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Game 3 Breakdown: The Raptors finally find their shot

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Toronto couldn’t hit a 3 to save their lives and it looked like it was about to put them in an 0-3 hole against Boston. Except then things started turning around in Game 3.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We covered the big story of the Raptors-Celtics series after Game 1. I didn’t even bother writing a Game 2 piece because the story was the same — a bunch of good adjustments still left the Raptors short because their shots just did not fall. Game 3 sure seemed to be heading the same way, until, finally, we started to see that Toronto shooting regression hit. For every stretch of bad luck there will be a stretch of hot shooting at some point. It kicked in just in time in this one, right up to the final buzzer.

I’m still giddy from that ending, so we’ll go quickly through some stuff here.

The Starters Are Back

After some struggles relative to the bench in round one (though this was largely because the Nets lacked any bench players), and a rough start to this series against Boston, the starters are back, baby.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a look at how the Raptors’ best lineup has progressed in net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) in this series.

Lineup | Minutes Played | Net Rating

Starters (Game 1): 14 MP, -41.9
Starters (Game 2): 21 MP, +17.5
Starters (Game 3): 17 MP, +20.6

Yep. Rocking again. Don’t let Marc Gasol’s shooting issues or Pascal Siakam’s scoring trouble fool you. That’s the lineup that will win the Raptors the series.

On the Siakam note, he once again struggled with his individual offense, but his smaller role on that end might be helping him defensively. He was everywhere in the Raptors’ defensive coverage in this one, and sported the best on-court defensive rating of Toronto’s top seven at a robust 98.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. And that off-ball offense worked nicely for his teammates as well — he also had a team best on-court offensive rating, with 113.3 points scored per 100 possessions while he was on the court.

The Bench Struggles

Unfortunately, those mostly-starter lineups with one or both of Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka mixed in are back as well, and back to their old troubles. Take a look at these Game 3 numbers for the Raptors:

Lineup | Minutes Played | Net Rating

KL-FVV-OGA-PS-SI: 10 MP, -6.7
KL-FVV-NP-OGA-MG: 6 MP, -45.5
KL-FVV-NP-OGA-SI: 4 MP, -33.3

Small samples, but ugly nonetheless.

Ibaka was pretty bad on both ends in this one, and thank goodness Powell scored so well late — including a deep three that Toronto really needed at the time — because he was awful defensively. Both need to figure out a way to be of more consistent use because the Raptors will really need more from them if they plan on winning three more games in this series. Toronto’s bench was supposed to be their strength against Boston, so now’s the time to make that count.

Need Them All

One side effect of the bench not playing well is that Toronto’s starters had to play ridiculous minutes. Lowry played 46.5 minutes, OG played 45.5, VanVleet was over 40 minutes and even Pascal Siakam, who had early foul trouble, hit 38 minutes. That may be tough to sustain for three or four more games.

Which calls into question: where is Terence Davis? Matt Thomas played six minutes in this one, but those six minutes all came with Lowry on the floor, all but one minute with Siakam on the floor, and all but two minutes with VanVleet on the floor. If your eighth man can’t save any of those three any meaningful minutes what are we even doing here? Yes, the Raptors did well enough to get by in those six minutes (won them by two points) but you would expect that when playing three top offensive options in what are typically bench minutes.

Remember Game 2 for the Raptors? The one reason I considered writing something on the game is this:

1st Half

Terence Davis: 5 MP, -1
Chris Boucher: 5 MP, -1

2nd Half

Terence Davis: 0 MP
Chris Boucher: 3 MP, -9

That -9 came during Game 2’s disastrous fourth quarter run from Boston that lost the Raptors the game. Still, maybe coach Nick Nurse can play the bench units that tend to stay afloat (while actually resting his star players!), which means he won’t have to lean on Lowry the entire game for fear of losing a lead. Davis has been the clear eighth man and key to bench lineup success all season long. Even if he can only play 10 minutes a game before fouling out, those are valuable minutes.

It’s Coming...

And I’ve been saying it. The shots will fall for Toronto. Eventually. In Game 3, we finally saw it click late.

With 6.5 minutes left in the third quarter, the Raptors had shot 5-for-26 from three point range, good for a 19 percent success rate — which is well off their usual pace and, really, just an outright disaster. From there on, though, they shot 8-of-14 (57 percent), including that incredible game winner from OG Anunoby on that incredible pass from Kyle Lowry.

The good news? Even with that spurt of shooting at the end, there’s so much room for improvement. Look at these numbers:

Game 1: 25% (10/40) from three
Game 2: 27.5% (11/40) from three
Game 3: 32.5% (13/40) from three

The good news here is the Raptors’ offense seems pretty capable of generating 40 threes a game, even against Boston’s admittedly solid and active defense. (And what were the odds of them getting exactly 40 attempts in each game?)

The really good news? If that shooting barrage at the end of Game 3 unlocks the Raptors’ typical success rates from long range, we are in for a lot more points scored by the good guys.

The last two games the Raptors have averaged 12 made threes. On 40 attempts, they would typically expect to hit 15 of them based on their regular season percentages. That’s nine extra points a game. That turns two coin toss games into two comfortable wins for Toronto.

The regression to the mean is coming. Statisticians will tell you that only means they’ll tend to perform nearer their average, not perform better than expected to balance out the bad luck games. But that’s all we are looking for above — no hot shooting nights at all, just typical ones. That would be plenty.

Raptors in 6, ladies and gentlemen. Raptors in 6.

All stats per NBA.com.