Nick Nurse telling his team to ignore Marcus Smart. “Go, go. F*** him.” pic.twitter.com/fNqHiFo4Lp
— Jordan Dajani (@JordanDajani) September 10, 2020
Three — Clutch: The narrative of Kyle Lowry coming up short in the playoffs is the most telltale sign of a casual fan. Lowry is not only a champion, but he is the greatest player in Raptors franchise history, and he keeps proving it time and time again. Lowry topped his masterpiece in Game 3 with yet another clutch performance here, scoring 33 points including the game-winning dagger over Walker to seal the win in double overtime. When the Raptors were reeling in the fourth quarter, when the Celtics nailed five straight threes to threaten elimination, it was Lowry that stepped up with two heavily-contested threes over Tatum and Brown to give the Raptors life. This entire series can be summed up by one player, and that is Lowry. When he is going, when he is the best player on the floor, the Raptors win. It’s that simple, and it’s been that way for nearly a decade.
Anunoby and Powell are the keys to making that lineup work, primarily on defence and offence, respectively. Powell has to hang in on defence, of course, and the Raptors used his length to pressure the ball, but they need his slashing ability and transition play to get the full benefit. To this point in the series, he just hadn’t been good enough to make the case to go small.
Powell in dire moments in the playoffs is Powell at his best, though, and he continued a career-long trend of having outsized moments of importance. He scored five points in the first overtime, enough to force a second. Even Powell missing a generic, conservative final shot aimed more at protecting the clock than winning couldn’t break his rhythm. In the second overtime, he scored 10 points, including a steal from Jayson Tatum he took the other way for an and-one with 39 seconds to go that may surpass his steal-and-dunk from Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers in 2016.
It was paramount, yet another series saver from Powell and, if the Raptors are going to go back small again in Game 7, a nod of confidence that Powell can provide the offensive benefit of such a move.
“I think we always talk about the ebbs and flows of the series and adjustments that each team’s going to make, trying to anticipate that,” Powell said. “I think our main focus is on just winning. No matter who’s on that floor, we’re all focused and tied in on what the plan is and trying to follow it to a tee. Marc and Serge have been big for us in the paint, but I thought we did a great job switching and still being physical and everybody going down there to rebound to make up our lack of size in the paint.”
There were hiccups, to be sure. Theis was solid, and the offence often looked as unfamiliar as one might expect from a group with that level of experience. A pair of potential go-ahead plays were disappointing, and the option to use Siakam as a screener or have Lowry operate in more space weren’t utilized to their full extent. Anunoby might not have an otherworldly rebounding night again, and he may not go 3-for-3 on jump balls again.
Finally, and most emphatically: Lowry. If Game 3 was his playoff masterpiece, we might need some new terminology for whatever Game 6 was. He finished with 33 points, eight rebounds and six assists, including a series of jumpers that were simply him rising up and shooting over his defender as if he were 10 years younger and/or six inches taller. The final field goal of the night for the Raptors was an isolation for Lowry, with the point guard electing to post up Walker. Lowry can score like that, and had already done that once or twice on Wednesday, but it is not generally how he scores these days.
“I think Kyle’s got a good post-up turnaround game,” Nurse said. “We used to post him a lot a couple years ago. We just haven’t done that as much anymore. He found a few tonight. He found a few middle-of-the-floor isos. He obviously made some huge ones, right, especially the last one. Holy smokes, that was a tough one.”
“My role has changed so many times since I’ve been here,” Lowry said about why he sometimes needs to be pushed to take over games offensively. “But it don’t matter.”
It is hard to make sense of all of these players doing things that are outside of their normal roles, especially when they looked about two minutes away from being knocked out in the first half. They were teetering. Through six games, it is clear that points just come way harder to the Raptors than the Celtics. There are many reasons why, but everything looks far more difficult for one team than the other.
Despite that, the Raptors, through guts, good timing, good fortune, and a lot of sticktoitiveness, have found a way to come out on top three times out of six.
“Everybody had their moment in the game, big spurts, big momentum swings,” VanVleet said. “And that’s all you ask for is guys to continue to stay confident, so when they get their chance, they can keep firing.”
