We all knew this Boston Celtics-Toronto Raptors series was going seven games, right? So maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that we’re here.
The defending champions, ever prideful, withstood everything Boston threw at them on Wednesday night and, it took an extra 10 minutes, but Toronto emerged with a 125-122 triumph in an epic back-and-forth, double-overtime showdown that thrust itself into the conversation for best game in the bubble.
Celtics fans can seethe about Nick Nurse and his court-wandering ways, or the officials and their questionable whistles (or lack thereof), but the bottom line is that Boston had a chance to close this series out and couldn’t get to the finish line. Now the Celtics have to regroup and try to deliver a knockout punch on Friday.
At least a 9 p.m. ET tip time means a few extra hours of rest before the game arrives.
Somehow Jaylen Brown, just minutes after Wednesday's frenetic finish, was able to vocalize how Boston can collect itself.
"Just breathe, first and foremost,” said Brown. "Just take a deep breath and play basketball. I love to play this game. We all love to play this game. Just breathe and play. Ain’t no extra pressure. Just come out and be the best version of ourselves and everything else will take care of itself.
"You’ve got to embrace it. You’ve got to embrace the challenge. This is what adversity is about. This is what basketball is about. This is what life is about. You get put in tough situations, you can’t complain. Some days don’t go your way, but you stand up and you fight the next day, you fight tomorrow. So I’m looking forward to getting back with our guys, circling back.
"I’m looking forward to shootaround and film and everything because it’s all a part of embracing the challenge, and that’s what we’ve got to do, is embrace it so we can get ready to come back and give everything for Game 7.”
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Celtics coach Brad Stevens had more succinct advice for his players.
"Right now,” said Stevens, "you throw some ice on your legs and get ready for Friday.”
If Game 7 is half as good as Game 6, we’re all in for a treat. The entire second half felt like a one-possession game and, for the most part, it was. The Celtics will look back and lament missed opportunities. They blanked the Raptors over the final 4 minutes, 24 seconds of regulation and yet squandered three chances to generate a go-ahead bucket.
Kemba Walker, stymied early by Toronto’s box-and-1 defense and never able to catch a rhythm in the second half, couldn’t get a whistle driving at the basket with 3.5 seconds to play. Walker, who finished with 5 points on 2-of-11 shooting, didn’t take the bait when asked about the drive. Said Walker: "I don't know. I just missed a layup I guess.”
He did promise to be better in Game 7 and noted he had to help his teammates more. Asked if he’s confident about his team’s ability to bounce back, Walker said, "Why wouldn't I be? … That was a hard fought game right there. … I'm confident. We have a good group of guys and we love playing basketball with each other and we love making each other better. I know we'll respond. We're going to come out and play hard again.”
Walker won’t be the only one beating himself up. Jayson Tatum had a bad turnover in the final minute of regulation, one in which Nurse had parked himself on the corner of the court before Tatum zipped a pass in his direction. Tatum refused to blame Nurse, but Brown wasn’t quite as sure while noting, "Grown men should be able to control themselves, especially the coaching staff.”
Tatum had another bad turnover with 43 seconds to play in the second overtime with Boston trailing by 1. He passed up a potential 3-point look and fumbled the ball trying to attack the hoop. The Raptors went the other way for an and-1 layup that complicated Boston’s comeback attempt.
"They made big plays down the stretch, and that’s why they came out on top,” said Brown. "So it’s definitely a teaching moment for us, and we’ll be better next game.”
The Celtics need to be a little bit crisper. They probably can’t expect a Marcus Smart triple-double, including six 3-pointers, but, hey, we said after Game 2 that he probably wouldn’t have another 3-point barrage like that again and he’s already proven that wrong.
Tatum needs to reaffirm his status as the best player on the court. He nearly had a triple-double of his own Wednesday while finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists over 51:13. Six turnovers hindered his line.
But Tatum was adamant that Boston’s locker room was ready for Game 7.
"Tough loss, excited for the next one,” said Tatum. "Win or go home.”
Going home shouldn’t be an option for Boston. With top-seeded Milwaukee out, there’s a clearer path to a Finals appearance. The Celtics were a half-second away from a 3-0 lead and yet the Raptors just won’t go quietly.
If the Celtics are going to win this series, they’re going to have to earn it. The Raptors have shown their resolve. Now it’s time to find out if this Boston team has the same sort of championship moxie.