for the C's — and they've played long stretches without him before.
The Raptors are deserving favorites, and in a contest that should be tight, their championship experience and collective improvement of multiple players without Kawhi should cause betting action to slightly favor Toronto's spread and moneyline.
Since these squads have elite defensive capabilities, even a faster pace of play should still result in numerous half-court sets, gritty possessions, and ultimately drive the better share of wagers toward the Under for total points.
Note: Odds current as of 8:15 a.m. ET on Sunday, August 30.
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