After watching Wednesday night’s grueling grind of a game between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, I’m convinced the series was meant to go seven.
For those of you who didn’t tune in for the double overtime thriller, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you missed two bulldog guards in Marcus Smart and Kyle Lowry trading magnificent plays throughout. I’m sorry that you missed two championship caliber teams shedding their blood, sweat and tears — almost quite literally — from opening tip to final whistle.
And I’m sorry that you missed the best game in the NBA bubble playoffs thus far in a postseason that has already given fans plenty to cheer about.
Captain Lowry and his Raptors wound up eking out a 125-122 victory, and now, it’s win or go home for both sides in Friday night’s Game 7. The Celtics had their chances to put this series away. In not doing so they’ll certainly have to bring their A-game to a do-or-die contest that suddenly holds much more value.
Let’s recap the 58-minute sprint that was.
Smart was tremendous. After snaring his second consecutive All-Defensive First Team nod on Tuesday, Smart came out and played with the usual fire and intensity on both ends of the floor that he always does — only he took it to a new level.
The 6-foot-4 aggressor dropped 23 points, including a monumental triple in the second overtime, among other things, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. With his team trailing heading into the fourth quarter, he huddled up with his fellow starters (Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, Daniel Theis and Jayson Tatum) and attempted to light a fire in the group as they came down the stretch. He didn’t want to go to a Game 7, and although his team lost, the effort he brought all night was simply otherworldly.
Brown (31 points on 11-for-30 shooting, 16 rebounds, 2 steals) and Tatum (29 points on 9-for-21 shooting, 14 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks) both filled up the stat sheet as well, while Theis was an efficient 9-for-11 for 18 points. I’m telling you this because with four guys all putting together incredible evenings like they did, you’d think their team would come out on top in a big way.
But Toronto had the answer.
Lowry dropped 33 points with six threes and was an absolute fearless force in crunch time, canning a number of huge shots late and seemingly willing his group to victory.
And then there were the referees. My goodness. I have the utmost respect for professional sports officials, and officials at any level for that matter. But Wednesday night’s crew not only slowed the game down with countless whistles late, but missed a couple of blatant calls that quite frankly cost the Cs the game.
The big one came with time winding down in the fourth and the score knotted at 98. Walker, who struggled mightily from the floor all night, drove the lane and was hammered by Fred VanVleet. No whistle.
Did Boston have its chances to make the call a non factor and pull it out in the extra frames? Absolutely. But they shouldn’t have had to.
So much more occurred in the final 10 minutes of action, but simply rehashing the play by play won’t do it justice.
Just know this: The Celtics and Raptors were in a dog fight, and all signs point to that continuing on Friday night.
Which brings me to my next point: If Boston loses on Friday where do they go from there? This was a team that was up 2-0 against the defending world champions, had every opportunity to go up 3-0, and was playing the best basketball out of any NBA playoff teams. Now they have zero room for error as they face elimination for the first time this postseason.
If they lose what will happen to head coach Brad Stevens? If they lose will president Danny Ainge call for drastic offseason roster changes? Nothing would be off the table for the already uber-talented group.
But if they win, all will be forgiven. The organization and fans alike can chalk it up to a classic, down to the wire clash against an experienced and battle tested Raptors team.
If they win, they’ll head to the Eastern Conference Finals with confidence and matchup advantages against the surprising Miami Heat.
I’ve stated multiple times over the past few weeks that I truly believe the Celtics are the better team in this series. I stand by that.
What it’s going to come down to is who wants it more. If the Celtics want it more, their talent will win out. But if they allow Toronto to gain any sort of physical and mental edge the curtains could close on another promising Celtics campaign.
I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d keep my money in my pocket for Game 7 and simply enjoy what’s poised to be one more epic showdown between these two juggernauts.
Nick Giannino can be reached at NGiannino@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.