Father Stretch My Hands x OG Game Winner pic.twitter.com/SztiLgXAtG
— Levi Smith (@L__Snipe) September 4, 2020
Two — Miracle: The Raptors had one final timeout. The play was for Kyle Lowry to inbound, which was a bold choice since he led all scorers with 31 points. Fred VanVleet came around the first screen from Marc Gasol, then Gasol set another screen for Pascal Siakam to come up for the pass. Nobody expected OG Anunoby — who is the fourth option on the play — to get a look. Anunoby simply cut from corner to corner completely undetected as the Celtics lost track of him as they were focused on the action in the middle. The only player with eyes on Anunoby was Lowry, who lofted a perfectly weighted pass over the comically outstretched arms of 7-foot-5 center Tacko Fall, across the width of the floor, and right into Anunoby’s shooting pocket. With only 0.5 seconds left, the pass had to be perfect, the shot needed to be quick, and the basket had to drop. All that happened in the blink of an eye before the Raptors mobbed Anunoby, who didn’t so much crack a smile.
The way the Raptors lined up made Anunoby seem an unlikely target. Kyle Lowry was tasked with inbounding the ball around the arms of Tacko Fall, who is 7-foot-5, possesses an 8-foot-4 wingspan and was estimated by Lowry as “7-foot-12.” The play was intended for Fred VanVleet or Pascal Siakam. VanVleet made a cut around Marc Gasol to get the defence moving and to “try to find a crease on one side of Tacko or the other.” That was the go-ahead for Siakam to flare around a down screen by Gasol and above the 3-point line. Marcus Smart read it well, completely sealing off Siakam from a pass by Lowry that likely would have been a quick bounce, corral and fire on the move for Siakam. VanVleet went back to Lowry for a failsafe, but Lowry saw Anunoby, who had stealthily gone from the near corner to the far one while Jayson Tatum was focused on VanVleet, was wide open some 49 feet away.
It was a nearly impossible angle around Fall’s reach, but open is open. Lowry reared back with both hands overhead like a soccer throw-in and Anunoby lifted just slightly out of the corner to make it a shade easier to thread. Somehow, Lowry’s pass found Anunoby’s shooting pocket and, feet already set, he let it fly as Jaylen Brown contested the shot.
“The pass was nothing,” Lowry said. “OG made the shot. All the credit goes to the shot. Man, that’s a tough shot. Give OG that credit.”
There were no four bounces like we saw last year against the 76ers. There was no squat, and certainly no random guy in a suit. There won’t even be an iconic Kishan Mistry photo and the mural that follows. Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 walk-off in this same round against Philadelphia a year ago was weightier. That was the league’s first Game 7 buzzer-beating winner and ultimately led to a championship. Though Leonard’s, barring a dramatic next couple of weeks, will go down as bigger, Anunoby’s feels less likely. The time-and-score situation was even more dire, and Anunoby plays literally half the role in the offence Leonard did. Anunoby actually led the league in late shot-clock effective field-goal percentage this season, per Synergy, but there’s no way that played into the expectation. Anunoby was just the one who was open, and if you’re on the floor in that situation, the Raptors will trust you.
The pass was perfect, Anunoby’s shot was, too, and the Raptors have life. Their 104-103 win in Game 3 turned a potentially insurmountable deficit into a vaguely surmountable one. VanVleet said that the Raptors just needed a little bit of magic, and with that play, they got it. Of course, had Lowry not played the previous 46 minutes and 28 seconds in the manner he did, no amount of magic would have mattered. (That’s right: the 34-year-old Lowry ended up sitting for just 91 seconds.)
“I played with a lot different pace tonight,” said Lowry, who scored 31 points on 13-for-23 shooting. “I got a text from a real close friend of mine and he kinda told me, ‘Stop waiting.’ And that was pretty much the game plan for me tonight, just stop waiting and be aggressive from the jump. He was correct.”
