September 12, 2020, 1:38 am
It’s over. The intense series between the Celtics and Raptors found its resolution on Friday with the Celtics coming away with the 92-87 win in Game 7. The Raptors’ playoff run is officially over and we’re going to be crown new NBA Champions at the end of this wild and rocky 2019-20 season.
To their credit, both teams gave it their all and put on one hell of a seven-game series. In the end, it was just that the Celtics who were able to execute their game plan tonight and dictate the pace and flow thanks to their strong defensive effort.
Case in point, Marcus Smart, who finished the game with 16 points, six assists and three steals, got a key block over Norman Powell down the stretch to help his team hold on to a slim lead with regulation winding down. Teammate Jaylen Brown recorded four steals to go along with his 21 points on 10-of-17 shooting, plus eight rebounds and two assists, for an overall well-rounded effort. Completing the triumvirate of successful Celtics tonight was Jayson Tatum who helped keep the torch for an 18th banner still burning with a 29-point, 12-rebound and seven-assist double-double performance.
On the Raptors’ side, both Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam couldn’t find their groove on offense. Siakam shot 5-of-12 from the field for 13 points, while Lowry managed to go 5-of-15 from the field for 16 points of his own before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Fred VanVleet led the pack with 20 points (8-of-20 shooting), three rebounds, six assists and four triples, which obviously was not enough to lift the Raptors in this one.
The defending champs played like the Kings of the North that they are and can head home with their heads held high, after salving their wounds of disappointment for a while.
This could be the last we see of Marc Gasol in a Raptors uniform as the age and wear and tear have evidently taken their toll, so much so that he was largely ineffectual as the team’s starting center for long stretches in almost every game in the playoffs. The Raptors will need to take a long hard look at their future plans. Do they make small tweaks and try to stay competitive or pivot to a full rebuild. Regardless, they will need to address issues like the impending free agency of blooming star Fred VanVleet, who will be a highly sought after commodity on the open market should the Raptors fail to lock him down to a long-term and likely max deal.
The Celtics are now on a collision course with the Heat in what should be another crazy-competitive affair that could easily stretch through all seven games.
Nuggets Hang Tough, Force Game 6
The Denver Nuggets stuck to their guns and gutted out a tough Game 5 win tonight and live on to play another day for a Game 6 vs. the Clippers. Thanks to the duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the Nuggets defeated the Clippers 111-105 on Friday.
Jokic double-doubled yet again tonight, adding 14 rebounds, five assists, two triples, one steal and two blocks to his 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Meanwhile, Murray came up with a team-high 26 points, thanks to 5-of-7 shooting from deep, adding eight boards and seven dimes to the box. Wow.
The Clippers didn’t fall tonight due to a lack of trying, at least not by their two superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who managed to combine for 62 of the team’s 105 points. Leonard had a game-high 36 points on efficient 12-of-24 shooting from the field and a perfect 7-of-7 shooting run at the line and was able to compile five 3s, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Impeccable. George came through with a 26-6-6 line, including four treys of his own on 8-of-18 shooting from the field as well as a 6-for-6 run at the charity stripe. So how di the Clippers allow this one to slip away, preventing them from earning some extra rest?
The Clippers’ depth was a non-factor in this game and it took its toll on their effort. The usually high-scoring reserves Lou Williams and Sixth-Man-of-the-Year awardee Montrezl Harrell were out of it. Williams was an awful 2-for-10 shooter from the field for four points in 19 minutes, while Harrell was sluggish to produce anything impactful in his 16 minutes on the floor with six points, three rebounds and one block to his name.
An X-factor tonight was the out-of-nowhere revitalized performance of Paul Millsap who came out of his cocoon of mediocrity and flapped his wings for 17 points, six rebounds, one assist, one trey and one steal. The normally forgettable veteran found it in him to rise to the occasion in this do-or-die game to put make an impact for his team. Monte Morris was also somehow energized, showing up as the best performer off the Nuggets’ bench with 12 points and three steals.
It’s simple. Game 6 will be about the Nuggets’ replicating the sense of energy in their effort tonight or more, while the Clippers need to find ways to wake up their second unit.