The Celtics could have won. They had a chance late in regulation, but Walker failed to convert a contested drive in the final seconds. He complained about not getting a foul call in the moment but declined to go that route after the game, saying he just missed a layup.
Less than a minute before that, Jayson Tatum threw an errant pass to the corner, where he thought Daniel Theis was standing. Tatum might have actually mistaken Nick Nurse, the Raptors coach, for one of his teammates. Though Tatum refused to blame Nurse – “he’s not playing” – Brown thought the Raptors coach stepped over the line, literally, by positioning himself in the corner of the court.
“I think it’s a lot of emotions,” Brown said when asked directly about that moment. “It’s very intense and things like that and sometimes things seem to go overboard at times. Let’s keep it in check, let’s keep it respectable, and let’s keep playing basketball. Grown men should be able to control themselves, especially coaching staffs. So, let’s continue to do what we gotta do, play basketball, and be ready to fight.”
Brown, a much improved free throw shooter, knocked down two important ones to tie the score late in the first overtime. The Celtics started the double-overtime period with back-to-back dunks. Smart later hit a 3-pointer to go up three. Shortly after the Raptors tied the score again, Theis caught an alley-oop to give his team back the lead. None of the advantages held. Leaving Theis on the court as the Raptors went with an all-guard-and-wing lineup, the Celtics allowed 17 points over the final 2:32 of double overtime – against a Toronto offense they had held in check for most of the series. After losing a blowout Game 5, the Raptors proved every bit as stubborn and resilient as their reputation suggested they would be.
“They’re a tough group, man,” Walker said. “They make big plays. They make big shots. They’re the defending champs. We’re going to get their best every single time. So, like I said, we just have to be better. We have to find a way.”
But then several minutes of blunders allowed Toronto to creep back in. Brown was stripped twice on drives and took on Lowry at the point of attack off-balanced to give up a contested layup. Then he was late on a loose ball rotation and instead of trying to contest a Norm Powell baseline drive, he tried to take an obviously late charge. The Celtics eventually regained composure by going to their new favorite play, the Theis alley-oop.
This time, Tatum’s paint presence to draw two defenders worked in a different way. Tatum set the screen for Walker up top, then got VanVleet on the switch and brought him down to the block. Tatum has proven to be valuable this week as a roll man, since he has struggled to comfortably get there off the bounce the way he usually does.
But this forced Anunoby to leave the rim to support VanVleet and left Theis again open in the dunker spot. Smart saw this developing and flared up from the elbow to call for the ball, fake the pass to Tatum to lock in that double and then throw a perfect alley-oop to regain the lead. The Celtics traded buckets before a Walker gamble gone wrong to try to strip Anunoby in the paint opened up a Powell 3 to tie it. But then Walker and Tatum came down the floor, ran another slip screen in early offense, got Anunoby to step up to the lane and lobbed the easy alley-oop to Theis once again. It would have given them control of the game, had Anunoby not buried a pick-and-pop 3 followed by Powell going for the pick-six of a Tatum steal.
Tatum did his best to make up for that fatal turnover, burying a perfect two-for-one floater before responding to the memorable Lowry fadeaway over Walker by hitting a tightly contested 3. But the hail mary on the final play to give Marcus Smart a tough look at a buzzer-beating 3 fell short.
Boston heads into Game 7 with a clear understanding of their defensive risk tolerance and their offensive weak points. Smart had the franchise’s first playoff triple-double since Rajon Rondo in 2012 while Tatum and Brown combined for 60 points and 30 rebounds in 51 minutes each. But they found a new weapon in Theis floating behind the defense. With the Raptors continuing to go smaller as the series drags on, it may the Celtics’ center that could make the difference on offense at the end.
Lowry being Lowry, he made sure Powell’s big moment didn’t go to waste — it’s what teammates are for.
While Tatum was putting up five points in 27 seconds to keep Boston in striking distance, Lowry kept the Raptors ahead by backing the smaller Kemba Walker down into the paint and making his second turnaround jumper of the second overtime.