The entire world is going to assume that friend, whose name Lowry declined to share, was DeMar DeRozan. If that was the case, it was nice to see the longtime Raptors backcourt hook up once more. It was essential, too. With VanVleet struggling to break free amongst the longer arms of the Celtics, and Siakam reduced to shell-of-himself status until late in the third quarter, the Raptors needed this version of Lowry, more than perhaps ever. Nurse mentioned Lowry’s start to Game 6 of the Finals as a comparison, and his 11 points to start that game will indeed last forever. The Raptors had Kawhi Leonard, then, and a potential Game 7 back in Toronto if things went wrong.
This effort, along with maybe his 35-point, nine-assist, seven-rebound night against Miami in Game 7 of the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinal, will linger as Lowry’s playoff masterpiece.
It is not fun to have that feeling of hopelessness set into a game, into a series. Raptors fans are used to it, as LeBron James brought it on in 2016, 2017 and 2018. And while there were times in the game, especially as the second quarter bridged to the third, that the feeling returned, Lowry refused to allow it to completely overtake the Raptors.
It’s a win that should never have happened. But if this version of the Raptors has a trademark, it’s that they don’t pay attention to what can or should happen. It’s how they came back against the Bucks while down 2-0 a year ago. It’s how they put together a better regular season after Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left in free agency. It’s how a rotation cobbled together out of late first-round picks, second-round picks and undrafted free agents believes they can repeat as NBA champions.
All those traits were on display in the second half, as Toronto was like the hero in an action movie, fingers on the edge, feet dangling, wind howling and villain staring down unmercifully. Somehow, they pulled themselves up to fight once more.
The Raptors went for it in the third quarter with the series, the season and their championship reign teetering.
They were the ferocious, determined, savvy defenders they’ve been all year and were able to disrupt Boston with long stretches of an active zone defense that held the Celtics scoreless for over three minutes. The problem was that Toronto couldn’t get the ball to go in, scoring only seven points themselves – a theme in the series.
But after trailing 57-47 at the half, the Raptors kept with it and finally took a 68-66 lead with a three-pointer from Siakam, who’d been 1-of-10 in the series to that point. It was fair to wonder if Toronto could sustain the effort, as Nurse played all of his starters (aside from Gasol) for the quarter’s complete 12 minutes.
Not to worry. It’s what they do.
“We just have that type of build and we just wanna win games,” said Lowry, who finished with 31 points and eight assists while playing all but 90 seconds of the game, grinding over every point. “We know we got a tough task [but] we just had to keep playing.
“At the end of the day, basketball is about pure heart and playing extremely tough and we got an obligation to play extremely hard and do our jobs at the highest level and we just go out there and play, do our jobs.”
Even in extreme circumstances.
Pushed to the limit, the Toronto Raptors were boiled to their essence. The defending champs were pushing boulders uphill, because the Boston Celtics are a really tough outfit, and it was just so hard. The season was nearly over.
“We’ve had a lot of gutsy performances from this crew, right?” said head coach Nick Nurse, after Game 3. “It’s kind of what this group is. There’s Kyle and Fred and Pascal and Norm; there’s a lot of guys that really have fought their whole lives to get to where they are. Right?
“But we got to the half down 10, and we just again weren’t catching any breaks, and the ball wasn’t going in, and the ball was bouncing funny. And really, to reach in — to reach in and find that gutsiness for that second half, and finding a way, was very fortunate. I’m not sure that doesn’t rank right up there with our gutsiest performances.”
The Raptors had clawed back from down 10 at the half, and with six minutes left, Toronto led 95-91. In Game 2 Toronto got a lead, then fell apart offensively. Going down 3-0 would be the season, more or less.
And even as Kyle Lowry played one of the games you should remember when you visit his statue outside the arena 10 years from now, with 35 seconds left the Raptors were down 101-99. Fred VanVleet drove for an absurd, up-and-under left-handed layup off the glass with 21.5 seconds left to tie it. Fred has worked on his finishing, but it can still be a struggle. That shot was incredible.
