LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – A year ago, Toronto had The Shot.
This time, the Raptors have The Pass.
Despite Kyle Lowry’s attempts to take attention off the pass that he threw to OG Anunoby to set up the gamewinning, probably season-saving 3-pointer at the buzzer for Toronto in what became its 104-103 win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday, he’s probably going to have to accept that it will be a memorable moment — especially if the Raptors go on to win this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Game 4 of Celtics-Raptors is Saturday night, followed by Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal matchup between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers got an easy 120-97 win in Game 1 behind 29 points from Kawhi Leonard, who last year made what Raptors fans will forever know as The Shot — the epic four-bounce-off-the-rim jumper at the buzzer of Game 7 to give Toronto a win over Philadelphia in the East semifinals.
Leonard’s shot became iconic because the Raptors won it all. Lowry’s pass and Anunoby’s shot could be iconic, Raptors coach Nick Nurse noted Friday, depending on what Toronto does the rest of the way this time.
“We needed to play better,” Nurse said. “It looks like we might be ready to start playing better.”
From the Celtics’ perspective, it’s simply time to turn the page and not lament what might have been with a 3-0 lead.
“We move on to Game 4. I guess that’s the focus now,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said. “It’s tough, but that’s the playoffs.”
Denver is in a similar position, being forced to turn the page quickly. The Nuggets came undone while getting outscored 38-20 in the second quarter Thursday night.
“It was a bad, bad night for us,” Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic said. “They affected us, but we can change. We can just be better. We can be better.”
The Clippers have won three consecutive playoff games, which might not sound all that impressive — but it matches the longest such streak in franchise history. They also won three straight in 2015.
“I think it’s just a different intensity to the playoffs,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You can play the same team; they are overly prepared for you, so the little things stand out. One mistake will cost you a basket. One mistake will cost you a turnover. ... I don’t think we understood that early on. I think we do now.”
A look at Saturday’s games:
RAPTORS VS. CELTICS
Boston leads 2-1. Game 4, 6:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: Boston is 9-2 since mid-January in games immediately following a loss. The Celtics are also 39-1 all-time in best-of-seven series in which they won the first two games, with the one blemish there coming in the East finals against Cleveland in 2018. But the Raptors erased a 2-0 series hole against Milwaukee in the East finals last season, that series turning Toronto’s way after a double-overtime win in Game 3 — and the finish on Thursday was even more dramatic for the reigning champs.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Lowry. He played most of the first quarter and then the entirety of the final three quarters of Game 3 without a rest. The 46:29 of court time was the most by any player in a non-overtime game this season.
— INJURY WATCH: Celtics F Gordon Hayward (ankle) could be out of his return-to-bubble quarantine and able to rejoin his teammates by the middle of next week, though it remains unclear when he would be ready for game action.
— PRESSURE IS ON: It’s still on Toronto. Going down 3-1 would be even more dire than the 2-0 deficit was.
NUGGETS VS. CLIPPERS
Los Angeles leads 1-0. Game 2, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: It’s a tough turnaround to go from a down-to-the-wire Game 7 to a Game 1 of a new series in less than 48 hours, and the Nuggets seemed a bit out of sorts on the defensive end in the opener. Nuggets coach Michael Malone made it sound like many problems were correctable, and he’s right. But Denver needs its offensive swagger back too; Dallas showed in Round 1 that it is possible to score in bunches on the Clippers.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Clippers F Kawhi Leonard. It’s almost like a two-time NBA Finals MVP is somehow being overlooked, which is baffling. His shot was a bit flat when games started in the bubble, though in his last nine games he’s averaged 32.3 points on 56% shooting — which has soared to 66% in his most recent three games.
— INJURY WATCH: It was a good sign for the Clippers that Patrick Beverley (calf) not only returned to the lineup in Game 1 but reported after the game that he felt fine.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Clippers. Denver showed in the first round, trailing Utah 3-1 and by 15 points in the third quarter of Game 5, what happens when the Nuggets get a glimmer of hope.
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