One week ago, the Boston Celtics found themselves up two points against the Toronto Raptors with 0.5 seconds remaining in the game. They were half a second away from putting the defending champions in an unrecoverable 3-0 series deficit, and proclaiming their third Conference Finals berth in the last four years.
It’s been anything but a storybook seven days for the leprechauns of Massachusetts since then. After Norman Powell’s late game heroics last night, and Kyle Lowry’s Hall of Fame heart and hustle humbled his opponents game after game, the Toronto Raptors have come firing back. In what was widely anticipated to be one of the most entertaining and exhilarating series of the entire postseason, it’s certainly lived up to its expectations.
Days after OG Anunoby hit one of the most improbable playoff game winners of all-time, fans, players, reporters, journalists, and anyone else who was lucky enough to tune into last night’s game witnessed another instant classic.
Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks was quick to take to Twitter, and call Game 6, “one of the best playoff games ever.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps would amplify her lukewarm take, sending out the following tweet this morning:
Woke up this morning and had to double-check to make sure that game actually happened last night. What an all-time classic.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) September 10, 2020
After the Raptors got off to another slow start, missing their first five shots of the game, and two of their first four free throws, it looked like their offensive hindrances could lead to another Celtics blowout. The Raptors obituaries were pre-written and saved in the drafts, while the Pascal Siakam slander pieces were just 30 minutes of basketball away from being released. Toronto dug themselves into a 12 point hole early in the second quarter, and with their second best player of the series, Serge Ibaka, not giving the team much life on the offensive side of the court, it looked like the Celtics would close out the series in 6.
Nobody other than Kyle Lowry or OG Anunoby looked capable of putting the ball through the hoop. 18 minutes into the game, the Raptors were shooting 2-14 from deep, and 31% from the field. While abysmal figures, they didn’t come a surprise. That’s just how sluggish Toronto’s offense has been throughout the entire series. Toronto needed some energy, and they needed an offensive spark. With the season on the line, who better to plug into the lineup than the 25-year-old undrafted rookie, Matt Thomas.
Checking in with 6:23 to go in the half, Mr. 99% was exactly what the Raptors needed. He provided the team with some much-needed spacing, opening up the floor for Serge Ibaka to hit three consecutive trey-balls, and cut the Celtics lead down to seven. With a little bit of life, and an idea of how to put the ball in the hoop, Ibaka’s shot-making became infectious. Kyle Lowry hit a pull-up jumper to cut the lead to five. Then Norman Powell made good on his first three-pointer of the night to turn it into a one-possession game. The Raptors looked like a shadow of their regular season selves, and they gave themselves an opportunity to force a Game 7.
31 seconds into the second half, the Raptors magic kept rolling. Marc Gasol – who had shot 0-11 in the series, and 3-21 in The Playoffs from beyond the arc leading up to Game 6 – squared up and knocked down a wide-open jumper. It was his first made three against the Celtics in ten games this season. If not a miracle, it was the greatest sigh of relief a Raptors fan could ask for.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 10, 2020
Soon after, Fred VanVleet began hitting some shots, who has struggled almost as mightily in this series. After a couple of back-to-back threes, the Raptors found themselves up five in the third quarter.
But the Celtics never go away. Toronto would stretch their lead to nine, but as a team who gives up the most open corner threes in the league, Brad Steven exploited the Raptors defense to perfection. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum all made big shots to close the gap early in the fourth quarter, and regain a one point lead with just over eight minutes to go.
The division rivals would go back and forth down to the wire. Kyle Lowry would hit deep contested threes one after another. The Celtics just found a way to keep clawing back though. Against Toronto’s small-ball lineup featuring Anunoby at centre, Boston masterfully drew him in to help whenever one of their wings got downhill, and would repeatedly dump the ball to Daniel Theis inside for an easy dunk over VanVleet or Lowry.
With seven seconds remaining in regulation, the game was tied. Boston had the ball, and they put it in Kemba Walker’s hands. As he dribbled carefully at the timeline to milk the clock, the PTSD of a nerve wracking Game 3 finish began to sink in.
After Kemba got by VanVleet with his quick first step, he was met with a fortress of Raptors defenders packed in the paint. With no passing lanes open, and just three seconds left on the game clock, Walker tried to work his late game wonders that he has so many times against the Raptors previously.
VanVleet and Anunoby contested his driving layup attempt. It bounced on the rim twice, before coming off the right side. OG secured his 13th rebound of the game. Lowry frantically jumped forming a “T” with his hands to call a timeout as soon as his teammates’ fingertips met the leather ball. After initially calling a jump ball with 2.2 seconds on the clock, Toronto was awarded with possession. Could another late-game revelation be in store to snatch a game from the Celtics? Nick Nurse had every intention of doing so.
The Coach of The Year drew up a clever play to once again attack Jayson Tatum’s defense, and find Mr. Clutch – OG Anunoby – for a game-winning alley-oop. After the ball was thrown in, but before Anunoby could gain possession, Tatum whacked OG on the arm, causing controversy over whether it should have been a shooting foul, or a foul on the floor. The officials didn’t hesitate to decide on the former.
It was once again Raptors basketball with 0.9 seconds remaining. That was 0.4 more than they needed, as fans of both teams know very well.
Lowry inbounded the ball to a flashing Siakam, who caught the rock in stride and shot it awkwardly fading away from 30-feet over the outstretched arm of Jaylen Brown. The shot hung in the air for over a second, carrying the potential to steal the Celtics soul with it. An improbable hero, given his inept shooting all series long, Pascal nearly won the game in regulation. His shot hit the backboard five inches too far to the left before rolling off the front of the rim, and sending the game to overtime.
Another dreadful five minutes to go, which sent Canadians into panic mode, and provided viewers with a stake in neither team another astonishing finish.