Fittingly. You don’t win in double overtime without help from all hands — the Raptors know that from their double-OT win against Milwaukee in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, when they were at risk of going down 3-0 in that series.
This was the long-awaited ‘Norm’ game that has become a bit of Powell’s trademark in his five seasons — game-changing scoring binges that tend to come when the Raptors need them most. The hope was that it would have come sooner, given the career-year Powell put up in the regular season, but beggars can’t be choosers.
“The playoffs are always about the role players, the other guys, the guys that aren’t sort of necessarily the top guys,” said Lowry. “It’s about the guys that can sort of us give us something and coach rode with Norm, and Norm was big tonight. Big, huge threes, and-1, free throws, some good defence down the stretch but that’s just playoff basketball, the others have to step up. You got a game like that going to two overtimes you never know who’s gonna be that guy and tonight, Norm was that guy.”
Similarly, an impressive 13 points and 13 rebounds from Anunoby, included a key triple in the second OT; 13 points from Serge Ibaka including three triples in two minutes in the second quarter that helped right the ship when the Raptors were trailing by as much as 12 and looked to be fading early. A very welcome eight points including a pair of threes from the badly struggling Marc Gasol in the third quarter that helped the Raptors gain their first lead, as he combined with Fred VanVleet — who scored 12 of his 21 points in less than three minutes as Toronto, trailing 52-48 at half, was able to take an 81-77 lead into the fourth quarter.
But underlying all of that was Lowry and another epic outing.
The legend continues to grow, in other words.
The teams traded scores for the next seven possessions, with Anunoby putting the Raptors ahead with a catch-and-shoot 3 with less than a minute to go. The Celtics then got the Raptors in rotation and Tatum drove past a Lowry close-out. But Powell, 45th in the league with 3.1 deflections per 36, came out of nowhere to cut him off. When Tatum tried to cross over, Powell got his hands on the dribble.
The ball bounced off of Lowry’s leg and right back into the hands of Powell, who drove the length of the floor, drew contact from Smart, and put in a near-impossible layup. His free throw put the Raptors up four.
Over their first 11 possessions of the second overtime, the Celtics missed just one shot that came out of their hands cleanly. That was Tatum’s step-back 3 that Siakam contested and Theis rebounded. They made their other seven “clean” shots, but had three misses that the Raptors got their hands on and the Tatum turnover that lead to Powell’s 3-point play.
This is what the Raptors do. Their aggressiveness toward the ball has, at times, been their downfall in this series, because Tatum and Walker have been willing to find the open man. Just watch the film from all those corner 3s the Celtics made on Wednesday.
But the champs ranked second defensively this season, because that aggressiveness worked in their favor more often than not. It’s most important to stay in front of the guy you’re guarding, but Nurse isn’t going to tell his guys not to use their hands if the ball is there for the taking.
“Sometimes when you’re smaller,” Nurse said, “they’ve got these guys that are trying to post you up and shoot over top of you. And once they turn around it’s kinda your last line of defense, because if they get it up, they’re going to be over the top of you.”
He laughed and finished, “Just trying to survive sometimes out there, too.”
They survived. Game 7 is Friday.
The play at the end of the first overtime was almost identical to one Toronto coach Nick Nurse drew up for Powell in the first game of the season.
Way back on Oct. 22, 2019, the Raptors opened the season against the New Orleans Pelicans and that game was tied at 117 in the final seconds of regulation. And like he did Wednesday night, Nurse called for Powell to be isolated at the top of the key. Powell didn’t hit the shot, but Toronto still went on to win.
Nurse said he trusted Powell in the same situation against Boston because of his ability to “bolt up and score.” And even though the shot didn’t go in, it did give Powell some extra juice heading into the second overtime. But he knows it’ll take a complete effort if the Raptors want to stave off elimination once again.
“I think the games that we’ve won [in this series] has shown we have to put together a full 48-minute effort,” Powell said. “Have no lulls, offensively or defensively. Whatever happens through mistakes and moments where we do mess up whatever the game plan is, we continue to fight through it and figure it out and help one another.”
