The Toronto Raptors got a crucial victory to keep pace with the Boston Celtics, who took games one and two in their second-round series.
The Raptors, playing in essentially a must-win game–no team has ever been able to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series, came out of the gate hot, earning a quick seven-point lead.
However, Boston battled back in the first and went on a late run to end the quarter up five.
Toronto’s offensive issues that have plagued them all series reared their head in the second quarter, as they managed only 19 points on Boston’s stingy defence.
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Going into the half trailing by 10, the Raptors looked like they were running on fumes, and fans were feeling that all-too-familiar dread in the pit of their stomach.
However, the defending champs showed some life in the third quarter, as they finally started getting some shots to fall, even managing to retake a lead briefly, thought they couldn’t hold onto it, and they went into the fourth trailing, albeit just by four.
The final quarter was another back-and-forth battle as both teams traded punches down the stretch.
After the Raptors took a four-point lead with under six minutes to play, Boston went on an 8-0 run, and established a four-point lead of their own.
Rather than give up, Toronto dug in and tied the game with under 30 seconds to play, on a sublime finish from Fred VanVleet at the rim.
However, Boston continued to come at the champs, and a defensive miscue between Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol allowed Daniel Theis to get wide open for an uncontested dunk with less than a second to go in the game.
With only 0.5 seconds left on the game clock, all hope appeared lost, and it looked like the defending champs would go down 0-3 to Boston, a historically insurmountable hole.
But once again, the Raptors showed why they are still the defending champs.
Head coach Nick Nurse called a timeout and drew up what would hopefully be the game-winning play.
The ref handed Kyle Lowry the ball, and he heaved an overhead pass across the width of the court to Ogugua Anunoby Jr, affectionately known as “OG,” who buried an improbable catch-and-shoot three right as time expired that gave the Raptors the win.
Anunoby, easily the most stoic player on the team, didn’t even raise his arms in triumph–he just walked off the court as if it was practice.
While it didn’t have quite as much gravitas—regardless of the outcome the Raptors would still be playing in game four—the shot was reminiscent of Kawhi Leonard’s game-seven buzzer-beater that ended the Philadelphia 76ers season and catapulted the Raptors into their second-ever Eastern Conference Finals.
Lowry was the Raptors’ best player all evening, as he led the way in scoring with 31 points, to go along with six rebounds and eight assists in 46 minutes of action.
With the win, Toronto has the chance to even the series on Saturday, when the two teams take the court in game four–tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Cover photo courtesy of the Toronto Raptors via Instagram