The Raptors are alive, now down 2-1 to the Celtics. I’d play dumb and say it’s a mystery as to why that is, as though Toronto pulling itself off the ropes in yet another high stakes Game 3 were some inexplicable ordinance passed down by the benevolent basketball gods. But that would be wrong, because the Raptors won 104-103 on Thursday night because of Kyle Fucking Lowry.
Sure, we can throw an assist to OG Anunoby’s unnervingly relaxed buzzer-beating three.
Lowry’s had plenty of moments during his run as the greatest Raptor ever. None have combined heft and necessity like tonight’s 31-point, six-rebound, eight-assist, 13-of-23 masterpiece that saw him play 46 minutes, the final seven of which while stuck on five fouls. It’s fitting of Lowry’s general ethos, though, that even on an evening where his drives to the bucket were often the Raptors’ only viable offensive reservoir, his most important play of the night didn’t result in points added to his scoring column.
I mean, look at this pass.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!??!?! pic.twitter.com/9dfLglhKM5— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 4, 2020
A reminder: the inbound defender, Tacko Fall, is tall enough to be used as a dunk contest prop.
The road to what will surely be this year’s closest approximation of the Kawhi shot was cleared, paved and painted by Lowry. But that’s not to say his supporting cast didn’t help put up some signage. Anunoby, before dropping the biggest shot of his life, was just about the only Raptor outside of Lowry who didn’t actively detract from the cause in the first half. For most of the first half, his two made threes comprised 67% of the Raptors’ three-point production, and his three steals and two blocks perfectly portray what a damn freak he was on defense. Anunoby’s been the second-best Raptor in the series so far, and it’s not an especially compelling debate. Beyond Lowry, OG, and some pops as a roll man by Marc Gasol (who has still not hit a three against Boston all season), the Raptors were flat — the kind of flat that makes a five point first quarter deficit feel like 18. Trailing 57-47 by two at the half brought a vibe of despair to Raptors internet that usually only accompanies LeBron James.
With the third quarter came some reinforcements, in the form of the two dudes Raps fans have been begging to show up since Sunday. Look, Pascal Siakam’s Game 3 still incorporated elements of frustration, same as the two games prior, and to be frank the 12 games preceding them. His 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting on Thursday don’t inspire a ton of hope that Siakam will figure out this number on option thing by the end of next week, and the incessant posting up on Jaylen Brown is bordering on full blown insanity at this point, but Siakam did work in this one. A couple early third quarter buckets brought a joy to the offense that the Celtics have largely suffocated, and the hoops he did make were well-timed. His most important contribution, and the one that highlighted why any talk of benching Siakam even when he can’t buy a make is stupid, was on the defensive end, where his swarming in concert with Anunoby and Gasol hamstrung Boston’s to-this-point comfortable attack. Siakam’s also proven to be the best one-on-one option Toronto has on Jayson Tatum, who shot 5-of-18 in Game 3. Watching Tatum get poked and prodded into a crucial shot clock violation in crunch time by Siakam’s days long arms was a particularly decadent treat.
For Fred VanVleet, the big takeaway will be that he finally made some damn threes on Thursday, going 5-of-13 from deep. But his biggest buckets came inside the arc — either from the mid-range during the Raptors’ third quarter bullying of Enes Kanter over the course of four minutes I wish were an eternity, or at the rim in the most high-leverage possible moment, to tie things up at 101 with just seconds to play.
All of the secondary contributions served one purpose in Game 3: ensuring an all-time Kyle Lowry game did not go to waste. By the thinnest of possible margins, it was enough. Toronto will need all that and more if they’re to extend this thing beyond being a cute and fun one-night story. (Norman Powell’s nice fourth quarter minutes give a little inkling of hope that more help may be on the way, too).
Look, the Celtics are really freaking good, and are undeniably still the favourites to win this series. A win earned at the final buzzer doesn’t exactly indicate the Raptors solving what is clearly a horrendous match-up for their transition-heavy game. That said, these are the 2019-20 Raptors, and they sure do love to piss on expectations.
Even if they can’t complete a second 0-2 comeback in the last 16 months, Game 3 should offer solace to anyone whose followed this year’s title defense. Sure, the playoffs are ultimately about winning a title. But even more than that, they’re about creating moments for fan bases to cling to years down the line. Any playoff run that serves up at least one of those, title or not, is in some small way a success.
The Raptors have their 2020 playoff moment. Kyle Lowry created it. Good luck betting against him doing it again.