The Raptors’ struggles to defend in the fourth came after an elite two quarters of defence in which the Celtics averaged less than 0.9 points per possession. Toronto was once again staying aggressive to force turnovers, and while Boston had a free-throw edge, it had begun to erode. To take that control of the game with their defence, though, they rode their starters heavily in the third quarter. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby played the entire frame, with Lowry only getting a reprieve late. Other than Marc Gasol, who picked up his fifth foul early, the Raptors mostly rode their starters. It’s fine, to a degree. Nurse likes to lean on baseball-isms, and you don’t want to save your closer for a save situation that doesn’t come. The Raptors needed to take advantage of the run they were on, and it wasn’t until Lowry hit the bench with a 12-point lead that things began tumbling off the rails.
Some of it might have been due to fatigue. Siakam, who struggled to close things out on offence in the fourth quarter, played the entire second half. VanVleet played almost the entirety of it, too, getting only a quick breather when Lowry returned in the fourth. And when Lowry did return, he did so to a lead that was almost entirely erased, the VanVleet-Siakam duo proving unable to anchor a bench unit with an ineffective Norman Powell, a tiring Serge Ibaka (who’d entered earlier than usual because of Gasol’s foul trouble) and Chris Boucher, who provided a decent first-half spark but has often been at a loss for a role in the offence when not tethered to Lowry or playing opposing benches.
Of course, not a lot of that matters if Smart doesn’t bang in five 3s — plus an and-1 — over 184 seconds of play. No lineup is going to stand up to that kind of hot shooting. The offensive struggles of that group — four points over nearly four minutes — exacerbated things.
It left the Raptors in a tough position for the game’s final eight minutes or so. The idea of momentum is a hard thing to navigate, but we can at least acknowledge that there is a potential mental toll to blowing a lead late, especially when already trailing in the series. Add to that the physical toll of having only four players, really, whom Nurse wanted on the floor, all of whom were struggling offensively (except for Anunoby), and the margins for error become slim.
One — Heartbreaker: This one hurts, no matter how you slice it. The Raptors bounced back after a disaster in Game 1 and had control with an eight-point lead heading into the fourth. However, that advantage was quickly erased by Marcus Smart of all people, who reeled off five-straight threes, including a four-point play to get the Celtics ahead when they had nothing else going. Toronto clawed to remain in striking distance, but Pascal Siakam stepped out of bounds, then Fred VanVleet’s desperate heave was way off at the final buzzer. There has been so much talk all season about “championship experience” and this is where it needs to show for the Raptors. Having been sucker-punched, can they respond?
It was a clear chance for the Raptors to put themselves in a very good position going into the fourth quarter, if not put the game away. Instead: Kyle Lowry clanked a 3-pointer in transition, the type of shot usually reserved for when a player is in the flow. Siakam grabbed the offensive rebound but spent most of the ensuing 14 seconds backing down a defender to little avail, before shooting a contested fadeaway. Another miss.
The bricks piled up from there. There were different sorts of possessions, but nothing with the ball reaching the weak side. In all, the Raptors went 0-for-7 in the final 150 seconds of the third quarter, and the lead was eight instead of 12 or 14. The Celtics used that as a springboard for their huge fourth quarter, when Smart and Kemba Walker took over, as the Celtics took a 2-0 lead in the series with a 102-99 win.
“At one end the guy’s making contested 3s, and (at) the other end the 3s aren’t going that were probably more open than they were at the other end,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Then the ball doesn’t bounce our way a couple times, and you end up losing a tough one.”
After the Smart play, the Raptors shot 5-for-28 from the field and 1-for 13 from deep. The Celtics went 11-for-23 and 7-for-14. It was very much a make-or-miss game, especially considering the difficulty of the shots Smart made at the start of the quarter. From that point on, Smart and Walker combined to shoot 9-for-13, and Lowry and VanVleet shot 2-for-13. Some of that is plain bad luck, natural variance, or whatever you want to call it. This was exactly the type of game that should have been expected between two teams matched this evenly, and the Celtics made more shots. In isolation, it was a 50-50 game that went the wrong way. It happens.