“We just needed something to feel good, man,” said VanVleet, who finished with 25 points, including a team-high eight in the fourth quarter. “It’s been a rough couple days. The egg we laid in Game 1, getting beat like that, and they to play really good for about 42 minutes out of 48 minutes in Game 2, and then lose. So we’ve been pretty hard on ourselves the last couple days, it hasn’t been pretty, the mood hasn’t been great.
“But you just need a little magic.”
A lot of things happened in a short amount of time. Let’s break it down.
First, the Celtics were in a zone coverage — a strategy with which they have had a lot of success in these situations. As the Raptors started to move, Marcus Smart was at the top of the key to prevent a three and to yell out instructions. Fred Van Vleet, Smart’s assignment, cut into the paint toward Daniel Theis, and Smart — who knew the Celtics only needed to stop one shot — called out a switch.
This is where the miscommunication appeared to start. Theis switched onto Van Vleet, but Jayson Tatum thought he was supposed to take the assignment.
“(Smart) passed Fred Van Vleet off to me, so OG cut, I was passing to the next guy,” Tatum said. “We just didn’t communicate. Everybody didn’t hear it. It’s not on one person.”
Remember that miscommunication for a moment.
While all of this was happening, Marc Gasol set a pin-down screen for Pascal Siakam, who was guarded by Jaylen Brown. Smart remained at the 3-point line, effectively cutting off the Siakam option so Brown could take Gasol, but as the big man rumbled toward Brown, Anunoby snuck along the baseline to the opposite corner.
If Theis had remained on Gasol, the Celtics’ defense might have made more sense. Tatum would have taken Van Vleet. Gasol’s screen wouldn’t have freed Siakam, because Smart was still stationed at the top of the key. Brown could have switched to Anunoby.
Instead, Anunoby found himself wide open after the cut. Lowry saw what Anunoby was doing, and Fall — who was put in the game simply to defend the inbounds pass with his 8-foot-4 wingspan — didn’t really come close to altering Lowry’s pass. Brown remained on Gasol for a split second too long (he may have thought the pass was coming over the top to Gasol) before spinning away and racing to the corner. Replays showed how agonizingly close Brown came to tipping the ball out of the air, but even Brown’s explosive leaping ability wasn’t quite enough.
Brown took all of the responsibility for the play on himself.
This recap was supposed to heap praise on a Boston Celtics victory that secured a 3-0 series lead in their second-round battle with the Toronto Raptors. It was supposed to showcase Kemba Walker’s greatness in the form of 31 points and the shrewd dump of for a Daniel Theis go-ahead slam that all but secured the win.
Instead, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by OG Anunoby gave Toronto a 104-103 win in Game 3 to turn the series into the competitive back-and-forth many expected at 2-1 in Boston’s favor.
The Raptors came out the gates swinging, up as many as seven in the first quarter on the strength of Kyle Lowry’s 11 points in the frame. He finished with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting. It was the first time he’s scored more than 20 this series.
Boston fought back, enough to enter the half up 10 points. Toronto continued to fight on the strength of a starting-five that wound up all finishing in double figures. While Pascal Siakam’s struggles continued with a 16-point 6-of-15 performance, Fred VanVleet poured in 25 points with six assists.
It was not the most prolific of scoring nights for Jayson Tatum with 15 points. Jaylen Brown posted a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds.
No team has ever comeback from a 3-0 series deficit. The win for Toronto keeps their title defense alive and leaves the Celtics reeling after a golden opportunity to all but secure the series slipped through their fingers.
“We were matched up and OG snuck along the baseline and didn’t recognize him early enough and he got a wide-open look,” Brown said. “We got to be better than that. We got to communicate better. Me being four years in, I got to be better. Can’t give up a three at the end of the game. They made a remarkable shot still, but it’s a (expletive) disgrace. It’s terrible. No excuse for it, at all.”
While Brown took onus for the defensive lapse, Tatum wouldn’t put the sequence all on his teammate, and echoed that the five Celtics players on the floor needed better communication to close out the game.
