As it's so often said, the best two words in sports: Game 7.
In a series that has more than lived up to the hype, the Toronto Raptors will look to keep their title defence alive while the Boston Celtics aim to continue their pursuit of the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
In what has been an incredible back-and-forth series, Game 7 is sure to be a thriller. Here are three key things to watch for in the win-or-go-home event.
Where to Watch
Date: Friday, Sept. 11
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: TSN (CA), TNT (US)
Location: AdventHealth Arena, Orlando, FL
Three Things to Watch
Walker's revenge game
Celtics guard Kemba Walker was furious at the end of regulation, hoping for a foul call when his game-winning layup attempt fell off the rim to send the game into the first of its two overtimes.
It was just another frustrating play for the four-time All-Star, who had his worst performance of the playoffs in Game 6 with a chance to put the defending champions away for good. He scored zero points in the first half and ended the regulation portion of the contest with just three points - a less than ideal showing from a player whose supposed to be one of your top options as a closer.
Walker shot 2-for-11 (18.2%) from the field and 1-for-6 (16.7%) from 3, failing to give Boston the boost they needed to put this series to bed.
Since his solid 3-point shooting night in the Celtics' Game 3 loss, Walker has not been able to find a rhythm from beyond the arc, going 3-for-18 (16.7%) over the last three contests.
He had still found ways to make an impact by getting all the way to the rim or pulling up for his patented midrange step-back, but he didn't have anything dropping in Game 6. His threat as a scorer has still kept Toronto's defence honest and opened up opportunities as a passer (averaging 6.5 assists per game in the series), but the Celtics will need Walker to put points on the board if they're going to win Game 7.
Boston was 19-7 in the regular season when Kemba scored 20 or more points. They've gone 4-1 this postseason when he's hit that 20-point threshold. Will Walker bounce back and give his team the jolt they need to advance to the Conference Finals?
Lowry's will to win
Something you will never have to question - Kyle Lowry's will to win. If you're going into a win-or-go-home Game 7, you have to like your chances with a player of his character on your side.
Lowry has consistently tbeen he best player in this series. Every time it seems like the Celtics are going to wrap things up and put the Raptors away, there's Toronto's captain and floor general to keep the team's heart beating. With their season on the line, Lowry put forth 33 points, eight rebounds and six assists including a number of huge buckets down the stretch of Game 6 to help secure the win.
Oh, and that's without mentioning that at 34 years old, he played a playoff career-high 53 minutes of the 58-minute double overtime game.
COLD BLOODED pic.twitter.com/l684qrNOPY- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 10, 2020
To make a shot like that after playing 53 minutes at the level of intensity that Lowry does is just special.
But at what point do the Celtics make it their No. 1 priority ensure that the Greatest Raptor of All-Time doesn't beat them? You'd have to assume, Game 7.
At what point does fatigue become a factor for the veteran guard? With the competitiveness embeded in Lowry's DNA, it's hard to believe he won't have juice for Game 7, but his league-leading 253 minutes played in the Conference Semifinals may play a factor.
If Toronto is going to advance, Lowry must be the best player in the series for one more game. How Lowry performs in Game 7 will, more likely than not, dictate which team moves on.
During the most crucial moments of the most important game of the year, we saw head coach Nick Nurse roll out a lineup rarely used this season. In fact, it's a lineup he hadn't experimented with until the playoffs.
At the eight minute mark of the fourth quarter with the Raptors trailing by one, Nurse subbed out centre Serge Ibaka for forward OG Anunoby, giving Toronto a small-ball lineup of Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam and Anunoby.
He'd stick with that five-man unit for the remainder of the fourth quarter and both overtimes.
With OG essentially playing centre, the Raptors were looking to maximize their speed and athleticism to keep up with the Celtics guards and wings in pick-and-rolls while allowing their best offensive players - and a red hot Powell, in particular - to stay in the lineup. That decision alone helped Toronto win the game as Powell came up with six clutch points in 2OT to decide the outcome, but the lineup did present some flaws.
While the small-ball five was on the floor, the Raptors gave up a handful of easy baskets to Boston's centre Daniel Theis. With a smaller defender in Anunoby protecting the rim in the middle of the Raptors 2-3 zone defence or in man-to-man, Theis had no problem rising up over Toronto's back line for alley-oop after alley-oop.
And that's just one of many examples, as 12 of Theis' 18 total points came in the fourth quarter and two overtimes against this lineup. It bodes the question of: even though it helped them win Game 6, can Nurse continue to go back to this unit for long stretches of time in Game 7? Or will the Raptors lack of size give the Celtics an edge where they're usually lacking?
We know Nurse isn't afraid to toe the line of genius and madness - so keep an eye out for this small-ball lineup again in the must-win final game of the series.
Game 1 - Boston Celtics 112, Toronto Raptors 94
Game 2 - Boston Celtics 102, Toronto Raptors 99
Game 3 - Toronto Raptors 104, Boston Celtics 103
Game 4 - Toronto Raptors 100, Boston Celtics 93
Game 5 - Boston Celtics 111, Toronto Raptors 89
Game 6 - Toronto Raptors 125, Boston Celtics 122 (2OT)
Game 7 - Friday, Sept. 11, 9 p.m. ET - TSN
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