Given how the series had gone so far, Toronto’s Game 7 against Boston was always going to be about whether or not they could just hang on from the jump. Through six games they’d shown they could keep up with the Celtics, that indeed they could even make enough plays to beat the Celtics. But those previous wins always felt like the Raptors were speeding through a sequence of hairpin turns with no end in sight — and no relief coming. Until the last buzzer on Friday’s late night contest finally sounded that is. Then at least we’d have an outcome.
And now we do — except it was not the one we wanted. The Raptors will now get a chance to rest for real, their title defense coming to an end with a Game 7 loss to the Celtics, 92-87. Leading the way in scoring was Fred VanVleet with 20 points (on 20 shots). Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, laboured his way to 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting. And poor Pascal Siakam, who never quite found himself in this series, closed things out with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and five turnovers. As all those numbers indicate, this was a grind-it-out game for both teams, and the Raptors just couldn’t make it all the way there.
The Celtics, as expected, came out swinging in this one, taking a lead that got as large as 12 points in the first quarter. It was a scary time for the Raptors because it looked like Boston was generally getting the shots they wanted — they just happened to be missing them. At the same time, the Raptors were scattered, as they’ve been often in this series. Despite it being only the first quarter, it felt like we were approaching a decisive moment, our first big turning point of the night. Could the Raptors claw their way back and keep this game competitive? Or were we about to see another disappointing blowout?
Thanks to Toronto’s bench players — including some early minutes from Matt Thomas — the energy changed in a hurry and the Raptors ended that first frame up by one point. It wasn’t a comfortable lead, but it suggested they’d at least be in it to the end. It wouldn’t be easy to watch though, that’s for sure. The second quarter, with seven turnovers from the Raptors and a 17-6 run going the other way, had the Celtics looking invincible once again. And once again we had to ask how the Raptors would respond. After a series of funky lineups featuring some rarely seen five-man combos, Toronto did find a way to chip their way back into it. Marc Gasol contributed four of his six points, VanVleet scratched out a lay-up, and the Raps were right there, down by 4 at the half.
The rest of this one felt like a rusty seesaw, with both teams refusing to give an inch either way. Thanks to another burst from Lowry, VanVleet, and the reborn Norman Powell (who had 11 points on the night), Toronto was able to outscore the Celtics in the third, 25-22, and once again keep themselves close. However, unlike in Games 4 and 6, when it felt like the Raptors were gaining strength as the contest continued, here it looked like the energy was being sapped out of them. The Raptors did what they could to contain Kemba Walker (14 points) and Jaylen Brown (21 points), but for the most part they could not really contain Jayson Tatum. The Celtics’ young star continued to knife around the court on his way to a game-leading 29 point outburst, despite even some stirring defense from OG Anunoby (who had a mere four points along the way).
With Lowry getting some rare third quarter rest, the stage was set for battle in the fourth. And both teams did what they could to deliver, even if — as quickly became apparent — it was going to be a case of who could hang on the longest. The Raptors shot 35.7 percent from the field in the fourth, which was actually better than the Celtics’ 35.3. But Toronto turned the ball over six times, giving them a total of 18 giveaways on the night. In one sense, it was an inexplicable turn of events for such a disciplined and confident team. In another: it was clear the Raptors were running downhill on empty.
It was still possible, however, to see how the Raptors could pull this one out. Despite a 10-point lead for Boston with under five minutes to go, Toronto began chipping away again. Norm hit a jumper, then Siakam sprung loose for a tough lay-up over Boston rookie Grant Williams. Another trip to the line for Siakam brought the Raptors to within six before Lowry got back into the act with a driving lay-up and a pair of free throws. It felt like we’d seen this show before, with the Raptors willing themselves to victory in the face of foe who had just before looked impossible to defeat.
Unfortunately, that was as close as Toronto would get. Off a wild Tatum miss, Powell had a chance once again to go 1-on-1 against Marcus Smart (sort of; two other Celtics were back) to tie it, but he had his shot blocked. The ensuing play saw a scramble under the net that had Lowry fouling Williams with 35 seconds to go — which DQ-ed him from the game. As if to really drive home the point here, Williams missed the two free throws — a huge break for Toronto — but Tatum skied in for the rebound, drawing another foul and deflating the Raptors for good. They wouldn’t score again, their final points of the 2019-20 season, stretched out by a pandemic and even a brief wildcat strike, would remain those two free throws from Lowry.
“It’s tough to lose a game like that, you’d rather get blown out,” said Lowry. “Small little things, the intangible things, the minute things... It’s tough. It’s just really tough.”
We agree, Kyle. We agree. But thanks for all the big things that came along with it — the spirit, heart, and guts — to get Toronto to this point. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t. But we know you and the rest of the team gave it all you had, and that’s really all we can ask for this time around.
Now, on to next year.