“We just got to communicate better,” Tatum said. “All five guys have to be on one page. It’s on all of us.”
Brown played the most of any Celtic in the loss, totaling 40 minutes and he was productive on both ends of the floor by compiling 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
He soon won’t forget the final half second of Game 3, though, even as he tries to block the moment from his memory and get ready for Game 4 Saturday.
“We got to move on to Game 4,” Brown said. “That’s the focus now. There’s nothing we can do about it. We just got to move on. It’s tough, but that’s the playoffs.”
Fresh off his heroic performance in game-two, Marcus Smart fell from grace, scoring 11 points on 4-15 from the field and 2-9 shooting from three. He brought his defensive intensity once again but took questionable shots on the offensive side of the ball.
Smart should not be taking the same amount of shots as Walker and Brown, despite how incredible he was in the previous game.
Grant Williams saw the most action off the bench in this one, scoring five points in 18 minutes. He picked up four fouls in that stint, something he’s grown to do more in the playoffs, but held up for the most part on defense.
He provides a switching ability that is valuable against the Raptors’ offense, and made a three, making Toronto start to respect his shot.
Robert Williams was the first big man off the bench once again, finishing with three points and seven rebounds in 12 minutes of action. He missed his first shot of the series but helped create more offensive opportunities with his three assists.
He most definitely has a place in this series but struggled a bit with protecting the rim, as Kyle Lowry had a field day driving to the basket.
When Williams sat, Enes Kanter saw his first playing time in the series, scoring four points in 4 minutes. Head Coach Brad Stevens tried to play the seven-footer in a short stint but got beat in the pick and roll immediately.
Both Williams’ should always be on the floor ahead of Kanter for the Boston Celtics, as they are more stable and quick on their feet on the defensive end.
Jaylen Brown: A-
Jaylen Brown‘s struggles in game one guarding Pascal Siakam in the post vanished during Thursday nights outing as his textbook post defense was on full display.
Brown finished the night with a career-high four blocks and a playoff-high 12 rebounds, only committing one foul in an impressive 40 minutes of play.
Despite always being in constant attack mode and demonstrating more playmaking ability, Brown finished the night with a subpar four turnovers to only two assists.
While he shot 60 percent from the field, he was hesitant from beyond the arc and connected on only two three-pointers.
Despite a historically impressive performance for Brown, he took full responsibility for the late-game defensive lapse in his post-game press conference.
As a leader, both on and off the court, look for Brown to double down on his defensive intensity in game four.
The road to what will surely be this year’s closest approximation of the Kawhi shot was cleared, paved and painted by Lowry. But that’s not to say his supporting cast didn’t help put up some signage. Anunoby, before dropping the biggest shot of his life, was just about the only Raptor outside of Lowry who didn’t actively detract from the cause in the first half. For most of the first half, his two made threes comprised 67% of the Raptors’ three-point production, and his three steals and two blocks perfectly portray what a damn freak he was on defense. Anunoby’s been the second-best Raptor in the series so far, and it’s not an especially compelling debate. Beyond Lowry, OG, and some pops as a roll man by Marc Gasol (who has still not hit a three against Boston all season), the Raptors were flat — the kind of flat that makes a five point first quarter deficit feel like 18. Trailing 57-47 by two at the half brought a vibe of despair to Raptors internet that usually only accompanies LeBron James.
With the third quarter came some reinforcements, in the form of the two dudes Raps fans have been begging to show up since Sunday. Look, Pascal Siakam’s Game 3 still incorporated elements of frustration, same as the two games prior, and to be frank the 12 games preceding them. His 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting on Thursday don’t inspire a ton of hope that Siakam will figure out this number on option thing by the end of next week, and the incessant posting up on Jaylen Brown is bordering on full blown insanity at this point, but Siakam did work in this one. A couple early third quarter buckets brought a joy to the offense that the Celtics have largely suffocated, and the hoops he did make were well-timed. His most important contribution, and the one that highlighted why any talk of benching Siakam even when he can’t buy a make is stupid, was on the defensive end, where his swarming in concert with Anunoby and Gasol hamstrung Boston’s to-this-point comfortable attack. Siakam’s also proven to be the best one-on-one option Toronto has on Jayson Tatum, who shot 5-of-18 in Game 3. Watching Tatum get poked and prodded into a crucial shot clock violation in crunch time by Siakam’s days long arms was a particularly decadent treat.
