It might be lost in the stress of watching, but the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics have now played three games that’ve been playoff basketball at its absolute best. After six years of waiting for this post-season matchup, it’s incredible that it’s actually playing out as tight as we thought it would. The defenses are great, the adjustments have been on point, and it’s come down to who can grind out baskets more effectively.
In Game 3, that task was mastered by Kyle Lowry — who capped a career-best playoff performance with a legendary pass to OG Anunoby for a buzzer-beater that breathed life into Toronto’s chances. A 3-0 series is very different from 2-1, and in Game 4 the Raptors played like it. Their defense locked in, Lowry was great again, Siakam had a solid second half, and Toronto tied up the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 100-93 win.
We’ll start with Lowry, who’s become a theoretical thumb in the nose to what’s happening with the Milwaukee Bucks, where their stars have rested through the game’s most pivotal stretches. After 46 minutes in Game 3, Lowry came back with 44 minutes in Game 4, putting down 22 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, and two steals.
Early on, Lowry worked downhill to get Toronto some easy points at the free throw line, where he’d end 8-for-8. Late in the game, he was simply everywhere — hitting a three to push the Raptors lead to nine with 4:44 left and following it up with an offensive foul drawn on the best Celtic on the night, Jayson Tatum.
Kyle starts it.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 6, 2020
Kyle ends it. pic.twitter.com/LcfXo4YJVv
He mixed that in with some other Kyle Lowry hustle things, in what is surely becoming a major annoyance for Tatum and a Boston team that has seen their offense taper off — shooting just 44% from the field in Game 4.
Tatum, for his part, dropped 24 points and 10 rebounds on the Raptors, but Boston’s supporting cast struggled. Nick Nurse has given more time to his zone defense as this series has progressed, and in Game 4 it took open threes away from the Celtics’ major players. Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown saw their looks challenged by active defense, and the three combined for a putrid 4-for-23 from distance. Boston as a team shot just 7-for-35 (20%). That zone look did give away some driving lanes to Tatum, but he too couldn’t add a long shot to that repertoire, going 1-for-6.
Lowry looked like the best player on the floor in Game 4, but he got more help tonight than he did in Game 3. Pascal Siakam shook off another poor shooting night from three (2-for-13) to score 23 points, 11 in the third quarter, for his first 20-point performance in the series. Siakam was patient in the second half and made some difficult shots in the post, and in 46 minutes continued his torrid defensive play, holding Brown to just 14 points on 4-for-18 shooting in his primary matchup.
The Raptors also got scoring off the bench, as Serge Ibaka went 7-for-9, including 4-for-4 from three, to make up for some defensive miscues and finish with 18 points.
Ibaka making up for every defensive mistake with a dead eye three is peak comedy— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) September 6, 2020
Fred VanVleet (17 points) and OG Anunoby (11 points) also scored in double digits to help the Raptors out. Norman Powell chipped in five in what was a tight seven-man rotation, save for three Matt Thomas minutes in the second quarter.
In the first, Lowry scored 11 of the first 17 points for the Raptors as he picked up where he left off attacking the paint. The offense overall was smart and patient for Toronto, who moved the ball and hunted mismatches in the pick and roll. Much of that was Lowry finding the weak spots, but VanVleet and OG made back-to-back threes under duress to give the Raptors a 23-18 lead. As a team, Toronto started 5-for-10 from distance.
The shooting would cool in the second. With more offense going through Siakam, his struggles from outside became more pronounced, as he missed two open ones during a Boston run early in the frame. He was offset, though, by Brown — who started 1-for-8 and also couldn’t buy one all night. The two teams would go into halftime tied at 49.
In the third, Anunoby and Lowry made big threes early in the quarter to give the Raptors the lead. As the bench started to trickle onto the floor, offensive rebounding became a key strength for Toronto, as both Ibaka and OG got great position for putbacks against Robert Williams. At one point, the differential on the offensive glass was 7-1 in favour of the Raptors. Easy baskets allowed Toronto to lead by as many as 11.
In the fourth, Lowry closed the door on the Celtics after some stagnant offense to start. Again, the Raptors briefly looked stuck in the mud. By causing mayhem on the other end, though, the Celtics were never able to mount an extended run. A quiet 20-19 quarter saw the Raptors do just enough to keep their lead up and secure the win.
Now, as the series will go at least six games, we look forward to Game 5 on Monday night.