“My jump shot, my 3s aren’t falling,” said Lowry, who went 0-for-7 from 3. Combined with VanVleet, the Raptors backcourt shot 3-for-19 from long range. “(I) just (need) to try to get some type of feel for it, you know. I think my shots feel good, but you want to see them go in a little bit more. You want to see them go through the basket, and for me, just get a little bit of a rhythm. Just — I haven’t shot the ball extremely well. And I know I can shoot.
However, the reality is that Lowry and VanVleet are small guards without much athleticism, and the Celtics’ combination of Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum means there will be a lot of long arms contesting their shots, from 3-point territory or in the paint. Both Raptors guards used the “Nash” — dribbling underneath the basket and out the other side — just to make the defence move, and perhaps to get a different view. Not only are clean looks at the rim hard to come by, but so too are cross-court passes, the type the bigger Tatum threw repeatedly in the fourth quarter.
The game was hard-fought from the start, but just when the Raptors finally managed to separate themselves in the third quarter, the Celtics were gifted five straight threes — the last one a four-point play — by Smart in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, which wiped out a promising eight-point lead to start the period. The Celtics led 86-85 with just under eight minutes to play.
These things happen.
“I mean it sucks,” said Lowry. “He made five shots, you know, he’s a pro, you know you got five looks and got [an] and-one on one. He got hot and we didn’t cool him off.”
But it was what happened after which is cause for concern.
Toronto kept scrapping and clawing. They kept a lid on the Celtics for the most part, forced some turnovers and grabbed some offensive rebounds and were able to get to the free-throw line a few times, too.
But they struggled to create anything easy. They didn’t have Leonard bulling his way into the paint and pulling up for a fadeaway at the end of the clock. The Raptors shot 5-of-21 from the floor in the fourth and that might have been flattering.
Siakam not worried about shooting, able to ‘live with the results’
At the key moment they had Siakam — who finished 6-of-16 from the floor and is now 16-of-37 (34 per cent) in his last three games against Boston — trying to score in isolation against the Celtics’ Smart, one of the toughest and most resourceful defenders in the NBA.
It didn’t go well.
Siakam drove left with 36 seconds left and Toronto trailing by three, only to have Smart strip the ball. The Raptors retained possession and ran a play to get Siakam an open look in the corner, but Siakam stepped out of bounds and the game was pretty much decided, save for a desperate game-tying effort from the three from VanVleet that fell short.
Tatum drew another crowd on Boston’s ensuing possession and, as soon as VanVleet cheated his way, he flipped the ball to Smart on the other side of the floor. VanVleet actually did a nice job scrambling back and Smart had to take a one-dribble side-step before splashing his third triple in 73 seconds.
Brad Stevens talked after the game about how the Celtics implored Tatum to make quick decisions during Tuesday’s game. That helped put Tatum in attack mode and aided him in piling up free-throw attempts when Toronto was too aggressive trying to stop his drives.
“They’re a great defensive team, so you can’t dance and play with the ball,” said Tatum. “They’ve got good defenders and they play great team defense, so you’ve just got to make quick decisions and play with some pace.”
Tatum finished with four of Boston’s six assists in the final frame. While his scoring prowess is often spotlighted, it’s the complete nature of Tatum’s game that has pushed him to a new echelon among Eastern Conference stars.
Tatum is turning into the complete package. As defenses make it a priority to try to slow him down, Tatum is making better reads and more often spraying the ball to teammates for open looks.
Tatum, with a hefty usage rate this postseason, has seen his assist percentage spike. Tatum got a little sloppy with the ball on Tuesday night but his turnover percentage has plummeted compared to his early playoff appearances.
The Celtics own an offensive rating of 115.7 when Tatum is on the court in the postseason (and a team-best net rating of plus-17.5 overall, among regulars). Those numbers plummet to an offensive rating of 108.2 with a net rating of minus-0.6 when Tatum is off the court.