For Fred VanVleet, the big takeaway will be that he finally made some damn threes on Thursday, going 5-of-13 from deep. But his biggest buckets came inside the arc — either from the mid-range during the Raptors’ third quarter bullying of Enes Kanter over the course of four minutes I wish were an eternity, or at the rim in the most high-leverage possible moment, to tie things up at 101 with just seconds to play.
All of the secondary contributions served one purpose in Game 3: ensuring an all-time Kyle Lowry game did not go to waste. By the thinnest of possible margins, it was enough. Toronto will need all that and more if they’re to extend this thing beyond being a cute and fun one-night story. (Norman Powell’s nice fourth quarter minutes give a little inkling of hope that more help may be on the way, too).
The play was one that head coach Nick Nurse borrowed from an old Hubie Brown videotape. It was initially drawn up for VanVleet to take the shot, with Pascal Siakam as the second option. Appropriately, it was executed to perfection by the team’s two best and most important players on the night, and through the first three games of the series.
Gazing over the outstretched arms of the Celtics’ seven-foot-five giant Tacko Fall, who was brought in specifically to guard the inbound, six-foot Kyle Lowry sailed a perfectly thrown pass to an open Anunoby in the opposite corner. With Jaylen Brown closing out hard, Anunony – who barely had time to catch the ball – released a high-arcing jumper that danced around the inside of the rim and fell through the net.
In normal times, you would have felt the energy of the crowd – in this case, more than 19,000 Celtics fans gasp and groan, and Boston’s TD Garden would go eerily quiet. In the NBA bubble, players create the atmosphere, and in that very special moment, they all ran over to Anunoby to celebrate.
“When I took that shot I expected to make it,” said the ever-stoic 23-year-old. “I don’t shoot trying to miss. Every shot I shoot I try to make it. So, I wasn’t going to act surprised because I wasn’t surprised.”
“That’s OG’s moment, man,” Lowry said. “That’s a great moment for that kid and I’m so happy and so proud of him, man. Don’t take away – that pass was nothing, that shot was everything.”
“He’ll get a lot of text messages and he needs the credit. He deserves all the love and celebration he’s getting tonight, that kid works extremely hard and, like I said, it’s his moment. Let him live in it and then I’ll ruin it tomorrow when we’re watching film and I tell him what he messed up on.”
Humble as he may be, Lowry’s pass was impressive and, notably, the Raptors aren’t even in the position to win that game if not for their veteran point guard and most valuable player.
And building is what the Raptors have to do now. They are back in the series, as improbable as that would have seemed when they trailed by 10 at halftime and Nurse will have another day to teach and show video and remind them of what they have been and can be.
“I think that you’re always trying to teach in between games, and I think that always has a balance of showing things that are correctable, maybe showing a few things that need to be done better, sprinkled in with a lot of things that were done well,” he said before the game. ”Those are teaching moments as well. We try to err on the side of probably showing more positive than negative, that’s for sure.”
And now, there’s some positives to show.
“It’s still an uphill battle,” Lowry said. “I mean, those guys are extremely talented. They’re really, really good. So get back to that film room tomorrow, tonight rest up, get your bodies right, get your minds right, get some food in you, hydrate, just focus on the next day we have tomorrow and figure out what we’re going to do tomorrow. And then go forward.”
While there has been a number of historic moments in the last two years for the Toronto Raptors, Josh Lewenberg explains how OG Anunoby’s game-winner could be the galvanizing moment for the team moving forward.
