I don't shoot trying to miss: Anunoby wins Game 3

by Chris O'Leary

When Sam Cassell would hit a clutch shot, his go-to celebration was a gesture that within the confines of a page that children might be reading, we’ll say wasn’t family-friendly. 

When Allan Houston got the bounce on a series-winner against the Miami Heat in 1999, he sprinted down the court, his fists clenched straight down to his hips, running to his waiting New York Knick teammates.  

Damian Lillard may not celebrate lavishly, but he’ll give the camera a look, a tilt of the head, something to let you know that he knows that you know what he knew all along. 

When it came time for OG Anunoby to write a chapter in Toronto Raptors’ history, he did it making the same face as the guy that you crossed paths with at the grocery store last week. Or was it the week before? Who was it again? Exactly. 

True to his lowkey, to-the-point persona, Anunoby reacted to the biggest shot of his three-year career -- one that pulled his team back from the brink of elimination -- the way that everyone else on that court would have reacted if they’d missed it. 

He handled the post-game press conference the same way, too. 

“When I shot it I expected to make it,” he said of his stone faced reaction to the play. 

“I don’t shoot trying to miss. Every shoot I shot I try to make it. I wasn’t surprised.” 

His teammates handled the celebration for him and made sure to pull him into the action. Fred VanVleet was the first one to get to him, with enough joy for the both of them. 

“I know he's excited. I think that's just his nature and being in those situations, sometimes you don't know what to do, you don't know how to react,” he said of Anunoby. 

“I don't think he's a guy that's going to run around the court, it’s just not his personality. That was true OG form right there, to knock down the biggest shot of his life and act like nothing happened. For the rest of us, we were more excited for him probably than he was for himself.” 

“It’s all about OG,” said Kyle Lowry, who made a full degree of difficulty pass to get the inbound to Anunoby, passing the ball in over the outstretched arms of seven-foot-five Tacko Fall. 

“Give OG his flowers tonight, man. Give him his flowers tonight. Seriously. Everybody, just give OG his flowers.” 

The fact that flowers bloomed from that situation feels like a miracle. Game 3 was a slugfest that saw Lowry (31 points and eight assists) carry the team from the opening tip while the rest of the usually reliable Raptors crew found its rhythm through the second half. 

VanVleet (25 points) broke out of his three-point slump and had his best offensive showing since the Game 4 win over Brooklyn. Pascal Siakam scored 14 of his 16 in the second half, including a much-needed three as the Raptors made their push. Anunoby played 45 minutes -- just one less than Lowry -- and had 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. The three at the buzzer put him at 12 points on the night. After missing the championship run a year ago after an appendectomy, Anunoby seems to get more valuable to his team with each playoff game he plays. 

“We’re really happy for him, he played his tail off,” Nick Nurse said after the game. 

“It’s nice that he got a big reward for it because he played so hard all over the court.” 

The Raptors have looked downtrodden through almost all of this series. There was what VanVleet called the egg laid in Game 1, then a draining Game 2 loss that felt winnable until Marcus Smart ran off five straight three-pointers to open the fourth quarter. Add in the stoppage in play that disrupted the start of the series and the heaviness that life outside of all of our bubbles carries right now and it can be a lot. 

Facing a 0-3 series deficit after another gruelling game might have been a back breaker. Instead, we’re talking flowers, impossibly calm three-point shot making at the buzzer and for the first time in a long time around this group, joy. 

“We expect a lot of ourselves and so to be down 0-2, we know it wasn't over but...nobody was happy. People were pissed off. The mood wasn’t great. All we needed was one to get the juice back, get a little magic, a little luck and to  get the momentum going on your side. So we’ve got to try to tie this thing up on Saturday,” said VanVleet.

After a long stretch of difficult days, the Raptors finally seem like they see some daylight. There’s still work to do, but getting rewarded for the work you put in makes a huge difference in a series, not to mention when brooms are lingering. There’s breathing room, flowers, some life and something to bring a team together.  

“That’s OG’s moment, man and that's a great moment for that kid,” Lowry said of the shot, downplaying the incredible pass that set it up. 

“I’m so happy and so proud of him, man. The pass meant nothing. The shot was everything.” 

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