Now we have a series.
Game 4 on Saturday looked and felt like the hard-fought playoff series everyone (including fans of both teams) expected before it tipped off — intense, with physical defenses throwing off usually strong offensive players.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was fun to watch. It was dramatic. It was playoff basketball.
Toronto got the 100-93 win to even the series at 2-2. The critical Game 5 is Monday night.
Here are the three key takeaways from this game
1) Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam defined Toronto’s win
This was the game the Raptors needed from their stars.
Pascal Siakam had his best game of the series. It wasn’t just that he scored 23 points; it’s that he finally showed confidence in attacking and scoring over and around Jayson Tatum. Siakam was 17-of-47 through the first three games of the series, and he was unable to punish mismatches that were set up for him against Kemba Walker and others. Not in Game 4. Siakam was attacking, getting to the line, and looking like the guy the Raptors want to build around — the guy Toronto needs to win this series.
Kyle Lowry was everywhere influencing the game — drawing offensive fouls (like a critical late one on Jayson Tatum), diving on the floor, being a floor general on offense — and he shaped the game despite a rough offensive night. He finished with 22 points on 5-of-16 shooting, not lights out but he got the job done. Toronto does not win without this kind of all-around effort from their veteran point guard.
Toronto got 62 points combined out of Lowry, Siakam, and Fred VanVleet, close to their season average (60) and what the Raptors need out of them in terms of points and shot creation.
2) Toronto found its three-point shot
The Raptors were 17-of-44 from three, 38.6%, and while that may not be peak Curry era Warriors good, it was much better than they had been. It contrasted with a Celtics team that was 7-of-35 from three (20%). Toronto outscored Boston 51-21 from beyond the arc.
Toronto found it’s jump shot in general and was +30 outside the paint in this game after having been dominated in that category all series.
“We made a lot of them,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of the three-pointers. “We had a whole bunch more go in and out. They were very, very good looks. The analytics guys will tell you this stuff balances out over time. When some of them are going in, it seems like the looks are a lot better.”
It sounds simplistic, but it’s true: Toronto needs to make tough shots against a good defense, and for the first time this series they did it for an entire game. Continue that and they will advance.
3) Boston defended, got into the paint, just didn’t hit threes
Don’t look for Brad Stevens to be making radical adjustments after losing two straight.
Boston’s gameplan for Saturday was strong, but it’s still a make or miss league and Boston was 5-of-35 from three, with Jaylen Brown starting 0-of-9 before hitting a couple late. Boston got into the paint and dominated inside, but their offense needs the three to fall.
Boston lost one game on a crazy OG Anunoby shot. They lost another because of cold shooting. The Celtics were frustrated, but it’s not a matter of strategy. It’s just execution, as Kemba Walker said postgame.
"It's tough. Obviously, we didn't want to come out that way. But it just happened. We have to clean it up, find a way. I have to find a way to get my teammates to a higher intensity. I'm going to try my best to bring out the best in my guys." – #Celtics Kemba Walker.
— A. Sherrod Blakely (@ASherrodblakely) September 6, 2020
Boston needs that intensity in Game 5. Toronto lost the first two games to Milwaukee last playoffs and swept the next four. Boston does not want to follow that path.