The shots wouldn’t fall when the Toronto Raptors needed them most on Tuesday, and now the reigning NBA champions are trailing 0-2 in their series with the Boston Celtics.
Jayson Tatum had 34 points to lead the Celtics toward a 102-99 win over the Raps in a seesaw contest that had 19 lead changes. Marcus Smart (19) and Kemba Walker (17) were both quiet early, but huge for Boston in the final quarter.
OG Anunoby scored a postseason career-best 20 points for Toronto in the loss. Fred VanVleet had 19 points, Serge Ibaka had 17 with nine boards and Pascal Siakam scored 17. Kyle Lowry had 16 points while dishing out seven assists.
Toronto led by eight after three quarters, but suffered a 5-of-21 shooting performance in the fourth quarter that did the Raptors in.
“We’re pretty pissed right now,” Lowry said. “But it’s not a normal situation in the playoffs where we lost two home games, we just lost two games. Now we have a chance to get one game.”
The Raptors have wiggled out of such situations before. They trailed in the first three series of their 2019 run to the NBA title, including an 0-2 hole against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We know we shouldn’t give up,” Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said.
Nurse said his team was “a little pissed off” about their losing by 16 points and looking lacklustre in Game 1, but he said they have proven to be very good at bouncing back after losses.
The Raptors showed signs right away that they would be better in Game 2. They went on a 9-0 run in the first quarter, they were hustling harder on defence, contesting shots and making threes. Siakam, who was 5-of-16 in the opening game, was hitting shots.
The Celtics didn’t allow the Raps to stretch that lead out. They went on an 8-0 run of their own and the foes would be neck and neck for the rest of the game.
Bodies collided for much of the game. At one point, Lowry took a hipcheck from Brad Wanamaker that sent him sliding across the gym floor.
Siakam nailed a deep buzzer-beating three-pointer and the Raps trailed by two heading into half-time
The Raps glued themselves to Tatum defensively, but he found crafty ways to get loose anyway. He scored on pull-ups and fadeaways, bank shots and deep threes. He drew the Raps into fouls, hauled in rebounds and found teammates open out wide.
The Raptors picked up momentum late in the third quarter and finally pulled ahead by some meaningful points, fuelled by a few intense moments.
There was a monster dunk from Anunoby, and a coach’s challenge that Toronto won. The Celtics bobbled the ball, Lowry dove for it and flicked it ahead to a sprinting VanVleet who made a layup, but officials first said ‘no basket’ and slapped Siakam with a foul for colliding with Smart as he trailed behind VanVleet. Nurse chose to fight for Siakam, claiming it was Smart who deserved the foul. It paid off, and Toronto was rewarded the much-needed two points.
The Raps went on to take an eight-point lead into the final quarter, but then things would shift.
That’s when Smart erupted for Boston, scoring 16 points in the fourth, including an astounding five three-pointers. Walker, who struggled to make buckets earlier in the game, all of a sudden could not miss – he rolled for 11 points. Tatum remained hot.
“[Tatum] shoots 14 free throws which is as much as our whole team shoots,” said Nurse, whose Raptors had 19 free throws, all of them in the second half. “That’s the frustrating part. I think our guys were working hard on him and were doing a pretty good job but he did make some good shots.
“They were obviously getting him the ball a lot, getting him in space. We could have helped a little bit better here and there, but they took very good care of him tonight.”
Toronto’s three-point shooting luck dried up as the game went on. They missed 10 of 11 deep attempts in the last quarter. The two teams remained just a few points apart down the stretch.
Siakam made a costly mistake with 31 seconds remaining. The edge of his shoe touched the out-of-bounds line as he received the ball with a chance to take a game-tying shot. That gave the ball back to Boston at the worst moment.
“The court has a different feel to it. There have been a lot of guys stepping on the sideline in the bubble,” Nurse said.
VanVleet launched a desperate game-tying 31-foot attempt at the buzzer, but it didn’t fall.
The two teams will meet again in Game 3 on Thursday at 6:30 p.m ET.