The defending champions are fighting back.
After losing the first two contests of their second-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors earned some momentum with a stunning 104-103 victory in Thursday's Game 3. OG Anunoby drilled the game-winning three at the buzzer right after Kemba Walker appeared to win it for the Celtics with a beautiful pass to Daniel Theis for a dunk.
The dramatic sequence gave Toronto, which hasn't lost to another team inside the bubble, its first win against Boston at Walt Disney World Resort.
A strong showing from Walker wasn't enough for the Celtics, but they are still in ideal position to make the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years up 2-1.
Notable Player Stats
- Kyle Lowry, G, TOR: 31 PTS, 8 AST, 6 REB, 2 STL
- Fred VanVleet, G, TOR: 25 PTS, 6 AST, 3 REB
- Pascal Siakam, F, TOR: 16 PTS, 7 REB
- OG Anunoby, F, TOR: 12 PTS, 10 REB, 3 STL, 2 BLK
- Kemba Walker, G, BOS: 29 PTS, 3 AST, 3 REB, 3 STL
- Jaylen Brown, G, BOS: 19 PTS, 12 REB, 4 BLK
- Jayson Tatum, F, BOS: 15 PTS, 9 REB, 6 AST, 5-of-18 FG
Heroics from Lowry and Anunoby Help Raptors Overcome Shooting Woes
Thursday's contest was not an unfamiliar scenario for the Raptors.
After all, they were down 2-0 in last season's Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks and came storming back to win the series and the eventual championship. Of course, they had Kawhi Leonard last year and can no longer rely on his individual brilliance to bail them out of games.
That put more pressure on the three-point shooting of the collective, especially after Toronto shot 25 percent from deep in Game 1 and 27.5 percent in Game 2. Of particular note was Lowry and Fred VanVleet, who combined to shoot 6-of-35 (17.1 percent) from three-point range in the first two games.
It was more of the same out of the gates in Game 3, as the defending champions were just 5-of-22 from distance in the first half. Boston's defense deserves some credit, but the Raptors offense bogged down with no perimeter shooting to open up driving lanes and space inside for the bigs.
It also didn't help that Pascal Siakam had a mere two points at the half as his team fell behind by double digits.
With the season on the line—considering no team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series—the Raptors dialed up the defensive intensity in the second half while Lowry found other ways to impact the game. The veteran point guard attacked the basket, facilitated when defenders collapsed on him and bothered Celtics ball-handlers on the perimeter.
He finally hit a three to go up one in the final eight minutes, and VanVleet discovered his touch as well.
Still, it was Anunoby who played the role of hero but only after Lowry found him with an impressive pass over the towering Tacko Fall.
Kemba Walker's Brilliant Performance Goes to Waste
Jayson Tatum has been the primary storyline of the playoffs for the Celtics, seemingly rising to another level of superstardom as the surefire go-to option and someone who is nearly impossible to stop with his outside shooting and smooth drives to the lane.
However, Walker has hit a number of clutch shots, including a step-back jumper in the final minute of Game 2, and carried the No. 3 seed for extended stretches Thursday.
He poured in 17 points in the first quarter alone, capping the effort with a buzzer-beater three, and played through contact, got to the line and picked opportune times to drive while mixing in outside shooting.
It was much-needed production, especially with Tatum struggling offensively.
Tatum never found his shot, although he assisted on dunks from Theis and Brown to go up four before the Raptors came storming back in the final minute. Even layups from Lowry and VanVleet, the latter of which was an incredible finish over Theis, didn't appear to be enough when Walker added one more head-turning highlight with his pass to give Boston the lead with less than a second remaining.
Anunoby spoiled it for the Celtics.
Game 4 of the series is Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET.