With their season on the brink and title repeat hopes in jeopardy, the Toronto Raptors outfought Boston for a dramatic series-tying 125-122 double-overtime triumph Wednesday in the NBA playoffs.
Kyle Lowry led Toronto with 33 points and Norman Powell added 23 off the bench in an emotional thriller that resembled the intensity of a heavyweight boxing matchup.
The defending champion Raptors equalized the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final with a winner-take-all game seven set for Friday, a conference final against Miami awaiting the winner.
“We play every possession like it’s our last and find ways to pull out victories,” an exhausted Lowry said after playing 53 minutes.
“That was two hard teams playing hard. Win or go home. Get it done. Don’t matter who has to do it. Ready for game seven.”
Powell made a crucial steal and fast break layup plus a free throw to lift Toronto ahead 121-117 with 38 seconds remaining.
“I was just really focused on the defensive end and let that spill over to the other end,” Powell said.
“I pride myself on making winning plays. The game called on me to be aggressive and that’s what I did. It’s what I play for. It’s what I pride myself in playing for.”
Boston’s Jayson Tatum answered with an inside jumper but Lowry hit a fall-away jumper – Toronto’s sixth successful shot in a row – to put the Raptors ahead 123-119.
Tatum sank a 3-pointer to pull Boston within a point with 6.2 seconds remaining but Powell sank two free throws and Marcus Smart missed a last-chance 3-pointer for Boston.
“We didn’t play as poised as we needed to down the stretch,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We didn’t take care of the ball as well as we needed to. We had some turnovers that just killed us.
“Got to embrace the challenge. This is what adversity is about. We have to give everything for game seven.”
Brown scored 31 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead Boston while Tatum had 29 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists and Smart managed only his second carer triple double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Fred VanVleet added 21 points for Toronto and German center Daniel Theis had 18 points for Boston.
“They are defending champs. We’ll get their best every time,” Boston’s Kemba Walker said. “We fought hard. We made plays. I’m confident. We have a good group of guys. I know we will respond.
“We have to find a way.”
Teams exchanged emotional words as they departed the court, cooler heads preventing more as intensity nearly bubbled over before Friday’s decider.
“A lot of emotions and things like that swirling,” Brown said. “It’s an intense series. It’s a lot of testosterone. Things like that happen. Grown men should be able to keep it respectable.”
The Raptors won their first NBA crown last season but NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard left in the off-season for the Los Angeles Clippers, who played Denver in a later Western Conference semi-final hoping to go up 3-1 on the Nuggets.
- That ‘other’ guy -
A Theis dunk lifted the Celtics level at 98-98 with two minutes remaining in regulation time.
Toronto’s Pascal Siakam and Walker each missed inside shots in the dying seconds and Siakam missed a desperation 3-point heave at the buzzer, setting up overtime.
Walker hit a jumper to give the Celtics a 104-101 lead, but Powell sank a left corner 3-pointer to tie the game, then made two free throws with 92 seconds remaining in overtime to give Toronto a 106-104 edge.
“Playoffs are always about that ‘other’ guy,” Lowry said. “Coach rolled with Norman and he came up big.”
Tatum sank two free throws to tie the game with 18.9 seconds remaining in overtime and Powell missed a final 3-pointer to force double overtime.
Celtics trainers were working with injured playmaker Gordon Hayward, who has re-completed quarantine in the COVID-19 bubble at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, but remains out indefinitely with a right ankle sprain.