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The anatomy of the Raptors’ perfect play to beat the Celtics in Game 3

Jaylen Brown was a half-step behind when OG Anunoby got the ball in his hands with .5 seconds left.Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty

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While Celtics fans – and the Celtics players, for that matter – may not want to watch the Raptors’ game-winning three-point play in Thursday’s Game 3 of their playoff series on loop, it’s worth another look. Because it’s just that good.

After Kemba Walker dished to Daniel Theis for a punctuated dunk that put the Celtics up, 103-101, and left just a half-second on the clock, Toronto had to be perfect if it had any chance of winning.

And it was.

Here’s a closer look at how the OG Anunoby pulled off the buzzer-beating 3:


Tacko Fall enters the game.

Coach Brad Stevens put 7-foot-5-inch center Tacko Fall in to guard Kyle Lowry’s sideline inbounds pass. On the bench, Walker was so nervous that something bad might happen that he could not watch.

The Celtics were in zone.

The Celtics came out in a zone defense, ideally to leave them less susceptible to a series of screens. It’s their usual approach in these situations, and it generally works out well. They were pointing out and calling switches.

No one saw OG Anunoby on the baseline.

Jayson Tatum started on Anunoby, the lowest threat on the court. Anunoby casually jogged along the baseline to the far corner before the ball was inbounded.

Tatum appeared to point to let Jaylen Brown know so he could switch onto him. But Brown had his back to them as he guarded Pascal Siakam in the paint, and it did not look like Tatum yelled anything to him.

Fred VanVleet was the focus.

The Celtics’ focus was on VanVleet, the most dangerous option in this situation. Tatum said Marcus Smart passed VanVleet off to him.

“So OG cut. I was passing to the next guy,” Tatum said after the game. “We just didn’t communicate. Everybody didn’t hear it. It’s not on one person.”


When Marc Gasol set a screen for VanVleet, Smart pointed for a switch. Theis and Tatum both shaded toward VanVleet, smothering that option, but also leaving Boston vulnerable elsewhere.

Gasol then set a screen for Pascal Siakam, who ran toward the top of the key. Brown switched onto Gasol, and Smart switched onto Siakam. And as all this was transpiring, before the ball was even inbounded, Anunoby stood alone in the far left corner.

You can see the switches better if you slow down the play. Watch how Tatum and Smart swap at the top at the key.

NBA Advanced Stats

Lowry’s pass was perfect.

The only way the Raptors could get a shot off in time was if the inbounds pass landed right in Anunoby’s hands.

Lowry, despite being guarded by Fall, was able to drop it front-and-center to Anunoby, who didn’t hesitate and put the shot up. It was an absurdly difficult crosscourt pass that looked like it was executed with ease.

Brown couldn’t get to Anunoby in time.

By the time Brown recovered and contested the shot, he was a half-step behind. It was too late, as the 3-pointer splashed through the net and sent the Raptors to an improbable 104-103 win in Orlando that pulled them within 2-1 in this series.

Here’s what the Celtics were thinking after the game.

Brown called it a miscommunication.

“That’s really all what happened. At the end of the day, we’ve just got to be better as a unit. Regardless of what [defense] we were in, we know we had to guard the 3-point line. So, that was just a [expletive] disgrace at the end of the game. That was just terrible. No way we should have lost that game. I take responsibility for that. Not just that play but a lot of the plays before.”


But he also acknowledged how one stop made the difference between going up 3-0 and taking all the momentum into Saturday, and needing to get two more wins to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“We just needed one stop to win the [expletive] game,” Brown said, “and we end up losing.”

Where do they go from here?

As Gary Washburn points out that the Celtics focus will eventually have to shift to positivity.

“It required a combined 56 points from Lowry and Fred VanVleet, a below-average game from Tatum, and a miracle shot for the Raptors to beat the Celtics.”

Read Washburn’s full analysis here.

The Celtics, who lead the series, 2-1, are back at it on Saturday, with a 6:30 p.m. tipoff for Game 4.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him @adamhimmelsbach. Katie McInerney can be reached at katie.mcinerney@globe.com. Follow her @k8tmac.