They’ve failed to show up (Game 1); frittered away a hard-earned fourth-quarter lead (Game 2) and now have looked completely outclassed (Game 5) after the Celtics dominated in every category of their 111-89 win on Monday night.
Now, Toronto’s had some moments too: In between the losses they’ve won in miracle fashion (Game 3) and while in control, largely, from start to finish (Game 4).
Still, add it all up and Boston will take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 Wednesday night.
Now the Raptors will have to find a way to win ugly, pretty, easy or hard – any way at all will do as their playoff futures officially depend on it.
Which Raptors team will show up is a fair question, especially since they’re going to have to do it more than once for their season to continue.
The Raptors have done a lot of amazing things on the road to becoming NBA champs, but they’ve only won once while facing elimination – Game 7 against Philadelphia in their 2019 second-round series, perhaps you remember it?
Now they have to win twice in win-or-go home games (literally, given the Raptors have been in Florida for 10 weeks now) in order to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years.
“Every single game is a different game, games one, two, three, four, and five now have been different games,” said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who was held to just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting in 34 minutes. “It’s the playoffs, so you learn from it and make adjustments and continue to grow and figure it out. I mean, right now we’re at the brink of elimination, so we’ve got to, we’re literally fighting for our lives right now on the basketball floor. So, it’s win or go home."
This group is never to be underestimated, but it’s hard to like their chances given that Boston has shown the ability to run over Toronto at times, Game 5 being the most obvious example.
The Raptors gave up an open triple to Jaylen Brown in the corner to start the game and not only did they never lead the rest of the way, but when Boston went up 21-9 with two minutes left in the first quarter, the Celtics never led by less than 12 for rest of night.
Boston was up by 14 at the end of the first quarter – a quarter in which the Raptors scored all of 11 points -- 27 at half and by as much as 30 late in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Raptors are still waiting for any sign of life from Marc Gasol (0 points on four shots in 14 minutes) or some kind of consistency from Pascal Siakam, who had three field goal attempts in the first half and was getting on track in the third quarter again before his night was disrupted when he picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in rapid succession.
“Need to give them credit,” said guard Fred VanVleet, who was perhaps the closest thing Toronto had to a bright spot, as he led the Raptors with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting while adding five assists and three steals. “I think they played a heck of a game. I think we didn't make it very hard on them, so obviously from my standpoint I felt like it was more us than them but that's easy for me to say, you gotta give them credit, they outplayed us pretty much in every facet of the game: They were quicker to the ball, they were playing with more force and pace, and as a result you saw the start that they were able to get out to, kind of put ourselves in a hole and we were fighting uphill after that.”
It was a beatdown and the Celtics came with clubs.
The game was effectively over before it was half done, as the Celtics separated themselves in the second quarter when they put up 37 points on 65 per cent shooting.
“[It’s] probably the worst place to be, not making shots and not getting stops,” said VanVleet. “That's a recipe to get you down 30. So, it's just the way it went tonight and nothing we can do about it now but get better and focus on Game 6.”
Could the Raptors finally be showing the effects of consecutive games where they had pushed the limit in order to crawl out of an 0-2 hole?
In Games 3 and 4, Nurse played Lowry, Siakam, VanVleet and OG Anunoby 340 of a possible 384 minutes. He had little choice, but based on the lack of energy the Raptors showed at points of the game and some of the careless turnovers, it has to be a considered a possibility.
Lowry is never one to reach for an excuse, even after playing 90 out of a possible 96 minutes in Games 3 and 4: “Nope. Nope,” he said about fatigue as a factor. "Just didn’t play well enough.”
But there were plenty of signs of some kind of malaise and even frustration that boiled over. At one point Serge Ibaka and Lowry exchanged angry words after Ibaka chastised Lowry for picking up a technical foul as Toronto was trying to claw its way back into the game.
VanVleet intervened to calm things down.
“That's the flow of the game, I think it's a little bit worse here, there's no fans, there's no crowd noise, but those frustrations happen all the time,” he said. “You guys don't see a lot of them, but that was one that was obviously visible and you could probably hear a little bit there if you were here in the arena. Just the frustration of the game, nobody was happy, obviously the way we played I think everybody was a little frustrated, but you have your moment and you move on and you keep playing after that.”
Nurse would have been happy to see a little of that energy directed at the Celtics. The Raptors allowed the Celtics to shoot 24-of-35 in the paint (68.5 per cent) while converting just 16-of-36 of their own chances (44.4 per cent). Add that to Toronto’s continued struggles from three – they were 12-of-40 for the night and are now at 30.8 per cent for the series, compared to their 37.4 season mark, which was fifth best in the NBA – and it’s hard to find anything that went as planned.
“I think the energy level of our guys, we kinda just weren’t with it tonight, which is disappointing,” said Nurse. “They looked faster, stronger and hungrier than we did.
“… Even when we’re doing other schemes and defences, it still really comes down to protecting the paint and rim protection and your level of shot challenge and your physicality.”
The Raptors didn’t show much in any of those areas and now have to find enough of it to stave off elimination not once but twice.
Cause for optimism? The Raptors have a track record of following their worst games with some of their most inspired efforts – they did it several times during their championship run a year ago and already in this series after they came out flat in Game 1.
“We are really good at bouncing back, man,” said Nurse. “… it’s strange to me that we have these kinds of games. It really is, but historically we have. And then historically we usually bounce back in a big way.”
It’s maybe not the sturdiest of life rafts to be grabbing for – bouncing back from bad games in the past doesn’t guarantee it can happen again on command – but it’s what the Raptors' season hinges on.