Powell finished with 23 points, second to only Lowry for the Raptors. Lowry had 33 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 53:28 of work. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was Lowry’s third game in franchise history with at least 30 points in a game while facing elimination.
Lowry said the game was about going out and playing as hard as possible to force a Game 7 on Friday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“We were playing against a physical, tough team that is well coached with a couple All-Stars, some real nice stars and a great team,” Lowry said. “We had to work hard for this win and for us; that is what we do. We work hard and we play every possession like it is our last and find ways to pull out victories.”
Nurse, who has been with Lowry in Toronto since 2013, first as an assistant before becoming head coach last season heading into the Raptors’ championship run, said what Lowry did in Game 6 was simply “what the great players do.”
“It’s what the tough, tough players do, the great players do. And he is, man. He’s a great one,” Nurse said. “He’s fun to watch. He’s the ultimate competitor. Toughness, and he steps into it; he’s not afraid of the moment. Made some big ones for sure — played great.”
Lowry had the chance to shut the door, though, because Powell helped put Boston on the brink. After struggling through most of the series, the 27-year-old swingman—who’s had his share of big postseason performances in Toronto—came through huge in the clutch. (Well, mostly.) With Toronto bigs Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka struggling to contain Walker in the pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter, coach Nick Nurse slotted Powell in as a defensive replacement to allow the Raptors to switch assignments more easily and scramble out to open shooters. Powell scored 15 of his 23 points in the overtime sessions, including a huge steal and an and-one layup in the final minute:
It looked—it felt—plenty of times on Wednesday like the Celtics were on the verge of putting the Raptors away. Brown was the best player on the floor for most of the first half and was brilliant in the balance, pouring in 31 points with 16 rebounds and harassing Siakam into yet another evening of misfiring. After playing through some early shot-making struggles by focusing on facilitating, Jayson Tatum found his touch, popping for 29-14-9 and scoring five points in the final 30 seconds. Walker never found his touch in Game 6—just five points in 51 minutes on 2-for-11 shooting—but he blitzed Toronto in the high screen game early in the fourth, collapsing Toronto’s defense to trigger a 3-point barrage that put the Raptors on their heels. Boston led by three halfway through the first overtime, and scored the first four points of the second overtime. They were so close to putting the Raptors down for good.
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, though, and not in playoff series. A week ago, the Raptors were a half-second away from an 0-3 deficit; now, they’re 48 (or maybe 53, or maybe 58, or … ) minutes away from their second consecutive conference finals. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, and to beat the Raptors, you’ve got to kill ’em. Boston hasn’t quite been able to yet, and so the NBA’s most improbable and longest-running championship defense is still alive.
It again started in the third quarter as the Boston Celtics allowed the Toronto Raptors to find some momentum before ultimately making a flurry of plays down the stretch as the Raptors earned a double-overtime 125-122 Game 6 win.
The Celtics entered Wednesday with a one-game lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. With the series tied 3-3, Boston now will have to win Game 7 on Friday or be sent home and watch Toronto advance to the conference final against the Miami Heat.
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry led all scorers with 33 points, hitting six of the team’s 19 3-pointers in the contest. Norman Powell made clutch plays down the stretch before finishing with 23 points.
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 31 points, including 21 in first half.
Marcus Smart recorded a triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, while Jayson Tatum just missed out on a triple-double as he finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. Perhaps the story of the night was Kemba Walker finishing with merely five points on 2-for-11 from the field.
After the game, Tatum was asked about the play. He deflected any blame away from the Raptors’ coach.
“I mean, I turned it over,” Tatum said. “That was my fault. Can’t blame Nick Nurse. He’s not playing. It was my fault.”
Ultimately, the play didn’t decide the fate of the game — the Raptors got a bad look as time wound down, and both teams had multiple chances to win the game in overtime. Brad Stevens, meanwhile, denied seeing anything, and Nurse — when asked a vague question about the actions of the coaching staff — said Raptors coaches were “just competing.”
But Jaylen Brown wasn’t ready to let Nurse get off too easily.
