The Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics have the longest and second-longest active playoff streaks in the Eastern Conference, respectively, and meet in the playoffs for the first time. Both teams are built on defence and both rosters feature 10 international players, including four of African descent. Who you got?
Amine El Amri: After sweeping past their opponents in the first round, the Raptors and Celtics are off to a very exciting second round. Everything in this matchup promises some great basketball, but the Raptors seem to have a slight advantage over the Celtics.
Defensively, the Northmen can count on various and effective means to protect the rim, whether from the heights of Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam, or from the dexterity of Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. The latter is a game changer and, if physically fit, can hurt the Celtics most. On the other hand, the Celtics can rely on their fantastic trio of Tatum-Walker-Brown, although the bench still lacks experience.
The Raptors’ bench is one of the best in the league and the substitute players give the team yet another round of efficiency. Last, but not least, the Toronto Raptors are the defending champions and I think they owe it much more to the group than to Kawhi Leonard. This might provide additional motivation to an already confident basketball team.
Nicasius Agwanda: This series is the most interesting of all. I was inclined to choose the Raptors, with the feeling that they’re relatable to most of us in Africa, but the Boston Celtics are a different animal in the bubble that most people don’t talk about. The Raptors will need much from Siakam, but he is now facing probably his biggest challenge playing opposite Jaylen Brown, who can well defend any position. As the great Charles Barkley said “Siakam has to embrace the Batman role now as he’s no longer the Robin behind Kahwi.”
The other battle is the coaches. Brad Stevens is a name t most people have tried to overlook for some years, but he can really coach. Nick Nurse is the tactician and the newly crowned coach of the year. Nurse should find a way to make Siakam play well and understand how to keep free from fouls. On the other hand, Brad Stevens knows who he has on his team: the best perimeter defenders in the Eastern Conference. I feel like Boston has an edge on this one; still, Toronto are the reigning champions and know what needs to be done.
Refiloe Seiboko: Raptors. Don’t doubt the champs! They’ve got championship pedigree now and have really not slowed down this season, even in the restart. Much has been made about their defence, appropriately so, and the Celtics have good defense as well, but the Celtics don’t have veteran defenders like Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Overall, there’s enough in this series to make it a fairly equally yoked battle.
Rotimi Akindele: Interestingly, calling this would be pretty tough given the runs exhibited by both teams so far this season, but I might just be tempted to go with the Celtics. Boston won three of four games against the Raptors during the regular season, and that also includes a win in the bubble.
The rosters look rich on both sides. Jayson Tatum was very big in the first-round games against the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 27 points a game in the sweep. On the other hand, the Raptors also swept past the Brooklyn Nets, with VanVleet averaging 21.3 points a game alongside Siakam (20.8 points a game).
There is definitely more pressure on Kemba Walker, Tatum and Brown to deliver in the absence of Gordon Hayward. Whatever happens, I think the Raptors will have overachieved in different ways this season, even if they lose out.
Woury Diallo, Le Quotidien (Senegal): I think the defending champions have a slight advantage. On the opposite side, there are very good individuals with Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, but the Raptors’ collective should be able to make a difference. They were one of the best teams at the end of the regular season.
The Raptors will count on Lowry, who returned from an ankle injury for game one. In addition to Siakam, Norman Powell and the others, the defending champions have a chance to emerge victorious from this duel. On the other hand, as a Senegalese, I look forward to watching Tacko Fall, who is in his first year in the NBA. I want him to go as far as possible in this year’s adventure with the Celtics.
Every week the African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent answering some pressing questions related to the NBA Playoffs.
Contributors are as follows: Refiloe Seiboko, Mail & Guardian (South Africa), Amine El Amri, Le Matin (Morocco), Njie Enow, Cameroon Radio TV (Cameroon), Sharon Allela, Capital FM (Kenya), Rotimi Akindele, Beat FM (Nigeria), Nicasius Agwanda, Clouds Media (Tanzania) and Woury Diallo, Le Quotidien (Senegal).
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