Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 104-103 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
One — Classic: This was do-or-die for the Raptors, and the champions lived to fight another day. Game 2 was a punch in the gut with how the Raptors blew a 12-point lead to a fluky run of threes from Marcus Smart, and this game went right to the wire. Kemba Walker dribbled in circles and found Daniel Theis with the go-ahead dunk with 0.5 seconds left, and it looked to be the knockout punch. Toronto needed a miracle to escape an 0-3 deficit, while Boston’s bench was giddily dancing on their graves. Oh, how the Celtics were wrong.
KEMBA TO THEIS WITH 0.5 REMAINING! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/yP6STSRSze— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) 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.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!??!?! pic.twitter.com/9dfLglhKM5— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 4, 2020
Three — Dagger: It was a fitting end for Anunoby, who played one of the best games of his life to keep the Raptors in it. Aside from the final shot, it was Anunoby’s defense that allowed the Raptors to even be in that spot to begin with. Anunoby played the first 15 minutes of the game before getting his first breather, and was instrumental in the Raptors’ zone defense that kept Boston’s potent offense to under 100 points. Anunoby had 10 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, while switching interchangeably across all five positions. Out of all the Raptors’ starters, Anunoby has been the most consistent in his role. His 20-point performance was nearly enough to take Game 2, and now he made sure to secure Game 3. If there was ever any doubt, it is now gone. Anunoby is a big-game player.
Four — Leadership: Lowry poured his heart out for the franchise in this one, playing 46 minutes and 29 seconds to ensure the win. He was Toronto’s best player, and he set the tone early by scoring 10 of Toronto’s first 12 points in a run that was reminiscent of Game 6 in the NBA Finals. Lowry also finished strong, scoring two driving layups in the final two minutes, before delivering the key assist to Anunoby. If it wasn’t for Lowry’s relentless intensity, the Raptors would have folded and went home. But then again, that’s the story of the Raptors dating back to 2013. Lowry embodies Raptors culture — win at all costs — and he proved it again tonight. Even after taking a knee square to the groin (no flagrant called, of course) the six-time All-Star was able to rescue the season with 31 points.
Five — Style: This was the first time in the series where the Raptors were able to dictate terms. Lowry kept the Raptors playing at a quick tempo, and Toronto’s creativity on defense created plenty of chances to run. Lowry remains the best option at getting to the rim, and he shows no fear driving against any of Boston’s centers, whether it was Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, or the lead-footed Enes Kanter. Fred VanVleet followed his lead, getting a key putback layup to force a tie, Pascal Siakam was active in the second half, and even Marc Gasol got inside for a handful of rolling layups. With the Celtics boasting so much length on the wing, it’s tough to get clean looks from three, and so the Raptors forced the issue by attacking inside. It’s not easy to get inside, but when the Raptors play fast, when they set firm screens and have their centers going downhill with intent, there are easy points to be had.
Six — Crucial: Nick Nurse tried his zone defense in limited doses in Games 1 and 2, mostly in an effort to shield weaker defenders or to have two centers on the floor at once, but today he trusted it all the way. Toronto’s starters remained in a zone for much of the second half, and Boston struggled to find their offense. The main benefit of the zone was to keep Tatum from getting all the way to the basket, where he hurt the Raptors for 14 free-throw attempts in Game 2. It was a calculated gamble as the zone did allow semi-open threes for Boston’s shooters, but it was a risk worth taking. The Celtics couldn’t find their rhythm, and the Raptors flipped a nine-point deficit into a four-point lead in the third quarter. Expect the Celtics to come up with counters in practice, but the zone has worked in all three games so far.
Seven — Mistake: Celtics coach Brad Stevens made a crucial mistake. In trying to counter the zone, Stevens subbed in Kanter for the first time all series. The thinking was probably to have Kanter closer to the rim, to feast on mismatches down low, and perhaps collect a few offensive rebounds, which all happened. However, it was the wrong move because Kanter’s putback and post hook over Serge Ibaka wasn’t enough to compensate for the life that he breathed into Toronto’s offense. Lowry and VanVleet went at Kanter every single trip down the floor, and they scored every single time. VanVleet got a clean pull-up three, blew by Kanter to draw a shooting foul, and Lowry got into the midrange for an easy look before Stevens pulled the plug. Stevens’ options are limited here, as all of his reserve centers have a weakness. Kanter doesn’t defend, Robert Williams only dunks, and Grant Williams is largely unskilled offensively. Whenever Walker isn’t in the game to present the threat of a pull-up three, the Raptors should try to zone up.
Eight — Confidence: Say what you want about Pascal Siakam but he is not afraid. He was downright awful in the first half, collecting two fouls early on and going without a single made basket. At one point Brown bodied him up in the post and wagged the finger like he was Dikembe Mutombo. But did Siakam stop attacking? No. He got two layups to start the second half, splashed a three to give Toronto their first lead of the second half, found VanVleet for two threes in the fourth, and was locked in defensively, especially when matched up with Tatum in isolation. The Raptors don’t need Siakam to play outside of himself and carry the team like Kawhi Leonard, they just need him to play his game. Outside of his jump-shooting, Siakam has been solid in Games 2 and 3.
Nine — Unsung: This was an exhaustive effort for Toronto’s centers. Ibaka and Gasol finally outplayed their Celtics counterparts, and this needs to be the trend moving forward. Both players were fully engaged defensively, and provided just enough scoring to make the Celtics think twice. Gasol in particular made a concerted effort to attack the rim, and those chances should be there when Lowry gets going. More importantly, their defense was solid. Ibaka did a better job of boxing out Robert Williams, and both centers were great at camping out in the lane to deter drives from the Celtics.
Ten — Shaky: Norman Powell came too far this season just to settle back into the same playoff inconsistency. Powell’s first shift bordered on negligent, as he committed three fouls including biting on pump fakes. Powell was then benched until midway through the fourth, when VanVleet badly needed a short breather. During that time, Powell came up big with a driving layup and a deep bailout three to keep the Raptors in striking distance. With offense being so hard to come by, the Raptors must find a way for Powell to get involved. He should be the X-Factor coming off the bench.
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