“I think it’s a lot of emotions,” Brown said. “It’s very intense and things like that and sometimes things seem to go overboard at times. Let’s keep it in check, let’s keep it respectable, and let’s keep playing basketball. Grown men should be able to control themselves, especially coaching staffs. So, let’s continue to do what we gotta do, play basketball, and be ready to fight.”
According to the NBA’s rules, a coach who leaves the coaches box should be assessed a technical foul, as is “a coach entering onto the court without the permission of an official.”
The last two minutes report will be interesting on Thursday. Kemba Walker also believed he was fouled as he drove to the basket on Boston’s final possession of regulation, and slow-motion replays suggested he had a case.
Walker was asked about that play in his post-game press conference as well.
“I don’t know. I just missed a layup I guess,” Walker said, shaking his head.
With the Raps and Celtics trading body blows, it seemed that neither team was going to give up. Toronto maintained the narrow lead for the quarter until the 1 minute 40 mark Boston climbed back into the epic contest as the scores were deadlocked 98. With both teams blowing attempts to win at the death, the score would stay 98-98 each and head into overtime.
In the overtime period, the physical scrappy affair would continue as both teams looked fatigued and would need to dig deep. Kemba Walker hit just his second shot on a made three-pointer of the game in overtime. However the Raptors matched right back and nabbed a two point lead with under a minute to go. A trademark ATO play for Jaylen Brown saw the UCLA product rotate on a backdoor lob and get fouled to square it up once more at 106 apiece as the teams went to a second OT.
In the second overtime stanza, several Celtics were up around 46+ minutes of play and they continued to push. A beautiful Jayson Tatum slam on the break and a backcourt turnover violation for Toronto saw the lead pivot to Boston. Daniel Theis was scrappy in the second OT getting into the key and grabbing a key offensive board and dunking on his way to 18 points and 7 rebounds. In an overtimne that had a bit of everything from Marcus Smart getting kneed in the groin, to players tight roping with fould trouble, every play seemed like it would shift the momentum before the oppoonents clawed back to shift everything once more.
The late game heroics would settle on the shoulders of firstly Marcus Smart who hit a big three pointer, before Norman Powell came right back and hit one of his own. It would be the unlikely Norman Powell though, whose 10 points in the second OT that would be the story of the game.
A massive turnaround jumper for Kyle Lowry with 11 seconds on the clock was almost the nail in the coffin. However in true never say die form, a late Jayson Tatum triple would see the Celtics have one last try behind Marcus Smart whose heave would rim out sadly for Celtics fans. Smart would end the game with a triple-double, 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, 6 made threes in a touch under 50 minutes of play, Jayson Tatum had 29 points, 14 rebounds and 9 assists. Jaylen Brown who was a beast early in this one would lead the team with 31 points and 16 rebounds in 51 minutes of play.
In a truly great series, both teams now head to a series finale and a Game 7 this Friday, 11th of September.
Thanks to these heroics, which also included an OG Anunoby three with under a minute to go, the Raptors were finally able to say they found some tough buckets in a series where it’s been tough sledding. Toronto finally had a respectable night shooting the ball from deep, as they went 19-for-47 (40.4%) as a team — matching the Celtics’ output to a tee. Two of those makes came from Marc Gasol, who shook off a horrid start (literally, leaving the bench to shake himself) to put in nine impact minutes in the third quarter. This jumpstarted the Raptors after a sloppy first half that saw them trail by four at halftime. Turns out haircuts really do make a difference.
Other Raptors made shots when they had to. Serge Ibaka made back-to-back triples in the second quarter. Fred VanVleet had nine points in two possessions in the third, part of his 21-point, nine-rebound, seven-assist performance. This all helped to overcome a game from Pascal Siakam that was uncomfortable to watch at many points; shooting just 5-for-19 and 0-for-5 from three in 54 minutes, Siakam looked deeply in his own head on the offensive end as he hesitated on open shots and came up short on others.
The Raptors survived it, though, and Siakam was once again a critical piece to the team’s defensive success — there’s a reason he was out there for more minutes than any other player.