On a night where Kemba Walker struggled early and before Smart caught fire, Tatum carried Boston’s offense. He probed around the court early, making a tough fadeaway over Marc Gasol in a low-clock situation, but it was the pull-up 3-pointer that was his weapon of choice.
Where did the Celtics turn when things started to go Toronto’s way?
None other than the heart and soul of the team – Marcus Smart (19 points, 6 3-pointers). With the Celtics down 8 points early in the fourth, Tatum found Smart three straight times for 3-pointers for a massive momentum shift. Two possessions later? Another 3-pointer. How did he follow that up? ANOTHER 3-POINTER PLUS THE FOUL. Winning plays all over the place. I may or may not have started frothing out the mouth after the fourth shot.
Once Boston took the lead, despite Toronto’s best efforts (and an egregious technical foul foul call on Tatum), they were able to hang on after a dagger step back jumper from Kemba Walker (17 points) who was able to shake his disastrous start to help put away the defending champs down the stretch.
Massive win for a young Celtics team whose championship aspirations grow more and more realistic by the day.
On back-to-back looks starting at 5:25, Fred VanVleet missed wide open threes on the wing that would’ve made it a one possession game. When Kyle Lowry got it there through force of will — making a technical free throw and driving for an and-one with 1:01 left — execution then became the problem. With two chances to tie the game, Nick Nurse went with Pascal Siakam in isolation. On the first chance, he isolated against Smart and got stripped — with the ball landing safely out of bounds. Second chance? Siakam stepped on the sideline after receiving an inbounds pass. A last-second VanVleet heave fell short to give the game its final score.
Siakam is going to take some heat after this game for this finish, with a bit of it deserved. Still, he was more efficient in Game 2 — making two aggressive shots early and finishing 6-for-16 for 17 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Nurse and the Raptors expect him to create in the clutch, but he was put on an island on both opportunities — without a screen set, he has no choice but to drive into the best part of Boston’s defense: the paint. Having Smart switched on anyone is also not the advantage teams should be looking for.
So, don’t yell and scream at Pascal too much. What’s becoming clear is that the Raptors are going to have to solve their half court woes by committee. In Game 2, only six players scored in double digits. Lowry and VanVleet are shooting just 31.8% in this series. Terence Davis has struggled to play defense without fouling in his minutes. Marc Gasol and Norman Powell combined for just ten points and will need to be a factor if Toronto is going to come back.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. OG Anunoby was a notable bright spot in a rough-and-tumble game that favours his playing style. He had a playoff career high 20 points and made 4-for-6 from three, a few of them on beautiful sidesteps with the Celtics running into his face.
Toronto led by as many as 12 in the third quarter and entered the fourth quarter up 78-70. Then Marcus Smart hit five 3-pointers — including a four-point play — in the first 4:05 of the fourth quarter as Boston took control.
It didn’t help that the Raptors shot 5-of-21 from the field and 1-of-11 from 3-point range in one of their worst fourth-quarter performances of the season.
Now, all the pressure shifts onto the Raptors in Game 3.
“We gotta win next game,” Raptors forward Pascal Siakam said. “That’s what matters. I think we’ve played pretty decent. Obviously, in the fourth quarter there, we didn’t make shots like they did. I think we just have to take that and continue to have the same intensity and win next game and worry about that.”
Siakam went 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter and 6-for-16 for the game. Lowry and fellow starting guard Fred VanVleet combined to go 2-for-10 (1-for-7 from 3) in the fourth quarter and a combined 13-for-38 (3-for-19 from 3) overall.
Despite having the edge in the first two games, the Celtics aren’t resting on their laurels, even though Boston has handed Toronto all three of its losses since the NBA restart.
“Our work’s not done,” Celtics guard Kemba Walker said. “Even though we’re up two games, these guys have been down before. These guys know what it takes. They’re still the defending champs. And we’ve still got tons of work to do. These guys ain’t going away at all. They’re going to come even stronger.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said that if last season’s run to the Finals after being down 2-0 to Milwaukee taught Toronto anything, it’s that the team shouldn’t give up.
“We know the next game is super critical,” Nurse said. “But they are all critical. They are. But we know this one is super critical.”
