Behind a Herculean performance from Kyle Lowry, the resilient Toronto Raptors have survived to play another day.
Their hopes of repeating as NBA champs remain alive.
In a series with more erratic twists than a Disney rollercoaster, the desperate Raptors outlasted the Boston Celtics 125-122 in double overtime to force a Game 7 on Friday.
Lowry had 33 points, eight rebounds and six assists while playing a tireless 53 minutes to help the Raps extend their stay in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. He scored six three-pointers, and added a pair of steals and a blocked shot.
Powell, in his most momentous performance as a Raptor, had 23 points – 10 of them in the second overtime.
Fred VanVleet had 21 points, while Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby each scored 13. Pascal Siakam had 12 points while leading the team in minutes, over 54. Gasol contributed eight points at a critical time.
Jaylen Brown led Boston with 31, while Jayson Tatum had 29 points with 14 rebounds and nine assists. Marcus Smart added 23 with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Daniel Theis scored 18. Kemba Walker was held to five.
“We’re playing against a physical, tough team, well coached, a couple all-stars and some real life stars and a great team,” said Lowry, sporting three stitches in his chin after the game. “We had to work hard for this win and for us, personally, that’s what we do: we play hard and we go out there and we play every possession like it’s our last and find ways to pull out victories.”
The Miami Heat, having just finished off the Milwaukee Bucks, sit waiting for Friday’s winner so they can kick off the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Raptors had not faced an elimination contest since Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals versus the Philadelphia 76ers last May.
Would they look like themselves, people wondered? Like fighters and champions? Or like their bizarre low-energy version of two nights earlier?
The Raps were cautious about the dreaded pitfall of another bad start. They knew how heavy and uncomfortable it would be to sink down into that quicksand against Boston again in the first quarter. They knew very well how overwhelming and disheartening it would feel to hoist themselves out of another deficit. The Celtics would bury them early and extinguish their spirit if given even an inch.
Marc Gasol chopped off the shaggy locks he had been sporting since the NBA re-start and emerged for Wednesday’s game with a close-cropped haircut resembling the one he had in last year’s postseason. At first, it didn’t seem he had shed his playoff scoring struggles with the sheering. He missed his three first-quarter shots and headed to the bench tugging at his jersey, and looking frustrated.
Ibaka was questionable for the contest after injuring his ankle late in Game 5, but he checked in for Gasol at his usual time in the first quarter looking unbothered. They badly needed their leading rebounder, tender ankle or not.
Toronto shot only 30.4 percent in the quarter, running into a green wall on most attempts to the hoop and clanking many of their shots from outside the paint. But on the bright side, they held Boston to just 30.8 percent, and the Celtics held a slim 25-21 lead after the first.
In the second, Boston began to peel away as Brown and Smart and Tatum whirled and scored from everywhere. The Raps, meanwhile, created open shots but just kept missing them. The Celtics built a 12-point cushion.
The Raps did not look like a team resigned to vanish down into the quicksand, to pack up and leave the bubble for the first time in two-and-a-half months. They chose to fight.
Lowry split his chin open, slapped a bandage on it -- to hold over for stitches later -- and kept going. He put up a feisty 15-point half, while Ibaka nailed a trio of threes, and Powell scored too, when Siakam and VanVleet couldn’t. Toronto had held Walker scoreless in the half.
Toronto trailed just 52-48 at half-time.
As if a new man, Gasol hit a couple buckets to start the second half, and the Raps were keeping the game close. VanVleet elevated to hoist a three and his ankle corkscrewed awkwardly as he landed on Smart’s foot. The Raps' guard writhed in pain, then got back on his feet as if shaking off all the bad shooting vibes radiating off him so far. He swished three free throws, then two three-pointers.
It seemed contagious. The rejuvenated Gasol hit a deep one too. An 11-2 run helped propel Toronto into the lead – their first since they scored the first point of the game.
“We love Marc and what he brings us,” said Nurse. "Nothing good has happened for the guy. So when he did bang that shot in I think everybody knew it was a big boost for him. The guys, as you can tell when something like that happens and their reaction you can tell how much they love him and how much they care about him. That just gave us all a little boost for the second half. "
The two teams went bucket for bucket in a tense final quarter.
Toronto went with a small-ball lineup in the final minutes: no centre, Powell in with the rest of the starters. They had a four-point lead with 4:24 left, and then they went dry, unable to score as Boston inched forward and tied it.
They stuck with the small lineup. Nurse said he had been thinking about using it for a few games and only just briefly broke it out in Monday’s game before using it a lot more Wednesday. Powell was huge on both ends of the floor in that lineup.
“It just gives us a little bit better chance to guard them,” Nurse explained. That’s the main thing. It’s tough when Kemba’s so fast and it’s hard for our bigs sometimes to keep up with him when they’re up, because he can shoot the 3, you’ve got to be up, and then if you creep up too far he darts by you. It’s hard to play some standard pick-and-roll coverages. That’s kind of where we got to it from." Knotted at 98-98 Walker missed a game-winning bucket in the final seconds, and then Siakam missed one for Toronto. On to overtime.
They stayed grid-locked at the end of that one too, when a Powell iso shot over Tatum at the buzzer hit the rim.
Siakam and Anunoby and Powell traded buckets with Daniel Theis in the second OT. Powell picked the pocket of Tatum and scored, drawing a foul in the process to put them up by five.
Then Lowry muscled in for a fadeway bucket, and Powell add some free throws.
“That’s real Raptors basketball,” said Powell. “Trusting one another and continuing to play no matter what we’re faced with, and we pulled it off tonight.”