When the Toronto Raptors fell behind 0-2 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal against the Boston Celtics, it was hard to imagine the series going seven games. Even after they tied the series, a 111-89 loss in Game 5 had many predicting Toronto’s end was all but assured.
But double-overtime in Game 6 had other plans, and now the Raptors and Celtics will face off in a winner-take-all showdown Friday night at the NBA bubble near Orlando. The team that moves on will face the Miami Heat in the conference finals, one step away from an NBA Finals berth.
The Raptors are looking to defend their title. The Celtics are looking for their third conference finals appearance in four seasons. But Game 7 comes first for both teams.
“I think everyone came into this series expecting a long series,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “I don’t think we lived up to that in the first couple of games. We were able to work ourselves back into position to give ourselves a chance and Game 7 to go to the Eastern Conference finals … all you can ask for is a chance.”
The Raptors were awarded that chance thanks to the heroics of Norman Powell in overtime Wednesday night. Between the two extra periods, Powell scored 15 of his 23 points, including 10 in the game-deciding second OT. His three-point play with 38.8 seconds left gave the Raptors a four-point lead, and his free throws with 5.0 ticks remaining helped Toronto hold on.
“He saved us. He saved our season,” VanVleet said.
Though Powell carried the Raptors down the stretch, Kyle Lowry was brilliant once again, scoring 33 points in 53 minutes. Pascal Siakam (54 minutes), VanVleet (51) and OG Anunoby (50) also saw extended time on the court.
“We had to work hard for this win, and for us, that is what we do,” Lowry said. “We work hard, and we play every possession like it is our last and find ways to pull out victories.”
Despite the setback Wednesday night, the Celtics are still confident heading into Game 7.
“We have a good group of guys and we love playing basketball with each other and we love making each other better,” point guard Kemba Walker said. “I know we’ll respond. We’re going to come out and play hard again.”
Walker could be the ‘X’ factor Friday night, having been held to five points on 2-of-11 shooting in 52 minutes in the Game 6 loss.
“Just a bad offensive night for me, terrible offensive night for me,” he said. After a subpar showing in Game 4, Walker responded with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting in the blowout victory in Game 5.
While Walker struggled, Jaylen Brown scored 31 points with 16 rebounds; Marcus Smart enjoyed his second career triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists); and Jayson Tatum fell an assist shy of his first (29, 14, 9). Still, Boston had its chances to put the game away, leading early in both overtimes.
“This is all a part of embracing the challenge,” Brown said. “And that’s what we gotta do: embrace it so we can get ready to come back and give everything for Game 7.”
–Field Level Media