What initially looked like a potential sweep, eventually turned into arguably the most spectacular series in these NBA playoffs. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semis, the Boston Celtics were just one stop and 0.5 seconds away from taking a commanding 3-0 lead, but the tide turned as O.G. Anunoby beat the buzzer with a winning three-pointer. Down the road it got only better, the excitement peaking in Game 6, decided only after a double overtime. The scene was set for a win-or-go-home thriller in which Boston finally retired the 2018/19 champs after holding off their rally late in the fourth quarter.
Jayson Tatum (29 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one blocked shot) was again Boston’s most powerful weapon, delivering another stellar performance and leading his team to the Eastern Conference final, the penultimate hurdle in their pursuit of Banner 18.
Speaking to TNT after the game, Tatum was full of praise for Toronto.
“I got to tip my hat off to those guys, definite champs. Man, that was tough. They got some dogs over there. They made us earn this one. That’s why we’re so excited. This was tough, but we fought hard and this is what it’s all about.”
Up by two points with 34.9 seconds to play, the Celtics had a chance to double their lead from the free throw line. Raptors star Kyle Lowry had just fouled out after grabbing Grant Williams’s arm battling for a rebound, but the Boston rookie missed both free throws. Once again, Tatum stepped in and made one of the biggest plays of the night, grabbing the offensive rebound. Norman Powell fouled a landing Tatum, and the Celtics forward coolly converted both free throws for a 91-87 lead.
Getting back to that episode, Tatum stressed how important the ultimate goal of winning is for him and his team.
“Grant [Williams] went to the free throw line, missed, and I got the offensive rebound. That’s what we do – if you want to survive and advance, you got to get dirty, do whatever it takes. That’s what we try to do and now we got the win,” he said.
The lessons learned from the Toronto series will certainly do good service to the Celtics as they prepare to face Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. As Game 3 had shown, the momentum can change in a split of a second, swaying the course of the whole series.
Tatum’s key takeaway from the showdown with the Raptors is that everything has to be earned, night in and night out.
“Oh, man, every game is important. It doesn’t matter what the series is, you just got to win the game. And like you said – that shot changed the whole series. We were that close to going up 3-0, but that was hell of a shot by O.G. and that made it tough on us. If you want to achieve something great, if you want to win, it’s not going to be easy. That’s what we’re here for,” wrapped up Tatum.