There were at least a dozen moments in Game 6 where it felt like the season was slipping away from the Raptors. Many were in the first half, mind you, but reaching highs in this Eastern Conference semi-final has always looked tougher for Toronto than it has for Boston. The Raptors have been more sporadic with their offense, often passing and moving and being unable to find lanes to create.
So, they’ve had to get creative. Kyle Lowry has had to do some bulldozing — he did more than that in a 33-point performance that got the Raptors to tonight’s game. OG Anunoby has had to become the team’s most consistent starter, generating baskets through back cuts and offensive rebounds — even playing centre for 20 productive minutes in Game 6. Serge Ibaka has had to become the team’s best outside shooter. Remember when a rip-through triple over Ben Simmons in Game 7 against the Sixers last year felt like an outlier? Ibaka has made it look like the norm in this series, shooting 53.7% from deep so far in the post-season.
The Raptors are finding a way to get it done, and by grinding out a victory through two overtimes on Wednesday, they’ll get to play in Game 7 tonight.
The major question that hangs over the team, however, is how much they’ll have left in the tank. Keeping in mind that aforementioned bit about the offense being tougher, Toronto has also seen their starters play heavier minutes than Boston’s. Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry both played more than any Celtics player in Game 6 at 54 and 53 minutes, respectively. Their talent core isn’t exactly youthful, either, as Lowry, Ibaka and Marc Gasol have been tasked with a lot of production — while the last two not in as many minutes as the former.
We’ll soon find out how much more this resilient group has to give. Let’s get into the game details and what to watch for in Game 7.
Where to Watch
TSN, 9 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Boston — Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (knee — out), Oshae Brissett (knee — out)
Boston — Gordon Hayward (ankle — out), Javonte Green (knee — out), Vincent Poirier (personal — out)
Backcourt Digging Deep (Again)
Through the continued struggles of Pascal Siakam (more on him in a bit), the Raptors have had to get improved numbers from both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet in order to get wins in this series. In Game 6, they got some bonus numbers from Norman Powell, who slotted into a smaller lineup and played 38 minutes, shooting 6-for-11 and scoring 23 points.
We will see that lineup again in Game 7, and how those three players produce will go a long ways to deciding who wins. With all the offensive struggles, the Raptors have been able to get downhill against the Celtics. While rim defense has generally been good on the Boston side, all of Lowry, VanVleet, and Powell have shown the ability to finish in tight spaces.
This means utilizing the best of their abilities by running screen and rolls when the Raptors have a traditional big on the floor. When they go small, it’ll be more about matchup hunting. Toronto was so confident in going after Kemba Walker in Game 6 that Nick Nurse drew up his last play of regulation as a Powell isolation against Walker. When the other options are Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart, hunting Walker is an easy decision. It will be made more tonight.
Given those advantages, there will need to be some backbreaking threes too. Lowry might not need to hit six of them like he did in Game 6, but 4-5 timely shots from the group will go a long way.
Contest the Three
One area of Toronto’s defense — which has been excellent through the entire series — that could be improved after Game 6 is their contest level on corner threes.
Nurse’s schemes typically allow for open shots in the corners. It’s how the Raptors have been able to effectively collapse the middle on Tatum and Brown, forcing them into mid-range post-ups or tough takes to the rim. By doing this, though, they’ve been leaving role players wide open. In Game 6, Grant Williams went 2-for-2 from three, Brad Wanamaker went 2-for-4, and Marcus Smart hit them again going 6-for-11.
These shooters are typically feast or famine for Boston, but Smart has been a consistent threat from three when he’s left open. The Raptors will have to get some energy back and contest open looks with a bit more fervour, even if that means leaping and forcing the player to take a step left or right.
Open shots with time have been a rarity for both teams in this series, and the Celtics second unit hasn’t been able to give them anything offensively besides Robert Williams put-back dunks. Now is not the time to normalize production from players you’ve been successful shutting down for six games.
What About Pascal?
Finally, we arrive at Pascal Siakam. The keen eyed observer will notice that Siakam has been a force on the defensive end of the floor. A game-high +12 in 54 minutes isn’t an accident, as Game 6 showed once again the versatility (and switch-ability) of the Raptors’ big on that side.
There’s also no getting around the fact that Siakam’s woes on offense are forcing other Raptors to play above their usual production in order to win a basketball game. Lowry and VanVleet have made tough shots all year, but 23 points from Powell hasn’t been something Toronto can count on in this series.
Now, maybe that’s just the story of this series: when Siakam couldn’t score, other guys stepped up. Even if Pascal doesn’t score big numbers, though, the Raptors need him to value every possession. There are still five-ish possessions a game where Siakam launches an early shot clock three, sometimes even when he’s in a mismatch opportunity. There are also the drawn out post-ups against Smart or Brown, which have often gone nowhere.
Siakam is at his best when he faces up and makes decisive moves. At this point, seeing the process would be more encouraging than seeing results. When the defense has to collapse on a drive, other opportunities emerge — like an OG rebound, or an open shooter in the corner. Siakam using his possessions with force and determination is going to be a key in Game 7, as he is still a theoretical bucket-getter for this Raptors team.