Lowry leads Raps through 2OT and into Game 7
Kyle Lowry was past the 50-minute mark when the camera showed him sitting on a folding chair at the corner of the court, waiting for the refs to finish a review in overtime.
He’d finish with 53 minutes, a wild number at the front of a wild line -- 33 points, eight rebounds, six assists -- on one of the wildest nights in Raptors’ franchise history. Pausing on that one fleeting moment feels like stopping to look at a plane flying overhead during a meteor shower, but it was telling.
There was the Greatest Raptor Of All Time, covered in sweat, his hair frazzled, three fresh stitches in his chin certainly irritating him, just zoned out.
Maybe he was taking in the magnitude of the moment: His season on the line, an opponent that’s scary good and still the feeling that you cannot/will not miss your next shot, that there’s light at the end of this marathon of a tunnel. Maybe he was just catching his breath. Whatever it was, this was his night. Lowry set the tone and his team followed with its most complete contribution in this series that’s been full of wild swings.
“You’ve got to do whatever it takes to win basketball games,” Lowry said after the Raptors’ 125-122 double OT win over the Celtics.
“Myself, Pascal, Freddie, OG, we played 50 minutes. That’s big time stuff, that’s what it takes to win a game like that, when we do whatever we need to do. Freddie’s always pushing me to keep going and stay in the moment.
“He started us off big in the third quarter and got us going and then in the fourth quarter it was back and forth.”
Lowry’s play will rightly dominate post-game conversations, but it’s the trickle down effect on his teammates that has sent this sometimes slow, sometimes ugly, sometimes amazing series to a decisive seventh game.
Fred VanVleet had 21 points that came on a determined 22 shots. Norm Powell got into the game and made himself indispensable, playing 38 minutes and coming up with 23 huge, necessary bench points. Nick Nurse threw a small ball lineup at the Celtics and lived with Daniel Theis thriving on lobs, while OG Anunoby grabbed 13 rebounds and made life difficult for Jaylen Brown (31 points on 11-30 shooting).
The Raptors’ effort was a meteor shower and the sky was lighting up all over the place.
“Kyle’s been bigtime all of my five years here,” Powell said.
“Making big plays, giving up his body for the team, taking charges out on the floor, we need that. He's our leader. We go as he goes and he did a great job in crunchtime keeping us calm, getting us into our sets, making big plays, passes, shots. That's K-Low though, that's what he does. We need him to continue to do that.”
When you stop to think about it, this series has been full of the unbelievable for the Raptors. They fell behind 0-2 and evened the series on the back of an Anunoby buzzer beater in Game 3, only to let Game 5 slip away with a blowout loss. Facing elimination, the Raptors survived a less-than-pretty first half, found their groove and out-fought a Celtics team that many had picked to close things out in Game 6.
Those kinds of wins have to take a toll on a Celtics team that has looked like the better group more nights than not in this series, yet still face elimination on Friday night.
“I think it puts it in our minds that it’ll take a full 48-minute effort,” Powell said.
“I think earlier in the series when we went down, we didn't have that energy for 48 minutes. I think the games that we've won have shown that we’ve put together a full 48-minute effort, have no lulls offensively and defensively. Whatever happens through our mistakes and moments where we do mess up whatever the game plan is, we continue to fight through it and figure it out to help one another.”
Nurse still only used eight bodies in Game 6, but for the first time in the series, it felt like everyone that saw the floor made a significant contribution. Marc Gasol hit his first three of the series and his improved play for a stretch of the third quarter felt contagious for the rest of his teammates. VanVleet’s shot wasn’t there like it normally is, but he got hot in the third, scoring nine points to cut into Boston’s attempt to run away with the game. Siakam’s shot wasn’t there, but he found a way to face up and hit a big 12-footer in the second OT. Serge Ibaka put his wobbly ankle to the test and went 3-5 from three and blocked three shots almost immediately after checking into the game.
Where other wins felt like survival in this battle with Boston, this one felt like a realization of what the full group can give and the strength that comes from that.
“We're at a stage where the stakes are super high and only good teams can win at this stage,” Nurse said.
“For us to be good...we've got to have those little contributions all over the place. Not huge ones, but...10 here, eight there 12 here, Norm with the big game. We need that because that's kind of how we've decided to play. Everybody should be a threat on offence and everybody can contribute. Everybody can shoot the ball. We need everybody to do that.”
They got it in Game 6 to stay alive. If they can get it again on Friday, they have a shot at a repeat appearance in the Eastern Conference Final.