A role model for the Celtics? The Raptors champions 2019

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When looking at NBA champions since 2000, it’s hard to find many teams built the way the 2022 Celtics did with two elite scorers and a collection of perfectly cast role players.

The Lakers in the early 2000s, of course, revolved around Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Spurs in the mid-2000s were centered around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Pistons had no real stars and were incredibly balanced.

The Miami Heat in 2006 had Dwyane Wade and O’Neal, the Celtics in 2008 had the Big Three, the Lakers had Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Mavericks had a real star in Dirk Nowitzki, the Heat had the Big Three, the Warriors were the Warriors, the Cavaliers had LeBron James and the Bucks had Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Almost every team outside of the Pistons had one of the following: a Big Three, a truly transcendent big man, James or Bryant, or a big, dynamic man-guard duo. The only one who relied on two elite wingers surrounded by the ideal mix of talents? The 2019 Raptors.

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s impossible. This Raptors team has proven that with a superstar in Kawhi Leonard, a star in Pascal Siakam, the right bits around them, a defensive identity and a few breaks along the way, anything is possible. If the Celtics continue to follow the same plan, it is possible that they will achieve the same result.

The composition of the roster

The matches aren’t perfect, but they’re damn close.

Jayson Tatum stars as Kawhi Leonard – the two-way superstar who, at the height of his powers, is essentially out of control. The alpha of the group, he wants to fire the last shot.

Jaylen Brown stars as Pascal Siakam – the #2 option who happily takes on the role and offers consistency, skill and athleticism. It’s not about who is better between Brown and Siakam (Brown is better) – it’s about how the pieces fit together and complement each other.

Philadelphia 76ers vs Boston Celtics at TD Garden

Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Marcus Smart stars as Kyle Lowry – the spunky veteran guard who plays tenacious defense, makes winning hustle plays, goes first and hits big shots when he needs it.

Robert Williams stars as Serge Ibaka – the defensive-minded center who protects the rim, excels at pick and roll and has terrific sense of the game.

Al Horford (or Daniel Theis when he’s there) plays Marc Gasol – the wily big man who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, anchoring the defense and setting his teammates up for success.

Derrick White stars as Fred VanVleet – the sixth man who provides a spark off the bench, is a defensive pest and helps the attack unfold better with his ball movement and scoring ability.

Grant Williams stars as Danny Green – the 3-and-D guy who stretches the floor, locks in elite players, and always ends up with a ridiculously high plus-minus.

Payton Pritchard stars as Norm Powell – the energetic, attacking goalscorer from the bench who isn’t afraid to let it fly.

The key is that everyone knows their role, agrees with their role, and thrives in their role.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics

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The identity of the team and the coach

The 2019 Raptors rebuilt a strong regular season and finished second in the East. Their offense has been explosive at times, but their defense has always been one of the best in the NBA. Sound familiar?

With a roster of Lowry, Green, Leonard, Siakam and Gasol, the Raptors were able to change just about everything, much like this Celtics team. The teams knew they had to win every bucket against Toronto, and nothing was easy, like it is in Boston.

The Raptors also had a strong mix of veterans and young players, with a few in their primes and a few entering their primes. There were no egos or off-court controversies, and all they wanted was to win.

Raptors first-year head coach Nick Nurse was a defensive genius, as was Celtics first-year head coach Ime Udoka, and both excel at maximizing their players’ strengths.

The path to the title

The Raptors dispatched the Magic in five games, then they outlasted the 76ers in seven thanks in large part to the fortuitous turnover on Leonard’s shot. They found a way past the top-seeded Bucks in six and knocked out the shorthanded Warriors in six.

It wasn’t a conventional path, but they survived the war of attrition and handled everything with poise and opportunism.

The Celtics could potentially face a similar path, with the Cavaliers or Raptors (ironically), Bucks or Bulls and Heat or 76ers. The sad reality is that injuries often play a role. While Chris Paul and Steph Curry are expected to return for the playoffs, they may not be themselves.

Only time will tell how this Celtics team fare, but to call them nothing short of contenders at this point is a disservice to everything they’ve achieved and how built they are.

The Raptors rode a dynamic wing pair and strong supporting cast to the title, and there’s no reason to think the Celtics can’t follow suit if a few breaks fall on them.


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