The Celtics point guard, known for his grit and defensive acumen, made five threes in a row and scored 16 straight points for Boston, single-handedly shifting the momentum of the game, and perhaps the series.
From that point on, the chasm between these teams grew wider.
With the game on the line, Boston’s stars delivered. Jayson Tatum, who finished with a game-high 34 points, attacked the bucket with confidence, getting to the free-throw line and making plays for teammates. Kemba Walker, who had hit just two of his first 14 shots, went a perfect 4-for-4 in the fourth, including the dagger – a cold-blooded step-back jumper with 40 seconds left.
Meanwhile, the Raptors fell apart. VanVleet missed a couple of clean looks late in the game – he shot 1-for-5 from long distance in the fourth, 3-of-12 on the night. As did Kyle Lowry, who went 0-for-7.
With the ball in his hands inside the final minute, Pascal Siakam was stripped by Smart under the basket, and then committed a costly turnover when he stepped on the sideline seconds later.
Overall, Toronto shot 5-for-21 in the fourth, including 1-for-11 from three-point range. The Celtics hit seven of their 11 threes, with five of them coming from an unlikely source.
Smart is a 32 per cent career three-point shooter. Although he shot the three-ball at a league-average 35 per cent clip during the regular season, he was just 2-for-15 from distance in Boston’s first-round series sweep of Philadelphia. He’s 11-for-20 through two games in this series.
“I mean, Marcus Smart made five straight threes,” Lowry said with a shrug and a bit of a chuckle. “That’s one that’s just, it’s tough, it’s tough. He made five threes. We played a well-energized game, we just didn’t close it out. We just didn’t finish the game defensively as we should have.”
Nurse wasn’t happy with the whistle. As he pointed out during what could be an expensive post-game videoconference with the media, Tatum attempted 14 free throws and the Raptors, as a team, got to the line 19 times. They were frustrated watching Smart and the Celtics drain difficult shots, while failing to capitalize on their many clean looks.
It wasn’t just a make-or-miss night — those happen, and some of the shots Toronto missed fell into that eternal NBA category, sure. But the Celtics are long, tough, and disciplined, and Toronto had to grind to create offence all night. Now they trail two games to none, in the no-home-court stasis of the bubble. Which means Game 3 is something like the season.
And without prime Siakam, this might not be a long series. Siakam was 41-for-104 in his eight regular season games in the bubble, and is 41-for-104 in his six playoff games so far. That’s .394 from the field, and the touch he has in the lane, the patience, hasn’t come back.
“We just tell him our confidence is in him,” Lowry said. “We know how good he can be, and how dominant of a basketball player he can be. He has to figure it out and make some shots. If he makes some shots, it’s a different game. It happens sometimes.”
If they all make shots, it’s different: That’s basketball. But once the Raptors had wrestled the game away from Boston late in the third quarter, nothing came easy because they didn’t have anybody who could make it come easy. That was the quiet, underlying worry all year. Siakam had a wonderful year as a semi-leading man, and VanVleet has been so cool, and the Raptors had five players average 15 point this season. The clutch offence numbers were actually pretty good.
But the reason the best players are the best is they can generate great looks no matter what the situation. And in the playoffs of Luka Doncic and Jimmy Butler and Donovan Mitchell and Canada’s Jamal Murray — and, of course, Kawhi — the Raptors don’t have that.
The Raptors put the ball in Siakam’s hands at the end, because he has the gifts. Down 97-92 he got panicky on a post-up and OG Anunoby had to take a contested three. Down 100-97, Siakam was stripped on a drive by the brilliant Marcus Smart — coach Nick Nurse thought it was a foul, as part of his fine-worthy post-game talk about the referees. Given a second chance, Siakam stepped out of bounds, just barely but enough. VanVleet had a desperate running three at the buzzer that missed.
Siakam made good plays all night. He worked hard; they all did. But against the Celtics the margins are tight, and this has always been the potentially fatal flaw in this wonderful team.
This time there was energy from the Raptors. This time there was fight. This time it actually felt like the Raptors.
