Heading into Game 3, with the Toronto Raptors trailing 0-2 in their series with the Boston Celtics, you could be forgiven for a little optimism: After all, the Raptors were down 0-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks a year ago, and that turned out fine, right?
But for 47 minutes and 59.5 seconds, it looked like it was going to be an 0-3 hole. Which has also happened before. Two years ago... And the year before that...
And then Kyle Lowry found OG Anunoby in the far corner.
We won’t be seeing a repeat of 2017 or 2018 after all.
Ahead of the thoughts, if you live in Toronto as I do, I don’t think I have to tell you how insanely expensive it is to live here. As a result of the city and province continuing to bend over backward to condo developers and withering before screaming throngs of NIMBY-ing Karens, affordable housing is pretty much non-existent. This is a problem for everyone (well, except the very rich) but it’s an even more critical issue for women (especially victims of abuse), trans people and visible minorities — and it’s a problem that’s only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Organizations like Sistering and Fred Victor are fighting solve this problem and to protect our vulnerable populations. Check them out to learn more about this issue and see if there’s something you can do to help.
Let’s get to some thoughts.
1. The Pass, The Shot, Perfection
What an absolutely perfect 0.5 seconds.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!??!?! pic.twitter.com/9dfLglhKM5— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 4, 2020
The pass? The shot? OG Anunoby’s calm walk back towards the bench? Kyle Lowry’s giant smile? OG saying “I don’t shoot trying to miss”? All of it, perfect.
Giant videoboard Jaylen Brown, looking like he’s screaming “NOOOOO” as the ball drops through? Also fucking perfect.
After the game, Kyle Lowry said that Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam were the first options on the play. But considering that those two are shooting a combined 12 for 47 from downtown in the series, and Anunoby had hit seven of his 13 threes to that point, I’d say OG was the perfect choice to receive that perfect pass.
2. Kyle Lowry Masterclass
The pass was just the capper on a glorious Kyle Lowry night. In his 46.5 (!!!) minutes Lowry racked up 31 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and only turned the ball over twice.
He also set the tone from the opening tip, very much like he did in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last year. He was barrelling his way to the rim, working for open looks, and playing like a maniac on defense. (Amazingly, he didn’t draw a single charge in those 46.5 minutes!)
At times, especially in the first half, it seemed Lowry was the only Raptor who was going to show up to play. His teammates looked hesitant and unsure of themselves at times, either pressing or wilting under the fear of going down 0-3. But pretty much everyone had a moment in the second half, from Pascal Siakam hitting a giant three with 3:40 to go in the third with the shot clock winding down, to Fred VanVleet scoring back-to-back triples to open the fourth, to Norman Powell hitting a huge three after the Celtics took a 91-90 lead. It’s impossible to say if Lowry’s first-half play inspired them, but it makes a good story, so I’ll go head and say that it did!
In the end, though, it was Lowry, again, scoring two huge layups down the stretch and setting up that OG three. What began with Lowry, fittingly, ended with him as well.
3. Shooting Themselves in the Foot
The Raptors won, so it’s easy to think all is well in the world, but man, did they do a lot to lose that game. Once again, the Raptors are committing some exceedingly dumb fouls, either running into shooters or jumping at pump fakes (and running right over defenders to pick up offensive fouls). There were, once again, multiple defensive breakdowns after the Celtics’ guards attacked screens, giving the Celtics centres open looks at the rim. The Raptors also missed 7 of their 16 free throw attempts, which is always a stomach-churning stat to look at in a close game like this one.
The fouling probably stands out the most to me. It led to foul trouble for Siakam and VanVleet (Lowry too, though Nick Nurse wisely let Lowry play through it after he picked up his fifth), which in turn led to some tightrope Norman Powell minuets (terrible in the first half, pretty good in the second) and prevented the Raptors from deploying their Siakam-at-centre lineup, which I’m dying to see.
Siakam’s third foul, in fact, led to an ill-advised Nurse challenge call, that had no chance of being overturned; that in turn meant the Raptors couldn’t challenge a VanVleet offensive foul in the fourth that might have been overturned. That wasted challenge was yet another unforced mistake.
The Raptors were a smart, disciplined team all year. I’m not sure where that’s gone against the Celtics. I hope to see it come back at some point (soon!) in this series.
4. Could One Bounce Go the Raptors’ Way?
To win a series you need to get some lucky bounces; some of those 50-50 balls have to go your way. In Game 3 it seemed like every single one of them went Boston’s way.
First, OG Anunoby basically tapped a Celtics rebound into their own hoop.
In the second, a collision under the hoop between OG Anunoby and Jayson Tatum led to a Serge Ibaka pass going off of Anunoby’s face, out of bounds.
It somehow got worse in the fourth. A tipped ball underneath led to Anunoby and Walker crashing to the floor, and the ball sitting on the floor for an eternity behind a prone OG before the Celtics converged on it.
This Marcus Smart three rocketed off the backboard, slipping through Marc Gasol’s hands and leading to a jump ball — that the much smaller Grant Williams somehow won.
And finally, this rebound bounced around until it found Tatum, who in turn found Brown for the dunk.
And those are just the ones I noted! There may have been more. It really seemed like nothing was going Toronto’s way. Hopefully that OG shot changes all that.
5. Kemba Walker is a Problem
As Raptors fans, we’re used to Kemba Walker tormenting us. He did it for years in Charlotte. But that was Charlotte. The Hornets were never worth getting too stressed about.
Now Walker is doing in the playoffs for the hated Celtics, and it’s about 100 levels beyond stressful. He’s averaging 21.3 points on 48% shooting (41% from three), four boards and six assists in the series; in Game 2, he was only 6-for-18 from the field but hit the dagger stepback that sealed Boston’s win. Last night, of course, he had what looked to be the winning assist until OG said “nah, fam.”
Walker is also a team-high +33 for the series, an impressive number considering he’s the “weak link” the Raptors are trying to target on defense.
The Raptors have to find some way to slow him down, obviously. This isn’t as easy as sticking VanVleet on him, like the Raptors did with Stephen Curry in last year’s Finals; that Warriors team didn’t have as many threats around Curry as Walker does on this Celtics team. But playing him straight up isn’t working; that quick first step allows Walker to get around screens and go downhill when his defender goes over, and if the defender goes under, obviously he’ll make the Raptors pay from deep.
The answer, again, may be fewer Gasol and Ibaka minutes, and some Siakam at centre minutes. Switching a big onto Walker is obviously problematic, but switching Pascal onto him is a much better option. I’ve still got my eyes open for this one!
The Raptors still have a lot of work to do in this one. If they bow out, we’ll always have OG’s shot to look back on. And if they manage to come back ad win this series, that moment will be the turning point, and it will join Kawhi Leonard’s four bouncer as a forever moment.