Boston played it admirably. Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown combined to make 14 three-pointers and score 83 points — offsetting a poor shooting night from Kemba Walker, who went just 2-for-11 scoring five points. This truly was a rock fight. Unlike the games before it in this series, though, both teams were connecting with their throws — resulting in a game that’ll be remembered for a long time.
Now, both teams will do their best to reset and get ready. Game 7 on Friday will decide who heads to the Eastern Conference Final to face the Miami Heat.
This was another all-time effort from Lowry. His night will be remembered for his play in the game’s most crucial moments, and rightly so.
Remarkably, he played 43 straight minutes to close the contest – his four and a half minutes of rest came early in the first half. He played the entire second overtime with five fouls, and still reached in to swipe the ball away from Jaylen Brown – a crucial play with under three minutes remaining and Toronto down by two points.
He hit three big three-pointers in the fourth quarter and had three key buckets in the overtimes, including a couple in the post, backing down bigger players.
In the end, he got help from the team’s supporting cast, and the Raptors couldn’t have pulled out the win without it.
Marc Gasol, who’s struggled all series and was so frustrated after missing his first three shots that he nearly tore off his jersey, finally turned a corner in the third quarter, where he scored all eight of his points. Serge Ibaka was in a walking boot Tuesday, questionable for Game 6 with a sprained ankle, but contributed 13 important points in 21 minutes off the bench.
OG Anunoby served as the centre in Nick Nurse’s small lineup over the final 18 minutes and did an incredible job playing and defending out of position. Fred VanVleet had a big second half. Even Pascal Siakam, who has lost almost all of his confidence offensively at this point, played lock-down defence in crunch time and finally got a shot to fall late in double OT.
Then there was Norman Powell.
“You can get down on yourself sometimes,” guard Fred VanVleet said. “That’s what momentum means. They had it, they had a couple big buckets, I think they hit four or five threes in a row at one part of the game. So those blows are hard to take as a unit, but as long as we keep swinging back, and I think guys stepped up when they had their chance to knock them down. You see a couple shots go in, it just changes the rhythm and the flow and the aggression of your entire team.”
Ibaka had a sprained ankle but his 13 points and three blocks in 23 minutes included back-to-back threes late in the second quarter, and that was where the game turned. The Raptors needed those shots, and Lowry and Powell each hit one after that. Gasol was so frustrated with his inability to hit a shot that he tried to tear his own jersey in two; after halftime, Gasol blocked a shot, then hit a three, his first of the series after 11 misses, and pumped his fist.
One by one, they came alive. VanVleet, shooting 34 per cent in the series, hit one, and had 17 points after halftime. Powell, unplayable at times in this series, had 16 of his 23 after halftime, including a steal in double overtime, and a three-point play that made Lowry curse like a sailor, approvingly.
“He saved us,” VanVleet said. “He saved our season.”
They all did. Six Raptors scored in double figures, and Gasol’s eight points felt like it. It was like watching a chain reaction. Finally, they looked a little more like themselves. Gasol is a man who thinks this game at a very deep and immediate level. He got a haircut, and maybe that helped. But, boy, did he need those shots.
“I think it was very game-changing,” Nurse said. “Nothing good’s happened for that guy, so when he banged that shot in, everybody knew it was a big boost for him. And when something like that happens, you can tell how much they love him, how much they care about him. And I think that gave us a big boost for the whole second half.”
Jack Armstrong and Sam Mitchell share their thoughts on a tremendous Game 6 between the Raptors and Celtics, another incredible performance by Kyle Lowry, the confidence and composure shown by Norman Powell, and more.
As you can see in the clip above, Nurse — who is very active on the sidelines — was standing with his feet straddling the out of bounds line in the deep corner. The referees didn’t say or do anything about it, but the incident was brought up on the TV broadcast, and became a hot topic on social media.
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After the game, those in the Celtics locker room were split on whether or not Nurse caused the turnover. Tatum, whose opinion matters the most here, said, “That was my fault. Can’t blame Nick Nurse. He’s not playing.” His teammate Jaylen Brown, however, was not pleased with the coach’s antics: “Grown men should be able to control themselves, especially the coaching staff.”
