Raptors v Celtics - Game 4 Preview
OG Anunoby will continue to draw comparisons to other players for his Game 3 heroics, but his coach threw a special one his way on Friday.
Nick Nurse told reporters that he’d only just seen Anunoby’s stone cold reaction to his game-winning triple a few minutes after their practice had ended. Nurse laughed about his forward’s stoicism in the biggest moment of his young career and said it looked familiar to him.
“That has to be one of the most classic reactions of all time,” Nurse said, laughing.
“It brings a smile to your face. I remember one other similar thing. It was Larry Bird as a coach and it was probably Reggie Miller hit a stepback three or something to win the game and Larry Bird didn’t move, he didn’t blink.”
“I think the cool thing, like Kyle’s been saying, he’s really happy for OG. It’s a cool moment and it’s nice that our team, players and leaders are genuinely happy for OG that he had such a cool moment.”
Until a team lifts the Larry O’Brien trophy, the playoffs are always about the next game and the next challenge. The Raptors are enjoying Anunoby’s shot getting its moment in the sun, but they spent their inbetween day of this series watching film and getting ready for what promises to be a tough Game 4 against Boston. Here are a few things the Raptors will have to lock in on as they try to tie this series up.
Searching for a wildcard
One of the perks of the bubble life is the lack of travel for these playoffs. While that taxing factor is removed from the equation in Florida, the every-other-night schedule for games is still a challenge. The Raptors had an optional practice on Friday, likely as a means to give those that played heavy minutes a chance to recover. With the desperately needed win secured, Nurse definitely didn’t have any regrets on leaning on his top players. Kyle Lowry played 46 minutes in the win and Anunoby played 45. Fred VanVleet logged 41 minutes and Pascal Siakam played 38.
“Listen, the season was on the line,” Nurse said. “I have no idea how it’s going to feel (in Game 4). I really do believe there is some opportunity for some of these guys to come off the bench. I don’t know who, but I do believe there is some and we’re probably going to find somebody. It’s probably going to be a wildcard that comes into this series at some point.”
In the wake of the Raptors’ Game 1 loss, Nurse was asked about the presence or lack of joy around his team at that moment. He said there wasn’t much, if any. A win like the one they got in Game 3 might be the only antidote to the malaise that had built up around the Raptors over the last week-plus.
“There's been some heavy, heavy times for everybody, right? There's been some heavy times from (Coronavirus), heavy times from racial inequality, stoppage of play. Everybody's got their own individual stuff, too,” Nurse said.
“I think there is a little spark of some joy and fun and wanting to want to get back out there and see if we can play better. I think we needed to play better and I think we started to play better. I'm just glad that we got a break. It didn't seem like we were getting a break this whole series and we got a couple. Let's see if we can build on that and maybe some of the joy and positivity from that will make us play a little bit more like ourselves.”
Get the scalpel out of Kemba’s hands
He’s a four-time All-Star and made the All-NBA third team last year. Now, Kemba Walker is showing just how lethal of a playoff performer he can be. Walker was magnificent in Game 4, scoring 29 points, including 4-7 three-point shooting. In the dying seconds of Game 3, he weaved through the Raptors’ defence and coolly dropped a no-look pass off to centre Daniel Theis for the go ahead dunk, leaving just half a second on the game clock. On most days that’s game and the Celtics walk out with a 3-0 advantage.
You won’t outright stop Walker, but if his production is more around his Game 2 output -- 17 points, six rebounds, four assists -- everyone’s playoff-induced anxiety drops down a little.
Space, life and the sidelines
Lowry spoke after Game 3 about the immense challenge that stood in front of him with half a second on the clock. There’s about a 15-inch disparity between Lowry, the inbounder, and Celtics’ centre Tacko Fall, who subbed in for Walker for the game’s final play. The rookie’s long arms must have looked like they could have reached the sun from where Lowry stood, so the veteran took advantage of the situation and stepped back.
That’s not a luxury that players are afforded in the non-pandemic world of the NBA, where the priciest seats in the house are often at an inbounders’ heels on the sidelines.
“You could look at that both ways,” Nurse said. “OK, that's advantageous. Then in Game 2, without having any fans up against the sideline Pascal Siakam steps out of bounds when we were down three...because of weird spacing.
“I think it's a really good life thing. I believe in life there is balance. There you go. It balances itself right out on two specific plays, in two end-of-game plays.”