Back again, and the Toronto Raptors avoided a 3-0 series disadvantage with a miraculous, game-winning three-pointer as time expired. Entering Game 3, the Raptors were trailing the Celtics 2-0. With less than a second on the clock, the defending champions trailed Boston by two points. Kyle Lowry made an incredible pass on the inbounds, finding OG Anunoby in the far corner. Anunoby promptly knocked down the shot, keeping Toronto’s season alive.
Anunoby finished the game with 12 points and 10 boards, and his game-winning basket will stand as one of the best moments of the NBA postseason so far. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet combined for 56 points following forgettable showings in Games 1 and 2. At the same time, Pascal Siakam had an excellent second half. Still, his relative struggles remain an obstacle for Toronto to overcome. The Raptors needed a miracle to salvage its season and avoid a 3-0 deficit. Now, Toronto will need Siakam to rediscover his All-Star form to push Boston. Game 4 is tomorrow.
Against an obviously—and understandably—exhausted Denver Nuggets team, the Los Angeles Clippers had no issue cruising to a Game 1 win on Thursday night. Kawhi Leonard led the charge with 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting, highlighting Denver’s lack of competent defensive wings. Also impressive for the Clippers was the defensive presence of Ivica Zubac, who did an excellent job at limiting the impact of Nuggets superstar big man Nikola Jokic. After dismantling All-NBA defender Rudy Gobert in the first round, Jokic was held to only 15 points, three boards, and three dimes by a defensive effort led by the often-overlooked Zubac.
Los Angeles also did a solid job at corralling Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray, holding Denver’s best scorer to 12 points. Denver was noticeably lacking burst following an epic seven-game series in the first round that ended late on Tuesday night. An ugly Game 1 loss to a healthy, well-rested Clippers team is hardly a shock. The Nuggets will need to come out with a better showing in Game 2. Denver may have survived a 3-1 deficit to win the series against the Jazz. An encore of that feat against the Clippers is highly improbable.
Tonight, Milwaukee will look to recover from a devastating Game 2 loss that has the Bucks in the 2-0 deficit against the Miami Heat. Thanks to a questionable foul call as time expired, the Miami Heat became the first No. 5 seed in history to ever win the opening two games of a series against a No. 1 seed. Butler knocked down the game-winning free throws, Goran Dragic’s resurgent postseason continued (23 points), and Miami’s collection of role players continued to shine as coach Erik Spoelstra continues to press all the right buttons.
On the other end of things, Milwaukee’s loss was heartbreaking, but the Bucks were positioned to force overtime before the controversial foul call at the end of regulation. Being down 2-0 is hardly ideal, but all is not lost for the top-seed Bucks. Khris Middleton had a solid game, Brook Lopez proved to be a match-up nightmare for Miami, and Eric Bledsoe’s return from a hamstring injury had a noticeable impact. However, for Milwaukee to overcome its current predicament and continue its championship journey, Giannis Antetokounmpo has to make an offensive impact outside of the paint. In Game 2, he scored zero points from outside the restricted area. A must-win Game 3 for the Bucks is tonight.
Also, tonight is Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets. Houston moved on to the match-up following a Game 7 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Like the Nuggets and Clippers match-up, this is a game featuring one team that has been battling every other night ten days and a team from Los Angeles that has been racking up the rest. The Lakers are obvious favorites in tonight’s tilt and in the series. The Rockets will need James Harden to erase from his consciousness whatever plagues him during the fourth quarters of playoff games. Even in Houston’s Game 7 win on Wednesday night, Harden was a complete non-factor in the final frame. That won’t work against LeBron James and the championship-hungry Lakers.