OG Anunoby, the guy who missed all of last season's championship run because of an appendectomy of all things, was the one to keep the Toronto Raptors' title defense alive on Thursday, draining a catch-and-shoot-quickly corner 3 at the buzzer of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Toronto escaped from the brink of a 3-0 series deficit with a 104-103 victory over the Boston Celtics.
After the Celtics' Kemba Walker escaped a Toronto double-team and made a brilliant no-look pass to Daniel Theis for a dunk, the Raptors were down two with only 0.5 seconds left. It wasn't a lot of time, but it was enough.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse had 6-foot point guard Kyle Lowry inbound the ball on the right side of the floor. Celtics coach Brad Stevens had 7-foot-5, third-string center Tacko Fall stand in front of him.
The first action on the play was for Anunoby to clear from the right corner to the left corner. Jayson Tatum let him go to stay on the strong side, calling for a teammate to switch onto Anunoby. Jaylen Brown was the closest one, but was alone with Pascal Siakam in the paint.
The primary option was Fred VanVleet curling to the right corner, where he was met by both Tatum and Theis. Marc Gasol set a pin-down screen for Siakam, which Brown and Marcus Smart switched. Theis was left guarding nobody, and Anunoby was still all alone. But he was 53 feet away from Lowry, who still had a 7-foot-5 dude standing in front of him.
"I was just waiting," Lowry said. "Just waiting for the right moment and I seen Jaylen Brown step up a little bit on Marc, and I just had to make a precise pass to a heck of a shooter in OG."
Easier said than done, but Lowry launched a two-handed, soccer-style inbounds pass over the arms of Fall. With the ball 20 feet in the air, Brown turned in the middle of the paint, realizing he was the nearest defender to what was going to be a wide-open corner 3 attempt from a guy who was already 4-for-7 from the left corner in the series.
Lowry's parabolic pass landed right in Anunoby's lap.
"You say to me, 'Why is Kyle taking it out?'" Nurse explained. "I say, 'Because he's got some guts, man.' You've got to make a gutsy play every now and then."
Brown leapt from midway between the paint and the 3-point line, but couldn't get his hands on the shot, which left Anunoby's hands with 0.1 on the clock.
According to Anunoby: "It felt good."
Indeed. The shot rattled in, and this is now a 2-1 series heading into Game 4.
The pass was nothing. OG made the shot. Give OG his flowers tonight, man."
"The pass was nothing," Lowry said. "OG made the shot. All the credit goes to the shot."
"Give OG his flowers tonight, man. Give him his flowers tonight, seriously. Everybody, just give OG his flowers."
And give the Raptors a chance to win this series. No team in NBA history has come down from 3-0, but 2-1 is manageable, and a lot different than how things were looking for the champs Thursday morning.
"It's been a rough couple of days," VanVleet admitted. "The egg we laid in Game 1 and to get beat like that. Then to play really good for about 42 out of 48 minutes in Game 2 and lose, we've been pretty hard on ourselves the past couple of days. It hasn't been pretty."
Things still weren't looking good after the first half of Game 3, with Boston up 57-47 and Toronto having scored a paltry 19 points on 24 second-quarter possessions.
"We got to the half down 10, and just again weren't catching any breaks," Nurse said. "The ball wasn't going in. The ball was bouncing funny."
And things were again looking bleak after Theis' dunk. But the Raptors were focused in their huddle.
"The thing about being in those timeouts," VanVleet said, "is you just have to feel the belief. And I just felt like the belief never went anywhere, regardless. We had 0.5, and that was enough to get a shot off."
Insert that 'ol Rudy Tomjanovich quote here.
"To reach in and find that gustiness for that second half," Nurse said, "and find it any way, even though it was very fortunate, finding a way, I'm not sure that doesn't rank up there with our gutsiest performances."
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