Down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors know what they are facing. They were here before just a season ago.
Against the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals, the Raptors fell behind 2-0 before winning four straight on their way to an eventual NBA championship. They'll try to repeat the feat beginning with Game 3 against the Celtics on Thursday night at the NBA bubble near Orlando.
"I think we should know we shouldn't give up," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "We know the next game is super critical, but they're all critical."
Thursday's contest takes on added importance after Toronto blew a 12-point lead late in the third quarter in Tuesday's 102-99 Game 2 loss. The Celtics outscored the Raptors 32-21 in the fourth behind a 3-pointer explosion from Marcus Smart.
"We're pretty pissed right now," Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said after the defeat "We're down 0-2. But we have to go back and look at the film and understand what we've done wrong and look at what we can do better."
Toronto heads back to the drawing board for the second time in the series after losing 112-94 in a disastrous Game 1. Poor shot selection has been a theme for the Raptors thus far, most notably from deep, where they have made just 21 of their 80 attempts (26.3 percent). Overall, Toronto is shooting 38.5 percent as a club, compared to 44.7 percent for Boston.
The Celtics have had the Raptors' number all season, winning five of their six matchups. In the bubble, Toronto is 0-3 against Boston and 11-0 against everyone else.
The Celtics have won six straight to begin the playoffs primarily on the back of Jayson Tatum, who scored a playoff-career-high 34 points in Tuesday's victory. But after the game it was Smart getting the attention for the five straight 3-pointers that he sunk early in the fourth quarter to get Boston back in it.
"Anybody that watches him play, knows him or ever plays with him knows that there's nobody like Smart," said Tatum. "Any time I'm going to war, I'd take him on my team every day of the week."
Prior to the final quarter, Smart had been held to three points. The fact that the Celtics still turned to him is a reflection of the trust his teammates have in the six-year veteran.
"Marcus has been a winning player since he's gotten here," said Boston coach Brad Stevens. "I've said many times, we've been in the playoffs every year since he's been here, and it's not a coincidence."
For Toronto, the key to getting back in the series will be more production from Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Lowry, who have all failed to reach the 20-point mark in each of the first two games.
"Even though we're up two games, these guys have been down before," said Celtics guard Kemba Walker. "These guys know what it takes. They're still the defending champs. And we've still got tons of work to do."