Aside from the Celtics blowout win in Game 5, the Raptors Celtics series has been a highly competitive and entertaining one, and it’s fitting that it will go the full seven games. Game 6 was a microcosm of the entire series as a whole, with both defenses shining, each team going on runs to seemingly take control and then giving it back, and two overtime periods filled with big shots, great defensive effort, and even some refereeing controversy.
In the end, the Raptors emerged victorious with a 125-122 win, following the lead of Kyle Lowry, who had 33 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and two steals to force Game 7. It was arguably the best game of the playoffs thus far, which given the level of play in Orlando is a high bar to clear, with incredible shot-making and defense from both teams. With Game 7 ahead on Friday night, we’ll look at three takeaways from a thrilling Game 6.
1. Kyle Lowry is incredible
The Raptors offense was dreadful for much of the first half. They couldn’t get anything going, Pascal Siakam continued to struggle mightily from inside and out, and things looked dire as Boston ran out to an early advantage. However, in the third quarter it was Toronto’s backcourt that took over. Fred VanVleet got hot with a few three-pointers and then Kyle Lowry took over the rest of the way, hitting some incredibly difficult threes, attacking the Celtics defense downhill to create for himself and others, and putting the Raptors up for good with a ridiculous turnaround jumper in the post on Kemba Walker.
— NBA (@NBA) September 10, 2020
Lowry (33 PTS) delivers a clutch performance to force a Game 7 👏 pic.twitter.com/ML3X0Ddykj
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 10, 2020
It’s clear who is the most important player on this team, with all due respect to Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam’s abilities. The Raptors have to put the ball in Lowry’s hands — something they inexplicably didn’t do on key late possessions out of timeouts both in the fourth quarter and overtime — and let him make the decisions late. VanVleet hit some big shots in the third, but also took some horrific heaves down the stretch trying to be the hero. Siakam couldn’t buy a bucket aside from a very helpful baseline jumper in double overtime, and he likely needs to be tasked with doing less ball-handling if he’s going to press as much as he did late amid his struggles scoring.
Lowry was the one, unsurprisingly, that was more than ready to takeover and bring some calm to the frenetic energy of this game for the Raptors. They’ll need that again in Game 7, but hopefully Nick Nurse recognizes that and calls his number more in key moments.
2. Marcus Smart will do whatever it takes
Jaylen Brown dominated early, before waning late, scoring 31 points on 30 shot attempts, with 21 of those coming in the first half. Jayson Tatum had 29 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists, as he hit some huge shots, but did have six turnovers including a few very costly ones in the overtime periods. Daniel Theis was excellent with 18 points and seven rebounds on 9-of-11 shooting, but no one had a greater impact on this game for Boston than Marcus Smart.
Smart finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, hitting six three-pointers in 11 tries (and nearly tied the game with a late turnaround heave, to go along with his usual harassing defense that had the Raptors quite literally ready to fight him after the final buzzer sounded.
His ability to do seemingly whatever is needed at any given time is such an incredible luxury to have, and while he couldn’t get Boston to a win on Wednesday, there’s no way they end up in overtime without his contributions. His defensive ability made him first team All-Defense this season and deservedly so, but his improvement as a playmaker offensively might’ve been the biggest key on Wednesday night. He had some late passes that were simply sublime to go along with making some huge shots early and late. Game 7 is the kind of atmosphere one would expect Smart to thrive in, given the chaotic, nervous energy of a win-or-go home game.
3. Who will make winning plays in Game 7?
Both teams were sensational in Game 6, and the shot-making in double overtime was truly something to behold. In the end, it was the Raptors that made just enough plays, led by Lowry, but with significant contributions from Norman Powell and a timely three from OG Anunoby once again.
Raptors closed out Game 6 with some clutch shots in 2OT 😤 pic.twitter.com/xDPqZb5qow
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 10, 2020
The Celtics had some big shots and big defensive stops of their own, but in the final overtime period it was Toronto that made more and, quite simply, that made the difference. The expectation for Game 7 is another close-fought game, and it’s going to come down to which team makes those plays down the stretch. Each of these teams have players capable of doing so on both ends, as Marcus Smart and Kyle Lowry showed in Game 6 with some key strips, rebounds, passes, and shots. At the same time, it will be incumbent on the two teams’ stars to avoid making critical mistakes.
Jayson Tatum, for as spectacular as he was scoring the ball, had some key turnovers late. Pascal Siakam was bailed out by his teammates, but his inability to put the ball in the basket looms very large going into a Game 7 where Toronto desperately needs him to find some kind of rhythm. Kemba Walker likewise struggled to score in Game 6, as the Raptors made him the focal point of their box-and-one when they decided to mix it up and go to that on defense.
There will be nerves and missed calls to work through for both teams in Game 7, whoever can find a way to make the right plays (and avoid the disastrous ones) down the stretch will earn a trip to face the Heat in the conference finals.