There were a few points throughout the Raptors’ Game 3 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers where you could say the game “swung”. The game was an uphill battle from the very start for the Raptors. They trailed throughout the entire first half, but they battled hard to keep things close. Then, in the minutes approaching halftime, an and-one basket for Serge Ibaka was waved off. The Raptors inbound resulted in a missed Ibaka three point shot, and on the other end Kevin Love hit a three of his own.
What was potentially a six-point swing took the lead from a very reasonable six to a gross feeling eleven. The Cavs would add four points to that lead before the half expired, and the Raptors entered the break with at a fifteen point deficit which felt insurmountable.
The deficit wasn’t insurmountable though, as the game would swing yet again. To start the fourth the Raptors went with a lineup of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka. This lineup cut away a small chunk of the Cavs lead before Kyle Lowry subbed in for Delon Wright. Lowry’s re-entrance would prove to be a turning point, as the undersized, energetic lineup eviscerated much of the double digit deficit they were facing.
Lowry hit pull-up three pointers and bulled his way to the basket for layups. Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby provided crucial support. Ibaka had his best quarter of the playoffs, turning back shots at the rim and making a timely jumper. Anunoby defended LeBron James admirably and banked in a critical three.
Then, for several minutes, the game sat in equilibrium. The teams traded baskets down the stretch, separated by an increasingly slim margin. The Cavaliers had managed to stem the tide, but the Raptors were leaking through the cracks. First it was a five point lead, then a four point lead, then a three point lead, then two, then three again.
Finally, with eight seconds left in the game, the proverbial boulder reached the top of the hill:
But the game would swing one last time, and the boulder, as it always does, went crashing down right to the bottom.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst compiled an oral history of the shot which decided last night’s game. There’s some great stuff on the strategy behind the play. The Cavs talk about how they inbounded full-court instead of half-court in order to prevent LeBron from being doubled. C.J. Miles talks about why he didn’t leave Kyle Korver spotting up in the corner to provide help. The Cavs joked about seeing LeBron working on that shot in practice, and wondering “when is he ever going to use that in a game?”
My favourite quote from the article, however, comes from Kyle Lowry:
“I didn’t want it to be real.”
Same, Kyle. Same.