Raptors Game 7 blog: Raptors eliminated from NBA bubble after losing tense Game 7 against Celtics

There are not many better attributes a team can have than being known for playing hard and fighting through lulls and always, always giving yourselves a chance.

They have become trademarks of the Raptors, what they are known for, their culture, and something of which they can be proud.

But all those good things, all those positives, fly out the window when you throw the ball all over the gym and one of your best players is not nearly one of your best players.

They did fight until the end — fought the Celtics and, most important, themselves — before falling 92-87 to Boston on Friday night in the decisive Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.

“We all should be really proud,” coach Nick Nurse said. “They represent the city, the country and the organization (well). When you watch that team every night, you’ve got to come out of there saying: win, lose or draw, they gave everything they have.

“That’s a special team.”

It is a disappointing finish to a fine season for the defending champions, who had it down to a one-possession game in the final 30 seconds before the Celtics pulled away.

“It’s tough to lose a game like that,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “You’d rather get blown out, I mean. But we were right there … The small little things, the intangible things, the minute things you’ve got to continue to harp on and continue to do through a whole NBA season. And mistakes are made, but it’s just tough. It’s just really tough.”

Nothing exemplified the effort better than Lowry, who watched the final 35 seconds from the bench after fouling out.

He wasn’t brilliant — 5-for-15 from the floor for 16 points with four assists — but he dragged himself through 41 minutes and gave the Raptors a fourth-quarter spark.

“It’s sad that we had more to give, but unfortunately we’re not giving no more right now,” Lowry said.

It wasn’t enough, primarily because the Raptors were not sharp for long enough periods and once again got too little from Pascal Siakam, who struggled as he has all series.

The Celtics, who will move on to face the Miami Heat in the conference final, were led by 29 points from Jayson Tatum.

For Nurse, who was telling all and sundry for a day or so how much he enjoys the gut-wrenching, stomach-churning intensity of playoff basketball, Game 7 was a time to pull out all the stops.

He went to Matt Thomas in the first quarter to open up space on the court, and it helped the Raptors overcome a 12-point first-quarter deficit.

He ran out the big frontcourt of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol for an effective few minutes, a counterintuitive move after a small lineup had worked so well as Toronto survived an epic double-overtime Game 6.

There were box-and-one defences and triangle-and-two defences and just about every trick in his book.

But there were two things he couldn’t do, two things no coach could do: exorcise whatever demons possessed Siakam, and stop his team from committing costly turnovers.



Siakam’s mysterious skittishness, anathema to how he’s conducted himself throughout his career, was painful to watch at times on the grandest stage.

His numbers weren’t horrendous (13 points and 11 rebounds) and he did have some flashes of good defence, but he played nervously — committing five turnovers, missing shots he’s made since he broke through in the 2018-19 season — and spent far too many offensive possessions figuring out what he wanted to do rather than just doing it.

It will go down as the most unexpected turn of events in a season full of oddities for the Raptors. It is the first time he’s failed to produce when it was most needed, and how he reacts the rest of his career will be a storyline to watch.

“It wasn’t normal circumstances, and I tried to fight my way through it. I just didn’t have it, you know. I didn’t play well,” Siakam said. “I didn’t really help my teammates as much as I could have. But one thing that I did is, I gave it all out there. I played hard. That’s something I’m always going to do. I have to live with the results.

“That’s something that I’ve been talking about, is just continue to learn, and I’m going to go back and I’m going to be better from it.”

The turnovers were atrocious and unexpected for a team that had committed fewer than any other team still alive in the NBA playoffs. The Celtics had an incredible 31 points off 18 Toronto turnovers and got up 11 more field-goal attempts.

“I thought we were getting off passes a count early, just because we just wanted to be done with that possession early, and it was going to take a little bit more strength and balance and another count of timing to get the right pass made,” Nurse said.

“We were standing up a little bit rather than being down in a tough, athletic position trying to make some of those plays, and that’s just fatigue.”

But Nurse knew that no matter what he did, what he said, it was going to be about executing whatever schemes he devised.

“I don’t think you’re saying anything that’s going to change their mindset or feeling towards (anything),” Nurse said before the game. “As coaches, we still might try to look for a magical sentence that might resonate with them a lot, but I think they’re probably ready to go and play it out on the floor.”

The question now is what becomes of this iteration of the team.

Ibaka, Gasol and Fred VanVleet are all free agents and Lowry has just one year left on his contract, leaving president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster with serious questions to answer in the coming off-season.

Doug Smith



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