On the brink of elimination, OG Anunoby hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Toronto Raptors life in the NBA playoffs.
The victory sliced the Celtics’ lead to 2-1 in their best-of-seven series.
Fred VanVleet had 25 points, Pascal Siakam, who’s struggled in the NBA restart, had 11 of his 16 points in the third quarter, and Anunoby, who missed all of Toronto’s historic post-season run last year after an appendectomy, finished with 12 points.
Kemba Walker poured in 29 points to top Boston, while Jaylen Brown had 19 and Jayson Tatum finished with 15.
The Raptors dodged a massive bullet, as no team has ever come back from being down three games to win a series.
Game 4 is Saturday.
Lowry played like he had no intention of leaving Disney World yet, carrying Toronto with little support through a first half that saw a seven-point lead evaporate into a 10-point deficit at halftime.
But the Raptors locked down on the defensive end after the break, and six consecutive stops sparked a 21-9 run, capped by a Siakam three-pointer, that finally had the Raptors back on top with 3:40 to play in the third.
The quarter closed on a controversial call when Brad Wanamaker kneed Lowry in the groin while driving to the hoop late in the third quarter, leaving Lowry curled on the court in pain. Both he and coach Nick Nurse were livid, but after the officials reviewed the play Lowry was called for a defensive foul, and Wanamaker’s basket and free throw put Boston up 80-76 with one quarter left.
The Raptors were finally moving the ball well in the fourth quarter, and when Norm Powell drilled a three with 6:29 to play, Toronto took a two-point lead.
A cutting dunk by Brown capped an 8-0 Celtics run for a four-point Boston lead with 3:02 left. Lowry muscled to the hoop to make it a one-possession game heading into the final two minutes. The Raptors’ six-time all-star answered a Brown dunk with another hard-fought lay-in with a minute left, then VanVleet drove to the hoop to tie it up, but Walker found a wide-open Daniel Theis under the hoop for an uncontested dunk with 0.5 on the clock.
Looking to buck the odds
It looked like game over until Anunoby took the pass from Lowry to score.
Only six per cent of teams had ever come back from 0-2 to win a series, including the Raptors last season. With Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, they lost their first two to Milwaukee in the conference finals but then won four straight to advance to the Finals.
The big difference in bubble basketball though is that Toronto would have played this game and Saturday’s on the parquet floor of Boston’s TD Garden having given up homecourt advantage. But in the NBA bubble, homecourt advantage means 300 virtual fans, and little else.
No matter which venue, Boston has had the answer for the NBA champions all season, losing just once in the previous six meetings, including three previous wins in the NBA bubble.
Lowry, who’d scored 30 points in Toronto’s lone win over Boston this season, pushed the pace from the tipoff, scoring 15 points in a first quarter that saw the Raptors lead by seven. Walker hit a three-pointer at the buzzer and the Celtics led 33-28 to end the quarter.
The woeful shooting that’s plagued the Raptors throughout this series continued in the second quarter. They shot 3-for-13 from distance, and trailed by as many as 10 points in the quarter, and Walker again hit a buzzer-beater to end the quarter and Boston went into the locker-room up 57-47.
The Celtics led wire to wire to easily win the series opener 112-94. Boston edged the Raptors 102-99 in Game 2.