Whether Nurse’s presence fooled Tatum into making that pass or not, it’s clear that he shouldn’t be standing there during play, and it will be interesting to see if the league makes any comment.
At the same time, the Celtics still had an opportunity to win in regulation, and were up by four in double overtime, so it’s not like that play decided the game.
It’s almost laughable how good he is in the biggest moments — how many big shots he hits, how many big plays he makes, how he leads with an iron will.
And almost every single time Kyle Lowry does what Lowry does, people are astonished.
Maybe that’s just what he is.
Lowry’s brilliance helped prolong the Raptors’ season on Wednesday night, when he had 33 points and as many big plays in Toronto’s 125-122 double-overtime triumph over the Boston Celtics.
Lowry’s game, which also included eight rebounds, six assists and 53:28 of relentless time on the court, helped Toronto send the Eastern Conference semifinal to a deciding Game 7.
It will be played Friday at 9 p.m. with the winner moving on to face the Miami Heat in the conference final.
Make no mistake about it, this was another in a long list of Lowry-led Raptors victories.
The Raptors’ saving grace this whole series had been their third quarters and again that proved to be the tonic in this one.
Through a half, the Raptors were shooting a collective 38%. Pascal Siakam was just 1-for-7. Fred VanVleet was just 2-for-9. And Marc Gasol still couldn’t find his shot. The Raptors big man, who had not hit a three all series and hasn’t made much from inside the arc either, was 0-for-3 in that first half and frustrated like we have rarely seen him as he left after just six minutes of play.
Sixteen seconds into that quarter, Gasol blocked Jayson Tatum at the rim. But the anvil around his neck finally let loose 12 seconds later as he took a VanVleet feed and sank a 27-footer for his first successful three on his 12th attempt in the series.
Gasol pumped his fist and all that first-half frustration, and likely the frustration this entire series, just seemed to melt away.
He would hit another mid-range jumper and then a second three before foul trouble put him back on the bench.
But it was enough. The Raptors don’t need huge offensive contributions from Gasol because he does so much with his passing and his defence and just his overall game. But they do need something and the entire team seemed to celebrate that one.
“I think it was very game-changing,” head coach Nick Nurse said of that one shot. “We love Marc and what he brings us. A passing big and a defending big, a tough guy, an IQ guy and he can score, man. He can shoot and he can space the floor for us. He just hasn’t … nothing good has happened for the guy. So when he did bang that shot in I think everybody knew it was a big boost for him. Heck the guys, as you can tell when something like that happens and their reaction you can tell how much they love him and how much they care about him. That just gave us all a little boost for the second half.”
Kemba’s second field goal of the night gave the Celtics a 104-101 lead in the extra period, but the Raptors immediately responded with a corner 3 from Powell to tie it back up again with two minutes to play. Powell’s free throws gave Toronto a two-point lead 30 seconds later.
With 19.6 seconds left and the Celtics still trailing by two, Brown was fouled going up for an alley-oop off the inbounds pass. He was able to tie the game at the foul line, giving the defending champs the ball and a chance to extend their season with 18.9 seconds remaining. Powell took a hero ball 3 at the buzzer, but it was off the mark, sending the game to double-overtime.
In the second extra period, as the two teams battled back and forth while fighting fatigue, a clutch corner 3 from Marcus Smart to put Boston up 3 was quickly answered by Powell’s triple. A Theis dunk put Boston ahead on the next play, but an Anunoby triple reclaimed the lead for Toronto. Powell’s strip on Tatum led to a Raptors fast break resulting in a 3-point play for Powell, putting Toronto up 4 with 38.8 seconds left.
Tatum hit a bucket, Lowry answered with a step-back jumper and Tatum hit a 3 to cut the lead back down to one with 6.2 seconds left. Powell made both free throws on the ensuing foul to push Toronto ahead by 3 with 5.0 seconds remaining, but the Celtics got one last look at a game-tying 3. Unfortunately, as beautiful as Tatum’s full-court inbounds pass to Smart was, the Celtics guard couldn’t hit the tough fadeaway triple to tie it up, giving the Raptors an incredible double-OT win to extend their season.
