LAKE BUENA VISA, Fla. — The Toronto Raptors’ second-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics has come down to just one game.
But after a thriller that took double overtime to decide, Friday’s do-or-die Game 7 might come down to which team has the most left in the tank.
Kyle Lowry poured in 33 points, including a key fadeaway jumper in the dying seconds, and the Raptors edged the Celtics 125-122 in double overtime on Wednesday to even up the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals at three games apiece.
Friday’s winner will meet the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
Norman Powell had 23 points off the bench for the Raptors and was outstanding in overtime. Fred VanVleet added 21 points in Toronto’s most balanced attack of the series. OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka, who’d been questionable after spraining his ankle in Game 5, each finished with 13 points, while Pascal Siakam chipped in with 12.
Jaylen Brown led Boston with 31 points, while Jayson Tatum added 29.
The Raptors’ cold shooting down the stretch of regulation forced overtime with a 98-98 score.
Walker and Norman Powell traded three-pointers in the nail biting first extra period. A pair of Powell free throws gave Toronto a two-point cushion before Brown had two free throws to even the score at 106-106 with 18.9 seconds on the clock. Powell missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, forcing a second overtime.
Dunks by Tatum and Daniel Theis had Boston up by four when Lowry muscled to the basket to slice the difference to two. A crazy sequence that started with a Lowry steal finished with a pair of Powell free throws to even it up with 2:33 to play.
Anunoby connected from three, then Powell had a steal and a running layup to give Toronto four points of breathing room with 38.8 seconds left. Tatum scored, but Lowry replied with a spectacular fadeaway with 11.7 seconds on the clock. Tatum drilled a three, but Powell’s free throws with five seconds left secured the victory.
The Raptors trailed by more than 12 points in the first half, but their offence finally started rolling in the third quarter sparked by Gasol. The Spanish big man, who’d shaved his shaggy hair before the game, blocked Tatum, then knocked down consecutive three-pointers — his first points from behind the arc in the series.
VanVleet’s personal 9-0 run — three free throws after a Flagrant 1 foul against Marcus Smart, then consecutive three-pointers — gave the Raptors their first lead since the 1-0 to start the game. Toronto would lead by as many as eight before taking a 81-77 edge into the fourth quarter.
Boston regained the lead after Tatum made a three with 8:22 to play, but Lowry replied with two buckets from long range and Toronto was back up by five.
The Raptors didn’t score over the final 4:24 of regulation, and Theis scored on a layup and dunk to tie the game at 98-98 with two minutes to go. The Raptors’ defence held strong over the final two minutes, and Anunoby hauled down a huge defensive rebound with 2.6 seconds left. Siakam’s miss at the buzzer sent the game to OT.
Gasol’s emergence — finally — was a great sign for Toronto. He and Siakam had struggled since the NBA’s restart after the four-month COVID-19 layoff. His frustration was painfully clear early on Wednesday when he missed an easy lay-in early. He hollered at himself in anger and tugged hard on his jersey. Subbed off for Ibaka just seven minutes in, he then left the bench area to gather himself.
Boston took Games 1 and 2 of the series, and the Raptors battled back to take the next two sparked by Anunoby’s astonishing buzzer-beater with 0.5 seconds to play in Game 3.
But the Celtics regained the momentum with a dominant Game 5 victory, pouncing on a Raptors team in one of Toronto’s worst games of the season.
A fast start had been key to every game between these two teams this season.
“I’ll be honest with you, I can’t believe how important the first eight to 10 minutes seem,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before tipoff. ”I almost can’t even fathom it. I’m trying to not put it all on that, I think there’s so much more game to play, right? But you look at the four times we’ve lost to these guys (since the restart), it’s looked identical. It’s 25 to 10 or 35 to 18 or whatever at the end of one for whatever… a million reasons.”
The Raptors came out with that urgency Nurse wanted on Wednesday. But their three-point shooting woes continued. They went just 2-for-9 from distance in the first quarter. Boston’s shooting wasn’t much better though, and the Celtics led just 25-21 to start the second.
Boston stretched their lead to 12 in the second, but Ibaka connected on three consecutive three-pointers to pull the Raptors back to within five. The Celtics led 52-48 at halftime.
This article by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2020.
The Canadian Press