There were so many moments when it could have ended. Instead, this game rolled on, deep into the night, with the Celtics and Raptors alternating between big shots and big stops so often that it looked like maybe Game 6 would last long enough to just become Game 7.
The two teams created an instant classic in the Orlando bubble that seems to be churning them out at a high rate. But being a part of something big will not really make the Celtics feel better about the result. When it was over, when drained players on both sides looked like they just wanted to finally sit down somewhere, the Raptors had grabbed a 125-122 double-overtime win Wednesday night to keep their season alive.
The good news for the Celtics was that while this loss is crushing, it is not the end for them. Game 7 will be played on Friday night.
“I know we’ll respond,” point guard Kemba Walker said. “We’re going to come out and play hard again.”
Jaylen Brown had 31 points and 16 rebounds for Boston and Jayson Tatum added 29 points and 14 rebounds. Marcus Smart had a triple-double, with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The Celtics took a 117-115 lead on a Daniel Theis alley-oop with 1:10 left in the second overtime, but OG Anunoby answered with a 3-pointer from the key. At the other end, Tatum passed up a 3-pointer and drove to the hoop but was stripped by Norman Powell, who coasted in for a layup as he was fouled, ultimately stretching the lead to 121-117.
After a Tatum floater with 33.3 seconds left, Lowry answered with a tough fade-away. Tatum gave Boston a chance by hitting a 3-pointer with six seconds remaining. The Celtics fouled Powell, who hit both free throws to make it 125-122. The Celtics were out of timeouts, so Tatum fired a full-court pass to Smart, but his 3-pointer was off.
Observations from the game:
▪ There was an unusual play with the score tied at 98 in the final minute of regulation. Tatum probed the lane and then fired a bit of a no-look pass to the left corner. The problem was that Raptors coach Nick Nurse standing in the corner, not a Celtic. There is a lot more room in the bench areas at these games without fans sitting courtside, and Nurse was crouched in the corner as the play unfolded. Tatum certainly didn’t appear happy about it at the time, but also was not complaining about it afterward.
“I mean, I turned it over,” he said. “That was my fault. Can’t blame Nick Nurse. He’s not playing. It was my fault.”
▪ Brown was unusually upbeat after the loss. He called it “a great teaching moment,” and acknowledged that the Celtics simply had too many miscues in the final minutes.
“That’s fine,” he said. “We’re headed to a Game 7. We feel good about ourselves. Obviously, we wanted to get the win tonight. But we circle back, we look at the film, we come back with a great spirit and get ready for Game 7.”
▪ With 23.5 seconds left in the third quarter, Walker replaced Brad Wanamaker and Theis replaced Grant Williams, putting Boston’s five starters back on the floor together. They never subbed out again.
It was a bit unusual for Boston to start the fourth quarter with all of its starters, but Brad Stevens understood how critical that stretch would be. But he never could have guessed the game to go through two overtimes. The Raptors mostly stuck with a core group, too — a small lineup with Powell in for center Marc Gasol — although Serge Ibaka did play four minutes. Three players on each team topped the 50-minute mark.
“Once you get into overtime,” Stevens said, “it was going to be that way.”
▪ The Raptors had a 2-point lead with 18.9 seconds left in the first overtime when Brown drew a foul on a lob and hit both free throws. Brown’s foul shooting was an adventure earlier in his career but he improved considerably this season and has been excellent in Orlando. Powell missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, forcing a second overtime.
▪ The series is 3-3, but it doesn’t quite feel that way. The Raptors won Game 3 on a miracle buzzer-beating 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left before surviving in this game after 58 minutes. The Celtics, meanwhile, have 22- and 18-point wins in this series.
▪ The Raptors went 5:07 without a point at the end of regulation and into the first overtime, then scored 17 points in the final 2:33 of the game, without any late-game intentional fouling.
▪ The Raptors spent much of the first half in a box-and-one defense on Walker. In that setup, four players are in a zone set while a fifth shadowed Walker wherever he went. Walker took just three first-half shots and was held scoreless, but the defense leaves vulnerabilities elsewhere, and the Celtics did a good job of slinging the ball around and finding open shooters.
But after halftime the Raptors mostly stopped playing a box-and-one, and Walker was still unable to find a rhythm. He finished with 5 points on 2-for-11 shooting.
“I thought I had a few good looks but it just wasn’t enough to help my teammates out tonight,” he said. “Just a bad offensive night for me, terrible offensive night for me.”
▪ Walker had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation when he got to the rim for a clean look at a layup that missed. It looked like there was contact from Raptors guard Fred VanVleet on the play, but it was well after Walker had released the ball.
“I don’t know,” Walker said. “I just missed a layup, I guess.”
▪ Game 7 will be the first time the lack of fans really matters. It’s a major win for the Celtics that they aren’t playing a series-deciding game on the road.
▪ Somehow, on a night when players' legs probably felt like putty, the 3-point shooting on both sides was superb. Both teams hit 19 3-pointers, with Boston shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc and Toronto connecting on 40.4 percent of its tries. The Celtics had been 29-0 this season when making at least 39 percent of their 3-pointers.
▪ When Smart’s missed shot was batted out of bounds by Boston with 0.7 seconds left in the second overtime, the Celtics essentially ceded the game, allowing Toronto to inbound the ball. But the Raptors called timeout anyway, much to Lowry’s frustration. It didn’t end up mattering.
With a chance to reset, there was little doubt that Smart would try to draw an offensive foul on the inbounds pass, which truly was Boston’s only hope at that point. He ended up collapsing to the floor with Gasol, and soon after Smart was up and having words with some Raptors players. It never amounted to anything more than that, but the teams did have to be separated, and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the temperature in Game 7.
▪ VanVleet was 0 for 6 on 3-pointers when he hit an open one near the start of the third after some miscommunication by Boston’s defense, and Stevens appeared irked by it, perhaps because he knew how quickly a player like VanVleet can warm up.
With 7:36 left, Smart was whistled for a flagrant foul when he failed to give VanVleet space to land on a 3-pointer. VanVleet hit all three free throws, and then hit a corner 3-pointer on the extra possession before drilling yet another one, giving him 9 points in a stretch of just 40 seconds. Third quarters remain an issue for Boston in this series.