The decisive Game 7 will be on Friday to decide which team will meet the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But while it was Powell’s night, it also was another feather in the cap of Lowry, helping to cement his Hall of Fame case.
Jaylen Brown scored 31 points for Boston, Jayson Tatum had 29, Marcus Smart 23.
Siakam played a Raptors playoff franchise-high 54 minutes, Lowry 53. VanVleet and OG Anunoby also played at least 50 minutes.
Siakam went 4-for-18 before finally hitting a shot to tie the game in the second overtime and that seemed to spark his teammates, who followed with the consecutive three-pointers before Powell scored his layup while being fouled.
Much earlier, a game after starting a horrid 3-for-17 on three-point attempts, Toronto misfired on 11-of-13 from behind the arc before finally finding the range. Hitting five of the next nine three-point tries allowed Toronto to stay within range of Boston through two quarters.
The Raptors had lost the second quarter of every game in the series, but actually played the Celtics even in this one, meaning they went to the break still down by four points.
Once again the Raptors were at their best in the third quarter, with Marc Gasol at the forefront of the surge.
After missing his first 11 three-point tries of the series, getting roundly outplayed by Daniel Theis and starting this game poorly, Gasol was so angry after being removed from the game early that he pulled on his jersey and walked to the back to regain his composure.
Whatever Gasol did worked, as the big man blocked Celtics superstar Tatum on the first play of the second half and followed up with a three-pointer. Gasol added another jumper and then an additional three-pointer as Toronto took its first leads since the opening minute.
Earlier, backup centre Serge Ibaka had picked Gasol up big-time with a number of blocked shots and, more crucially, three made three-pointers in a row at a time when all of his teammates appeared to be way off.
Fifteen months ago, an estimated 2 million people crowded downtown Toronto for the Raptors’ 2018-19 championship parade. Overhead photos captured at the time were stunning, if not claustrophobia-inducing. They gave context to what we mean by “a sea of people.” From certain angles, street lights and poles were swallowed up by the dense swarm of bodies. Looking back now, the photos are unfathomable, the gathering itself all but impossible. That was what life and joy and communion could look like. Do you remember?
The Raptors are, in a way, the keepers of that flame. They entered the bubble as artifacts of a bygone era, the last champions to reign before everything changed. They were the last team to witness the unbridled ecstasy of victory and the galvanizing effect it has on a city, a nation. To what extent can that still be channeled this year, and in the years ahead? I think of someone like Kevin DiPietro, a longtime Raptors staff member who worked his way up from a ball boy in the team’s earliest years to the Raptors’ logistics and travel coordinator. In one year’s time, DiPietro faced the whiplash of going from planning a championship parade to planning daily life for dozens of people in a literal biodome. Soon, he will be beholden to the protocol the NBA has authorized with the skin of their teeth—or to news regarding the state of the U.S.-Canada border, like so many business owners whose livelihoods straddle the line between countries. There will be other hard pivots in the future, but life in a pandemic, inside or outside the bubble, affords concerns about only the present. “If you’re ever going to do it, now’s the time to do it,” Fred VanVleet affirmed after Game 4. “There’s nothing to be resting for. There’s no tomorrow.”
Unfortunately, the future will catch up with the Raptors soon enough. Championship experience and resolve clawed them back into the series, but the team has been in crisis mode since the very start, when the Celtics landed a 39-point first-quarter sucker punch in Game 1. Scoring against Boston’s top-ranked postseason defense has been taxing work. Toronto isn’t equipped to isolate against most middling defenses, let alone one of the best, which has left its most important players doggedly hunting for mismatches and slivers of daylight that are seldom available. Monday’s collapse looked like a team felled by the weight of its own drudgery. “That’s the flow of the game. I think it’s a little bit worse here—there’s no fans, there’s no crowd noise,” VanVleet said after Game 5. “But those frustrations happen all the time.” In another timeline, Game 5 would have been a Raptors home game played at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto, for its part, will continue to do what it does until the games are through. Cars will file into their distanced spaces, raise up onto the rubber bumps, and honk into the night. There’s nothing to be resting for. There’s no tomorrow.