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Toronto fights to end, but Jayson Tatum lifts Boston to series win, conference finals

Last season, when Toronto was in a hard-fought and tight second-round battle, the Raptors showed their defense, their resilience, their role-players all were good enough to get the job done.

This season, when Toronto was in a hard-fought and tight second-round battle, they showed all those same things.

What changed this year was Boston had the best player on the court: Jayson Tatum.

In a seven-game series that was in doubt until the final minutes, Tatum was the difference, the true Alpha player the Celtics could lean on to get buckets in the clutch and help make stops. Tatum had 29 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists in Game 7, helping Boston hold on for a 92-87 win that advances it to the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami. Game 1 of that series is next Tuesday.

In what had been a defensive, physical, back-and-forth Game 7, Boston went on a 7-0 run to open the fourth and then everyone got tight — Boston scored just 13 points the rest of the way, Toronto had only 16 for the quarter. The little bit of a lead Boston built up in those opening minutes held up because Kemba Walker scored eight points in the frame, and Boston cranked up its defense. Marcus Smart made the defensive play of the night.

Jaylen Brown had 21 points while Smart had 16 to go with that block.

“It took everything,” Jayson Tatum said after the game (via Keith Smith). “When you’re trying to achieve something special like winning a championship, you’re gonna have to go through some stuff. I think we responded.”

As they have all series, the Raptors struggled to score efficiently in the halfcourt — Fred VanVleet had 20 points but needed 20 shots to get there, Pascal Siakam scored 13 but on 12 shots. Following a breakout season from Siakam he struggled against the Celtics’ length and athleticism.

“I wasn’t really able to help my teammates. I take a lot of the blame,” Siakam said after the game.

Kyle Lowry, who had his share of tough losses on the court but now also has a ring, had advice for Siakam.

“The advice I would give him: Look at everything. Find out who is saying what. You’re going to use it as fuel,” Lowry said.

In the end, Lowry and Nick Nurse looked back at the last two seasons of Raptors basketball with a smile — they had made memories the city of Toronto would never forget.

“I already miss this team, you know what I mean?” Nick Nurse said. “That was a hell of a two-year run with the core group of these guys.”

Now Boston advances to try and make its own memories.