Anunoby then coolly walked back to his teammates who were making a bee-line towards him, jumping and hooting. Anunoby was, typically, non-plussed. He could have been walking back to the locker room after a loss, he was that unresponsive to his magical moment.
“That was true OG form right there to knock down the biggest shot of his life and act like nothing happened,” Fred VanVleet said of his teammate’s stoic poise. “But for the rest of us, we were more excited for him than he was for himself,”
Head coach Nick Nurse, looking and sounding like he had played the same 46 minutes Lowry did on the night or even the 45 Anunoby put in, admitted even having Lowry making the inbounds pass was a bit unorthodox.
“There’s not a lot of times that you probably want, let’s call him a 6-foot-1 guard, taking the ball out in a late-game situation because you saw what they do. They try to put size on it and limit your vision,” Nurse said of Falls. “We would probably do something similar, right?
“But you say to me: Why is Kyle taking it out? I say because he’s got guts, man. You’ve got to make a gutsy play every now and then.”
And, really, that was what this game was all about for the Raptors. Guts and sheer will and it started and pretty much ended with Lowry.
The energy of Toronto’s offense shifted as soon as Gasol became involved. “Man, he’s just a pleasure to play with as a point guard,” VanVleet told CBS Sports, just days after Gasol’s arrival. When the offense would stall on one side of the floor, the Raptors found they could quickly reset just by passing out to Gasol. If any action garnered some advantage, it could be amplified by swinging the ball through Toronto’s new way-station center, who would rocket a pass to the teammate in the best position. This impact was not subtle. An underwhelming 3-point shooting team became the most accurate in the entire league after Gasol’s arrival last season. An uneven offense that ranked 22nd in assist percentage made the jump up to fourth. As Toronto worked through the playoff gauntlet, the tactics of every series at some point moved through Gasol: through his bulwark post defense, his long-range shooting, and above all, his ability to make plays for others.
“Any time we can get him the ball, good things happen,” says Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “Not necessarily buckets from him, but good things happen.” It’s hard to imagine a player averaging nine points a game in the playoffs making a more significant imprint on a championship run. Gasol was the exact kind of player Toronto needed. More than that, he was standing proof that even the perfect addition can seem marginal if judged from the wrong perspective. If you were to pin your understanding of Gasol’s value to his scoring output, you would find him painfully wanting. There is an ongoing, career-long effort from Gasol’s coaches and teammates to coax him into even taking shots. If you were to consider him as a stretch 5, you might be similarly underwhelmed; the fact that Gasol can make 3s is essential, but by percentage he tends to hover just around the league average.
Those limitations are an unavoidable part of the Marc Gasol experience. The numbers also fail to capture his greatest contribution to an offense: the ability to diagnose problems on the fly, and troubleshoot a solution with smart passing. “It’s read and react, and figuring out what the other team is trying to do to take the offense away,” Gasol says. “I’m trying to be the connector between one side of the floor and the other.” This kind of effect may be even more pronounced in its absence. Superstars like James Harden and Damian Lillard have seen their teams stall out in previous seasons entirely because their bigs didn’t understand how to redirect the offense out of a double-team.
As certain and as clear as the Bucks speak on matters off the court, ready to forfeit a game in the name of social justice causes that matter, they seem as skittish and unsure about playoff basketball. For the better part of two games, Miami has made the most comfortable team in the NBA look uncomfortable — and whether the Heat realize it or not, they could be putting on the best recruiting job on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s set to enter unrestricted free agency after next season.
They’ve contained him and shown the soon-to-be two-time Most Valuable Player his biggest warts in a raw but controlled fashion, similar to the job the Toronto Raptors did to him for the last four games in the conference finals last year.
It’s no wonder many in league circles believe Miami and Toronto are the frontrunners in the Antetokounmpo sweepstakes, with one observer telling Yahoo Sports “it’s an open secret” within the Orlando bubble.
Miami looks like the perfect mistress with their culture, the ability to morph into different identities at a moment’s notice but yet still feel like a team playing within itself.
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