After five games of watching and learning, it was always going to take a mountain of an effort to beat this Celtics team. With one of their all-stars out of sorts since the restart, the Raptors have been in scramble mode on the offensive end against a Boston defense with few weaknesses. Possessions stay in one spot, or they move and pause; players wait and see if there’s an advantage. Rarely does one become apparent.
Basketball is never that reductive, though, and the Toronto Raptors have proven throughout the 2019-20 season that predictions and analysis can be thrown out the window when you get the right guys making the right shots at the right time. In a two overtime classic that should go down as the best playoff game the Raptors have ever been a part of, they did just that on Wednesday — beating the Celtics 125-122 and forcing a decisive Game 7 on Friday.
Both of the Raptors’ wins in this series coming into Game 6 saw a fiery Kyle Lowry shovelling coals on the engine, and tonight was no exception. Playing 53 minutes, Lowry had 33 points on an astounding 12-for-20 shooting, including 6-for-10 from deep, eight rebounds, six assists, and two steals in his best post-season performance since Toronto’s last Game 6 in June 2019.
Kyle Lowry, told by ESPN he played 53 minutes. "Damn, that’s what it was? Ride 'em like Seabiscuit."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) September 10, 2020
Lowry was once again asked to grind out baskets, but he relied more on his outside shot in this one than in Games 2 and 3. The makes were timely too — it was a 14-foot turnaround that gave the Raptors a four-point lead with 11.7 seconds left in double overtime and secured the win.
Lowry wasn’t alone, though, in a game where Nick Nurse threw out the playbook and just went with lineups made up of guys playing well, regardless of size. Late in the fourth quarter and through both overtimes, that was a look without a centre, as Pascal Siakam slid down to the five and Norman Powell came in to provide more attacking lanes.
Powell was fantastic. His 23 points came on just 11 shots, and he added further efficiency by getting to the line for eight made free throws. Before Lowry’s balls out shot, it was Norm who made the critical two-way play of the game — more or less saving the Raptors’ season when it hung in the balance. He swiped the ball from a driving Jayson Tatum and flew the other way for a layup and a foul.
YOU BETTER UNDERSTAND THE GRIND pic.twitter.com/03Qh18wvFJ— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 10, 2020
Thanks to these heroics, which also included an OG Anunoby three with under a minute to go, the Raptors were finally able to say they found some tough buckets in a series where it’s been tough sledding. Toronto finally had a respectable night shooting the ball from deep, as they went 19-for-47 (40.4%) as a team — matching the Celtics’ output to a tee. Two of those makes came from Marc Gasol, who shook off a horrid start (literally, leaving the bench to shake himself) to put in nine impact minutes in the third quarter. This jumpstarted the Raptors after a sloppy first half that saw them trail by four at halftime. Turns out haircuts really do make a difference.
Marc Gasol really said give me the #3 clippers and screamed at himself and now his game is back— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) September 10, 2020
Other Raptors made shots when they had to. Serge Ibaka made back-to-back triples in the second quarter. Fred VanVleet had nine points in two possessions in the third, part of his 21-point, nine-rebound, seven-assist performance. This all helped to overcome a game from Pascal Siakam that was uncomfortable to watch at many points; shooting just 5-for-19 and 0-for-5 from three in 54 minutes, Siakam looked deeply in his own head on the offensive end as he hesitated on open shots and came up short on others.
The Raptors survived it, though, and Siakam was once again a critical piece to the team’s defensive success — there’s a reason he was out there for more minutes than any other player.
Boston played it admirably. Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown combined to make 14 three-pointers and score 83 points — offsetting a poor shooting night from Kemba Walker, who went just 2-for-11 scoring five points. This truly was a rock fight. Unlike the games before it in this series, though, both teams were connecting with their throws — resulting in a game that’ll be remembered for a long time.
Now, both teams will do their best to reset and get ready. Game 7 on Friday will decide who heads to the Eastern Conference Final to face the Miami Heat.