But down the stretch, the Celtics had Marcus Smart locked into one of those shooting dream states where, for a while, he couldn’t miss.
The Raptors could not match it as Smart, at one point, hit five three-pointers in a row to erase the first comfortable lead of night for the Raptors and send the game in the other direction. In fact, the Raptors only made one of their final 11 three-point attempts.
The result is the Raptors are down 2-0 and must now climb a mountain just to get back in this series. But that’s still a better proposition than had they come out and took the kind of beating they did in Game 1.
Smart had some help in that final frame as he and Kemba Walker combined for 26 of the Celtics’ 32 points as Toronto was outscored by 11 points in the fourth.
Both veterans struggled through the opening three but, when their team needed them most, they were money down the stretch. Smart came into the final quarter with just three points and wound up with 19. Walker did his damage from mid-range or driving to the tin, finishing with 16.
Smart’s five threes in that last quarter were all defended, some better than others, but he was locked in and just seemed to shoot through whatever defence the Raptors threw at him.
Nurse was asked if Smart’s impact in these first two games was reminding him of what Fred VanVleet did in last year’s Milwaukee series. Nurse seemed to agree with that comparison.
“They obviously got a lot of firepower around and to have a kind of wild card; listen, he’s a great player and he’s a veteran, he’s been around forever, right?” Nurse said. “But he is kind of a wild-card scorer for them and he’s had two huge games for them.”
Sam Mitchell discusses whether Nick Nurse should have called a timeout before Fred VanVleet frantically heaved up the final shot of the game, how impressive the trio of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were in Game 2, and the chances of the Raptors bouncing back from an 0-2 series deficit.
2. Siakam not playing like a top option for Toronto
Following the departure of Kawhi Leonard over the offseason, Pascal Siakam stepped into the role of go-to guy for the Raptors. Siakam averaged career highs across the board and blossomed into an All-Star in Leonard’s absence, but All-Stars are expected to step up for their team in the postseason, and Siakam hasn’t done that in this series. In Game 1, he finished with just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the floor, and his output in Game 2 wasn’t much better. On Tuesday night he had 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Over the first two games, Siakam has gone just 1-of-7 from long range, and he has only gotten to the lane eight total times. Often, when a player is struggling from the floor, he will look to attack the basket in order to draw some fouls and get himself going from the line. Siakam hasn’t done that. Moving forward, Toronto will need him to be more aggressive, and productive, if it wants to have a chance in the series.
Regardless of what Nurse thought of the kind of whistle Tuesday night, Tatum still got his, even if that meant putting the onus on the officials to make a call and send him to the line, and this is what the Celtics have that the Raptors don’t.
A genuine go-to scorer who you can rely upon to get your team a bucket when needed.
The Raptors are a team that have been rightfully celebrated for their ability to win without a lottery pick on their roster, but guys who are chosen in the lottery are generally taken there because they’re talented players and these are the kind of players that the Celtics boast.
Remember, Boston’s core four of Tatum (third overall), Jaylen Brown (third overall), Smart (sixth overall) and Kemba Walker (ninth overall) were all lottery picks in their respective draft classes.
Lottery picks aren’t ever a guarantee, but in the Celtics’ case – who drafted all of Tatum, Brown and Smart – it’s worked out beautifully and in Game 2, in particular, there looked to be an obvious talent disparity between Boston’s best players and Toronto’s.
All but Brown of Boston’s best players were truly instrumental in their come-from-behind win.
Should Nick Nurse have taken a timeout before Fred VanVleet’s hurried final shot at the end of Game 2? Jack Armstrong explains why he would have, and discusses what went wrong for the Raptors down the stretch in a disappointing loss.
Lowry didn’t have much of a feel during the actual game, going 5-for-16 from the floor in a 16-point, seven-assist performance.
It wasn’t the sole reason the Raptors lost their second straight game in the best-of-seven series but it was a contributing factor.
Lowry had just seven points — five on foul shots — in the fourth quarter as the Raptors let an eight-point lead going into the final 12 minutes evaporate.
