When Daniel Theis converted Kemba Walker‘s no-look bounce pass that threaded the needle of Raptors defenders and slammed through the net with only half a second left to play, it felt like a 3-0 Celtics lead in their best-of-7 was a foregone conclusion Thursday night.
However, the Raptors, facing a two-point deficit (103-101), had one more opportunity to either force overtime or end the Celtics’ night with a 3-pointer — they chose the latter. Kyle Lowry’s perfect cross-court inbound pass from in front of the game’s scorers table landed in the hands of OG Anunoby, whose timing on the catch-and-shoot play was quick enough to release the ball just before time expired.
Toronto now trails Boston 2-1, avoiding a devastating 3-0 hole and the brink of elimination.
The Game-Winning Play
“It felt good,” Anunoby said about his game-winner when the ball left his hands. “Kyle (Lowry) made a great pass. He waited long enough, threw it in the air quick enough for me before they got to me. Great pass from Kyle.”
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who says the play wasn’t designed to go to Anunoby as its first option, gushed over his point guard’s instinct to find the open man and make the right play.
“There’s not a lot of times that you want a, let’s call him 6-foot-1 guard, taking the ball out-of-bounds in a late-game situation because you saw what they (Celtics) do — they try to put size on it and limit your vision,” Nurse said. “We would try to do something similar. But you say to me ‘Why’s Kyle taking it out?’ and I’m going to say because he’s got some guts. And he’s going to make some gutsy plays out there.”
Boston Celtics’ Crunch Time Defense
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens turned to the tallest person the NBA — Tacko Fall — to defend Lowry’s inbound pass but a deflection came to no avail, despite the distance Lowry’s pass covered and the timing of it all; only half-a-second to spare.
“We’ve played a zone (defense) a lot in that circumstance,” Stevens said. “They contorted it with their alignment well and when we matched up we just didn’t get to the shot. Credit them and credit the ability to make that shot under a little bit of duress with 0.5 and Lowry’s ability to deliver that pass over Tacko from that distance is not an easy thing to do. No question, we could have guarded a little better but that’s something that we’ll get better at and just move on.”
Toronto Raptors: All Grit & Guts
Lowry’s game-winning assist topped off a stellar night for Toronto’s point guard, who finished with a game-high 31 points on 13-of-23 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers, six rebounds and three assists. He was one of five Raptors players who scored in double figures, including Fred VanVleet (25), who connected on five 3-pointers, Pascal Siakam (16) and Anunoby, who added a dozen.
“We’ve had a lot of gutsy performances from this crew, right? I mean, it’s kind of what the group is, right?” Nurse asked. “There’s Kyle (Lowry), there’s Fred (VanVleet), Pascal (Siakam), Norm (Powell); there’s a lot of guys that really have fought their whole lives to get to where they are. Amid anyone’s expectations, right?
“You know, the ball was bouncing funny and to reach in and find that gutsiness for that second half and finding a way even though it was very fortunate to find a way, I’m not sure that’s doesn’t rank up there with one of our gutsiest performances.”
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