Again, Boston would pick on Toronto’s lack of size, looking to penetrate and get easy dunks for their German big man every time down the floor. After scoring only three points in the first three minutes of overtime, the Raptors found themselves stuck in a three point hole.
“Confidence is the most beautiful thing you can possess,” says actress, Sabrina Carpenter. Norman Powell surely has it.
After shooting a dismal 35.7% from the field in the first five games of the series, Powell drifted to the weakside corner on VanVleet’s drive. He found himself with the ball in his hands, wide open at the three point line, with the ability to save, or squander the Raptors season.
The most important thing for a shooter is to have a poor short term memory. You need to forget about your last shot, and focus on the next one. Powell did just that as he hoisted the 22-footer, inverting the mesh of the net as the ball fell through, and tying up the game. The next possession down, he would work his way to the charity stripe, and put the Raptors up two with just over a minute to go. Powell, who the Raptors had been demanding more of all series long, had finally found his game, providing his team with five of their eight overtime points.
Unfortunately, one overtime in an elimination game just isn’t enough drama for anybody.
On Boston’s inbound play with 20 seconds to go, they found Jaylen Brown for a lob on a similar play to what Nick Nurse had drawn up for Anunoby at the end of regulation. Kyle Lowry did his best Jayson Tatum impression, and fouled Brown before he had any chance to get a shot off. Whether or not the referees whistled a foul on the shot, or on the floor, the Celtics were in the bonus. There was nothing to argue about. Brown had two free throws to tie the game, and send it to a second overtime, and with the night that he was enjoying until that point, he would not fritter in the big moment.
On the other end of the floor, the Raptors would fail to get a good shot off. Norman Powell was forced into taking a contested stepback three-pointer over Kemba Walker, and the game was off to a second overtime.
In the fifty-fourth minute of the game, Boston would draw first blood, first picking off Siakam’s post-up and running it down the other end for an iconic Tatum dunk, then cascading into Raptors territory the following possession to get an easy dunk for Theis. Toronto was down four. They weren’t getting anything positive from their lone All-Star Starter on the offensive end of the floor. After all of the inspired fighting, scratching, and clawing that they had weathered throughout the game game, it appeared as though a quick trip to Cancun may have been in their destiny.
But Kyle Lowry doesn’t listen to destiny. He doesn’t believe in fate. Kyle Lowry makes his own future, and he made the executive decision that the Raptors would not be breaking out their golf clubs just yet. He barreled his way into the paint to make an improbable layup between the arms of Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown. On the other end, he fearlessly picked off Brown’s post-fadeaway attempt despite having five fouls, and got it to Norman Powell who would tie up the game.
After some more back-and-forth between the two teams, Marcus Smart decided that he was going to channel his inner Reggie Miller once again. With 90 seconds left to go in double-OT, Smart made good on his fifth three of the game, putting the Celtics up by three once again. Then, it was Norman Powell time.
OG Anunoby was able to get downhill on a drive, and after using his quickness to spin by Daniel Theis, he drew Powell’s defender in to help, and kicked the ball out to Toronto’s fifth year shooting guard. Again, Powell banged a clutch three to tie the game, re-igniting his Playoff P nickname, and tying the game. The play would have fans screaming at their television if they weren’t too busy picking their jaw up off the floor, or merely left mesmerized like Chris Webber, whispering “Oh. My. Goodness.”
After another Theis dunk on the other side that the Raptors just couldn’t find a way to stop, it was OG’s turn to take the spotlight. In a pick-and-pop play with Lowry, the 23-year-old star of Game 3 spotted up and nailed a tribeca to put Toronto up one with a minute remaining. Arguably the second biggest shot of the series, only trailing his own game winner, he once again remained stone-cold. Anunoby doesn’t care to celebrate until it’s all said and done, and that level of maturity is commendable for such a young star.
Shot making alone wasn’t going to win the game, however. Everybody knows that defense wins championships. After blocking Walker’s layup attempt inside, Jaylen Brown scooped up the ball in the right corner. He would swing it around to where it found Jayson Tatum, and after putting the ball on the floor, he would be promptly stripped by Norman Powell.
That in itself, was the biggest play of the game. Norm would take the ball and sprint down the other side of the floor where he was met by Marcus Smart. It was a one-on-one battle, Norm was coming down like a freight train, and the series was on the line. He dipped his right shoulder into the chest of Smart, and threw up a layup attempt behind his head before falling into the stanchion. The whistle blew. It was a block on smart. Moments later after the ball ricocheted off the top of the backboard, it hung on the rim, and fell through the hoop.
“AND ONEEEE!” could be heard from every living room, basement, and bedroom across the country.
It was Raps by four with 38.8 seconds left on the game clock. Norman Powell saved the Raptors season. Playoff P had arrived, and he was the unsung hero.
After the Celtics scored on their following possession, the Raptors lead was trimmed to two. Lowry chose to take the game into his own hands and bullied Walker in the post, before hitting a fadeaway jumper to close the contest.
Finally, after all of the years of being called a playoff choker, or overrated, or a flopper, Lowry had the respect of the entire basketball world. He was the man of the hour in sports, and fellow stars around the league were even calling for his Hall-of-Fame induction.
— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) September 10, 2020
After the Raptors went down 2-0 in the series, the Celtics flat-out looked like the better team. Part of it was due to unfavorable matchups facing the Raptors, part of it was due to Toronto’s offensive slump, and some of it could be attributed to the fact that Boston simply has more weapons than the Raptors do. While all of that may still hold true, one game remains to decide who will go on to face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 48 minutes of basketball, anything can happen, and if Toronto can ride the shot making ability that they rediscovered in Game 6, the Celtics need to be worried.
Game 7 is set to be played at 9:00 PM EST on Friday.