“They’re doing a good job of being up on the pick-and-rolls, but I had a bunch of open looks and I just missed them, honestly,” he said. “They challenge your shot but the shots of are there, we just got to make them.”
As subpar as Lowry was, he was outstanding compared to his backcourt mate. Fred VanVleet was eight-for-22 in the game, 3-for-12 from three and the Raptors will rarely win with that limited production from their guards.
“Just from live-action memory, a good share of them were really good,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of the three-point shooting from his guards. “What was there, 20 (19 actually) between the two of them? I’m not saying all of them were great. I think Freddy had a couple that people were closing pretty hard on him. Kyle had one real deep one, I know.
“I do think there were 12 or 13, maybe more, that were probably pretty good.”
They just didn’t go in, leaving the Raptors in a serious hole. They’ve been here before — down 2-0 to Milwaukee in the conference final last season — so the feeling isn’t entirely unfamiliar
No they didn’t. Walker had 11 of his 19 points in the fourth, Smart had 19 points for the game, all but one coming from behind the arc, Jayson Tatum notched a playoff career high 34 — and the Raptors again struggled mightily with their shooting.
Lowry and Fred VanVleet shot just 13-for-38, including 3-for-19 from three — many of them the wide open variety — and a couple of makes would have been enough to pull Toronto even in the series.
Instead, it’s a big deficit a round earlier than the lead Milwaukee took on them in the conference final in 2018-19.
“We’re pretty pissed right now, we’re down 0-2. This is not a situation we’d like to be in,” said the longest-serving Raptor. “But all we’ve gotta do is get one game and take it one game at a time.”
Head coach Nick Nurse was asked if the Raptors can draw on last year’s stirring comeback against Milwaukee, which began with an epic double-overtime win in Game 3.
“Well I think we should know we shouldn’t give up, we know the next game is super critical but they’re all critical, they are,” Nurse said. “But we know this one’s super critical.”
In Game 2 OG Anunoby was excellent for Toronto with his own playoff high of 20 points, but Pascal Siakam stumbled late to negate an outstanding start. Siakam missed all three of his shot attempts in the fourth to finish 6-for-16 from the field and stepped out of bounds with Toronto down three and 31.5 seconds remaining. Seconds earlier Smart had stripped away a Siakam layup attempt, a no-call Nurse was not happy about afterward.
Both are defensive-minded coaches. Both preach an offense predicated on ball movement and penetration. Both have an affinity for multi-faceted wings as the focal point of their attack. And both like their teams to control the pace of the game, utilizing their guards as primary scorers (Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry) or defensive leaders (Marcus Smart, Fred VanVleet.)
However, there is one inherent difference between the two. Stevens prefers to go small and has done since his days at Butler, something he spoke to the media about following the Celtics’ second victory against Philadelphia.
“When you’re coaching in a mid-major league, and you’re battling against high major teams, you’re usually not going to win the battle for the best recruits at the bigger positions. So, what we try to do is play smaller and faster. I think obviously size and physicality and all that stuff makes a huge impact. I think you saw that with Enes Kanter’s play tonight, and Grant Williams at the four. But I also think we can be really good when we’re small and speedy. Philly makes it really difficult because of their size. The only difference is when you get to the NBA, people call it small ball, and they’re still huge.”
Nurse prefers to have two legitimate centers on his roster, currently manned by vets Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. But regardless of their basketball principles (in terms of playing small or traditional), the duo has their respective teams operating at incredibly high levels. Since the bubble began, the Raptors and Celtics have occupied the top two defensive rating positions – with Toronto ranking first and Boston sitting second – per Cleaning The Glass.
Neither coach is known for shying away when the pressure is on either. Instead, they are both willing to make the hard calls – just look at how Stevens yanked Daniel Theis after only 30 seconds in Game 4 against the Sixers.
The versatility that Anunoby affords Toronto on both ends of the floor is part of his playmaking growth this season, as are the skills he’s been quietly improving. His ball handling work has done double duty in his near-hypnotic ability to lock in and disrupt an opponent’s dribble as much as tightening his own handles. It’s in talking about these tangible skills that will cause Anunoby to occasionally slip from his coyly impassive responses in interviews and lighten, as if his body were shifting into the motions he describes.
