If I were to make a list of my favorite things about the NBA, someplace very near the top would be this: Game 7. We get one tonight — the final chapter of a terrific series between the Boston Celtics and the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
Viewed as a whole, Boston has outplayed Toronto. They’re “winning” on three of the four factors that determine who wins and loses, and they’re 5.4 points per 100 possessions better over the six games.
But the Raptors, even with the offseason departure of Kawhi Leonard, are resourceful, cantankerous and clutch. They remind me a lot of the late-80s, early-90s Detroit Pistons, which won a couple championships with an assemblage of good to very good players who won with defense, teamwork and determination.
These Raptors have been a fascinating basketball laboratory. Head coach Nick Nurse, who once helped bring a D-League team to Iowa so he could coach it, is in the role of mad scientist. He’ll try nearly anything if he thinks it’ll help his team win. Identifying Toronto’s defensive set possession to possession has been a game with my son throughout the series.
Nurse’s trust in his players, strategic inventiveness, and courage to fail while trying the unconventional have been on full display throughout the series. Down 2-0 in the series and trailing by two points with 0.8 seconds on the clock, he ran a sideline out-of-bounds play to get an open three for O.G. Anunoby (he made the shot). At the end of the first overtime in game six, he had Normal Powell iso on Kemba Walker for the last shot (it missed).
Boston’s young core is getting graduate level training on what it means to play championship level basketball. Win or lose in game seven, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are gaining valuable experience that could help them compete for championships over the next several years — if not this year.
The opening game of tonight’s schedule if an elimination game for the Denver Nuggets. They’re down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers. Entering game four, the series had the “the better team is methodically taking care of business” feel. Game four only cemented that feeling. The Clippers want to wrap this up and start preparing for what should be a great conference Finals matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Game 5 — Los Angeles Clippers (3-1) vs. Denver Nuggets — 6:30 p.m. TNT
- Game 7 — Toronto Raptors vs. Boston Celtics — 9 p.m. TNT