With 0.5 seconds remaining and the season on the line, Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby converted a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give his team the win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3. Though the Raptors have a long way to go after digging an 0-2 hole, Anunoby’s well-timed triple makes things exceptionally interesting with regard to the rest of the best-of-seven battle.
Through that lens, here are three takeaways from Game 3, and there is a lot to decipher.
1. The Raptors (finally) made jump shots when they absolutely had to
Even before Anunoby’s game-winner, Toronto came alive and it was badly needed. At halftime of Game 3, the Raptors were a dismal 26-of-102 from three-point range in the series and, with Boston’s defense swarming in the halfcourt, Toronto seemingly had no answers to generate consistent offense. Individually, Fred VanVleet opened the series 11-of-38 from the floor and 5-of-23 from three in the first two games and, with Pascal Siakam badly struggling, the pressure was on for VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and others to pick up the slack.
It should be noted that Siakam also emerged, scoring 14 points in the second half, but VanVleet and Lowry repeatedly delivered.
Lowry was the story in the early going, scoring 10 points in the first five minutes, and VanVleet took the reins late. All told, Lowry finished with 31 points and eight assists, playing almost 47 minutes, and VanVleet added 25 points, including 17 after halftime.
Importantly, Toronto managed to generate some offense before Boston’s defense got set, scoring 14 fast break points in the game. The Raptors led the NBA in transition points during the regular season and, even with this victory, Toronto’s halfcourt offense is something to monitor moving forward. Still, Toronto took repeated haymakers from Boston and lived to fight another day, punctuated by the ultimate display of shotmaking by Anunoby at the buzzer.
2. Kemba Walker was unbelievable on Thursday
Even in defeat, Walker shined for the Celtics. He came out of the gate scalding, scoring 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first quarter.
Kemba at the horn! 🚨
He leads all scorers with 17 points after the 1st QTR! pic.twitter.com/szJom3B8LS
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 3, 2020
From there, Walker settled into a hyper-efficient night, ultimately finishing with 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting, with 4-of-7 from three-point range and 7-of-7 from the free throw line. The All-Star point guard is (rightly) known as a scorer and, without any question, he was incredibly impressive in generating clean looks against one of the NBA’s best defenses. Walker did much more than that, though, in putting together a memorable performance.
Walker isn’t known as an all-world defender and, given his size, he can be targeted in certain matchups. With that said, he executed at a high level throughout the night, playing with physicality and intensity. Then, in crunch time, Walker delivered what was nearly the game-winning pass in perfect fashion.
KEMBA TO THEIS WITH 0.5 REMAINING! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/yP6STSRSze
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 4, 2020
Jayson Tatum is now the best player on the Celtics, with incredible development as a shooter, playmaker and defender. As such, Walker is in something of a supporting role after starring for years in Charlotte. In this spot, however, Walker certainly put together a star-level effort, and this kind of performance could be crucial in unlocking Boston’s ultimate ceiling.
3. Defense is anything but optional in this series
Sometimes, NBA games with modest point totals are actually dictated by poor offense, rather than exceptional defense. In this series, it is the defense leading the way on both sides.
Toronto (2nd) and Boston (4th) both finished near the top of the league in defensive rating in the regular season, and both teams have strong defensive personnel. The Raptors have virtually no weaknesses defensively and, as noted above, even players with limited physical traits like Walker are buying into the collective for the Celtics.
In addition to the top-tier personnel, the coaching matchup is outstanding. Nick Nurse, fresh off a 2019-20 Coach of the Year award, put on a clinic in Game 3, headlined by the decision to deploy a zone defense in the third quarter. That decision flummoxed the Boston offense and, even with an uptick late in the period, the Celtics shot just 38 percent and scored 23 points in the third. For the Celtics, Brad Stevens is also pressing a lot of the right buttons, coaxing strong contributions from Robert Williams and Grant Williams, with the wherewithal to force the Raptors into difficult decisions.
Of course, this level of defense does create some challenging viewing experiences and, at times, both teams look completely out of sorts on the offensive end. Some of that, especially for Toronto, can be tied to talent but, in truth, defense is simply ruling the day. Both of these teams have the ability to score efficiently in certain situations but, for the defensive die-hards, this is a series that is almost NSFW, with the Raptors living up to the billing and the Celtics reminding observers that they were an excellent defense all season long.