“It’s a mix in the middle of staying low and staying on balance, but also making sure the moves are quick and precise,” Anunoby said when asked how he’s worked on perfecting such a light, precise touch as a physically larger player, his centre of gravity naturally higher. “Just trying to keep the ball tight, move fast, stay low to the ground.”
When asked if he finds that kind of work dull or repetitive, he rebuffs, “It’s always fun to work on that type of stuff because everyone wants to do that stuff. Everyone works to do more than they do in the game.”
It’s a statement that could be as much motto for the Raptors as it speaks to Anunoby’s steadily increasing depth, but the foundations of that flexibility come in his physical capabilities. Length-wise, he has a wingspan similar to Siakam or Chris Boucher, rangy and reaching, but his size puts him closer to Ibaka or Gasol, even if his movements, in their stealth and lightness, make your brain reject the comparison to a traditional big. It’s a fluidity his teammates have been candid about.
“I mean, OG’s really a five, so it wasn’t that much of a mismatch,” VanVleet chuckled when asked how Anunoby could so easily guard Adebayo, Miami’s strongest player, “We make that joke with him all the time. But he was great for us, to be able to go from guarding LeBron [James] to Bam [Adebayo], and whoever we play next. He’s our primary defender and I think the more he relishes that role, the more successful we’re gonna be.”
That Anunoby’s physical versatility moulds so intuitively to the stretch positions he’s explored this season that it seems another secret about the Raptors’ youngest starter bound to get out this postseason, especially in a second round rife with as many potential mismatches as the Celtics present. The Orlando restart has given fans live basketball more hours than not in a day and exposed markets that aren’t always at the peak of broadcast priority, like the Raptors, to the wider world. That fact, paired with the ongoing conversations around position-less basketball, is bound to draw attention to Toronto’s profusion of more positionally fluid players than nearly any other team in the league. Anunoby, as a confident, strong, playmaking big with the soft touch and IQ of a shooter, is in many ways the perfect prototype.
According to the filing, and in his own countersuit, Ujiri claimed to have an all-access credential, which he is seen pulling out of his jacket as he tried to walk past Strickland in the bodycam footage released in his countersuit.
“These NBA security protocols and communications unequivocally state that at the sound of the end-of-game buzzer, all previously issued credentials were rendered invalid to access the floor,” Strickland wrote. “The photographic evidence submitted herein, and Masai Ujiri’s own written discovery responses from this case, show that Ujiri did not have the required credentials to access the basketball court when he attempted to rush past Deputy Strickland to get to the floor.”
Instead, only those with specific court credentials and a yellow armband were allowed on the court under NBA protocols immediately after the game, according to Strickland.
“At the pregame security briefing, security personnel were instructed by NBA Executive Vice President and Chief Security Officer Jerome Pickett that everyone in both organizations had been briefed and that,`It doesn’t matter who they are, who they say they are, you tell them Jerome Pickett says they are not going on the court without proper credentials,’” Strickland’s filling alleged.
In fact, according to Strickland, emails between “the NBA and the Raptors included an admonition that the Raptors should communicate the security protocols to the team to avoid `an embarrassing security incident.’”
Strickland does not deny shoving Ujiri twice, but contended he had to do so as the last line of defense.
“Due to Mr. Ujiri’s evasive behavior and his refusal to stop and present his credentials, Mr. Strickland had no alternative but to physically stop Mr. Ujiri,” the filing said. “Mr. Strickland pushed Mr. Ujiri backwards with an open-handed push using both hands to Mr. Ujiri’s chest. Mr. Ujiri once again ignored Mr. Strickland’s commands to return and present credentials and again tried to circumvent Mr. Strickland by walking past him. Once again, Mr. Strickland had no alternative but to physically stop Mr. Ujiri. Mr. Strickland pushed Mr. Ujiri backwards with an open-handed push using both hands to Mr. Ujiri’s chest.”