The Raptors could use Gandalf right about now to turn the tide. Read MoreRAPTORS BLOG: Toronto was right there despite so much going wrong and this series isn’t done yet — Toronto Sun
Or Kawhi Leonard. Or sweet-shooting guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet to bury some shots. And for Marcus Smart to remember that he’s a career 32% three-point shooter, and not Larry Bird.
Smart’s always been sneaky dangerous, despite his overall poor shooting numbers. Even in his third season, when he shot just 28% from deep, he nailed 42% of his corner three-point attempts and was fifth in the NBA in pull-up three-point percentage this regular season. The mechanics are there. He just needs the confidence of seeing an early one or two go down. Plus things are evening out after he missed nearly everything from deep in the first round against Philadelphia. As Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said when asked about parallels to Fred VanVleet’s playoffs last year (brutal against Philadelphia, all-world in the rally against Milwaukee and in the Finals): “I didn’t think of that but that’s a pretty good comparison,” Nurse said, calling Smart Boston’s “wild card.”
As Nurse said, Boston has a ton of firepower in Jayson Tatum (career playoff high and 14 free throw attempts), Kemba Walker (one of the NBA’s streakiest scorers, as he showed after stinking it up in the first half before erupting) and Jaylen Brown. You know you’ll get a lot from at least two of those guys each night, but if Smart is playing like Ray Allen on offence and Tony Allen on defence, well, you’re going to be in an awfully tough spot. Especially if Lowry misses all of his open shots (six, total) and VanVleet misses 5-of-14. In face, take away OG Anunoby’s strong game and the rest of the Raptors only hit 33% of their uncontested shot attempts.
There is going to be some reversion to the mean at some point when it comes to both Smart and Toronto’s guards. There just has to be. At some point Norman Powell probably contributes too, since he has all season.
The Raptors had 10 steals for the second game in a row and blocked seven shots, their playoff high through two rounds. The steal number (six in the first half in particular) was impressive considering 0 free throw attempts in the first half meant they rarely had time to set their defence early on.
Why individual plus/minus isn’t a great stat: The eye test said Boston’s Semi Ojeleye played awful, doing a bit of a Rodions Kurucs impression. The stats say he was a game-high plus-seven. That despite bricking his three shot attempts, all three-pointers.
We’ll end again with a shoutout to Jamal Murray (and Donovan Mitchell, who also had a spectacular series and nearly willed Utah back after an epically bad first half for the team). Murray didn’t put the Nuggets on his shoulders again for Game 7, Nikola Jokic stepped up for his fellow star, but he gutted through the pain caused by a collision with Joe Ingles and still managed to score 17 in a game that was a bit of a throwback to the mid-90s, when it comes to offensive crispness.
Murray’s numbers for the series were nothing short of ridiculous. Denver rallied from a 3-1 hole and he averaged 31.6 points, 6.3 assists, 5.6 rebounds per game and his shooting splits were .550/.533/.920. Shooting that well with a 3/1 turnover ratio is the type of next level stuff that should have Nuggets fans very happy, as well as supporters of Canadian basketball. In Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Canada has a starting backcourt that can compete with any country on the planet.
Denver needs to add some great defenders who can nail open shots around Jokic and Murray, who are below average on that end and they’ll be contenders.
In that epic series, Jamal Murray was 14-20 FG (7-9 3FG) with 6 assists and 0 turnovers in clutch situations (game within 5 in final 5:00).
He scored 36 points and assisted another 15 points in 20 minutes of clutch time.
As close to perfect as you can get. pic.twitter.com/oOiDVGFhhl— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) September 2, 2020
1 — Marcus Smart
2 — Jayson Tatum
3 — OG Anunoby