One pass. One shot. One breathtaking series of events and one game and half-second later, this playoff series with the Boston Celtics is tied.
So close to near elimination, now breathing and feeling it and ready to take over.
With the wrong pass, the wrong shot, one half-second without perfection on Thursday night, this series could be over. But that didn’t happen as we well know, and the Raptors now carry momentum into Game 5 against the Celtics in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Really, each game has been a story unto itself, not related much to the next game, the Raptors being rather lousy in Game 1, falling just short and beating themselves in Game 2, riding Kyle Lowry to barely beating the Celtics with the highlight-reel ending in Game 3 and then Saturday night, looking more like the championship team that they are, playing with control and intelligence, confidence and structure as they beat the Celtics 100-93, evening the best of seven series at 2-2.
Finally, playing a game in the series that made their coach happy.
Nick Nurse understands what it takes for his team to be successful. He knows that it starts with defence and the change of schemes, the confusion of the opponent and mismatches, all of that seemed to work in the Raptors’ favour on Basketball Night In Canada. The Raptors led by eight at the end of three quarters. And unlike the usual fourth-quarter flow of an NBA game, Boston never got a whole lot closer than that through the final 12 minutes.
And now a series that was heading in one direction is tied, yet tilted in the other direction in favour of Toronto. It’s a best-of-three now. The first four games don’t matter much now. The Raptors flexed their muscles Saturday night, showed their brains, took care of the details they needed to take care of and the series may be tied only in games won.
One moment in time, the Raptors season looked ready to expire. Now, there will be a Labour Day Monday night game and a Wednesday night and maybe a seventh game on Friday night.
All of this happening so fast and frenetically and the series suddenly shifting Toronto’s way.
But no time to celebrate. Take the win. Understand the importance and move on. The professional way. The Raptors way. Control, confidence and pace counts for so much. Toronto barely trailed in the game and never looked like it wouldn’t win.
Lowry walked off the court at the end, looking angry, beaten-up, looking as though the Raptors had lost, slamming his hands together in what was anything but celebratory. What it turned out to be wasn’t anger but exhaustion.
And maybe after crashing to the hardwood court his unusual number of times, after Jayson Tatum landed on him in the wrong place, after he was kneed in the wrong place in Game 3, after lifting an entire roster up and carrying it again, he simply made his way to the dressing room. And treatment, or sleep, couldn’t be far behind.
But on the court, Lowry was a 6-foot giant again, playing 44 minutes after playing 46 in Game 3. That’s a basketball marathon. He scored 22 points after getting 31 in Game 3, but he came out with 11 in the first quarter for the second straight game. They wanted to start fast. He took it upon himself to do so.
Points don’t always define the kind of game you played. Pascal Siakam scored one more point than Lowry and still isn’t playing anywhere near as well as he can. Lowry is doing just about everything. Siakam can still do more. He scored 23 points against the Celtics, one fewer than Tatum, who didn’t hugely impact the outcome.
Siakam took 13 shots from three-point land, many of them wide-open looks. Clearly, the Celtics have decided to give him that shot the way the Raptors have determined to let Marcus Smart shoot for Boston. The difference though: Siakam is supposed to be an all-star. He’s supposed to be huge. He’s supposed to make some of those shots.
He’s deferring his hugeness to Lowry in this series. He hit just two threes. Three of 13. If he hits two more, it’s an easy win for the Raptors and probably a 30-point night for Siakam and it looks great on paper. He can do that against these Celtics. Maybe after four games, that’s the most promising side of the series: They’ve got to this point and haven’t had a great game from their supposed game-changer.
The Raptors did get a giant performance from the smooth-shooting Serge Ibaka, who came off the bench and scored 18 points in 22 minutes.
It’s been swinging back and forth for the Celtics, who have had consistent scoring from Tatum in the four games, but not from their expected offence. Ibaka outscored all of the Boston starters except for Tatum.
One game, Kemba Walker has been unstoppable for the Celts. One game, Marcus Smart. So far, Jaylen Brown has been so-so in the series and was worse than that Saturday night. The Raptors had the look of a team that has found a way to stop the Celtics.
There is a moment in almost every playoff series, in every sport, no matter what the score, when the two teams separate. That moment may have come on Saturday night in Orlando. The Raptors heading in one direction. The Celtics heading in another.
For now. This is basketball. It’s always for now.