It’s all come to this. But first, here’s Es:
This game is the Toronto Raptors’ first ever playoff series against the Boston Celtics and Toronto’s fifth-ever playoff game seven. The Raptors have gone 3-2 in those five game sevens, and Kyle Lowry has played in four of them. He’s won the last three. And his performance in Toronto’s previous game, a double-overtime thriller in game six, was perhaps the greatest game Lowry has played in a Raptors’ uniform. Maybe not, given his close-out game six of the Finals or his game seven 35-pointer over the Miami Heat in 2016, but it was up there. Lowry scored 33 points in 53 minutes played, and without his incredible moon-ball triples and post fadeaways, Toronto wouldn’t even have reached this game seven in the first place.
As long as Toronto has that Lowry, the best player in this series, the Lowry winning in every way in every second he’s on the court, then it has a decent shot to win the series.
The thing is, this season constitutes a real opportunity for the Raptors to win a championship. If Toronto tops the Celtics, the Miami Heat await in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they are probably a lesser test than the Celtics. Whoever comes out of the West will be a phenomenal team, but there’s no one without weaknesses that Toronto can’t exploit. Plus if it’s the Los Angeles Clippers, the Kawhi Leonard story-line would be one of the most compelling in the history of sports.
That’s very much getting ahead of ourselves, at this point. The Celtics stand in Toronto’s path first, and they have been as admirable an opponent as could be imagined. Their defense has been suffocating for players and for fans, and they’ve frustrated Toronto as much as any team since LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Credit to these Raptors, of course, for staying the course and never losing their nerve. A lesser team would have. But let’s not forget how frustrating it must be to play the Raptors. Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam have all put on defensive masterclasses, and none of the four can be exploited by any player on the Celtics. Correspondingly, none of Boston’s most important offensive players — Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, or Marcus Smart — are shooting even 45 percent from the field in the series.
In fact, Walker scored five points in game six despite playing 52 minutes. VanVleet stuffed him so deep in a locker that he may never again see the light of day. Tatum, too, has struggled. Though he’s been more efficient than Walker, his handle has been incredibly loose, and his smooth ability has been chipped away by Toronto’s physicality. He has 13 turnovers over the last three games, and according to nba dot com, he’s shot only 9-of-27 when defended by Anunoby in the series. His mid-range jumper seems to have abandoned him. He was supposed to be the smoothest scorer in this series, and to be fair, he has been that, but it’s been a low bar. No one, not even Tatum, has been immune to the defensive intensity of this series.
If Tatum and Walker continue to run against the muck, then Toronto should win this series. The Raptors are built to win ugly. Lowry will make sure that Toronto wins if the game is close. And Toronto has done this, has brought the series to seven games, with few offensive contributions from Siakam. The Raptors have more room to improve than the Celtics. And they have Lowry.
The last time Toronto played a game seven, Kawhi Leonard hit a four-bouncing rim-rattler to send the Philadelphia 76ers home. It was, to me, one of the best two or three moments in franchise history. This Celtics series has already given us a few moments worthy of last year’s playoff run, including Anunoby’s game three buzzer-beating triple. Who knows what this game seven will hold in store?
Tip-off: 9:00 pm EST
TV: TSN 1/4/5
Radio: 680 News
Toronto will be without Oshae Brissett (knee) and Pat McCaw (knee). Serge Ibaka’s ankle seems to be fine.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Paul Watson
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez
Boston will be without Gordon Hayward (ankle)
PG: Kemba Walker, Brad Wanamaker, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters
SG: Marcus Smart, Romeo Langford
SF: Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye
PF: Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams
C: Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Enes Kanter
Toronto’s +1.5 for game five, which is understandable given the way the series has gone, but is probably under-selling the Raptors’ experience a little bit. If you somehow don’t think this game will captivate you enough on its own, Toronto seems like a solid bet here. The over-under is set at 208.5. Seems high to me. Honestly, it’s possible neither team cracks 90.