Raptors pushed to brink of elimination as Celtics take 3-2 series lead

Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart (36) takes a shot over Toronto Raptors' Norman Powell (24). (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After two spectacular games from Kyle Lowry, the six-time all-star guard had an off night.

So did the rest of the Raptors — and now Toronto is one loss away elimination.

Jaylen Brown scored 27 points while Kemba Walker had 21 and the Boston Celtics pummelled the Raptors 111-89, taking a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Raptors’ season will end with a loss on Wednesday. Game 7, if needed, would be Friday.

Fred VanVleet topped Toronto with 18 points, while Norman Powell had 16.

Pascal Siakam, who’s struggled in the NBA’s restart after a four-month break due to COVID-19, had another horrible night with 10 points. Lowry and Matt Thomas finished with 10 points apiece.

Lowry, who Boston coach Brad Stevens had said “might be the most underrated player in the league,” had set a breakneck pace in Toronto’s two wins, but had an off night Monday, and nobody stepped up in his place.

The Raptors looked gassed, like they were running in sludge. They scored just 11 points in the first quarter on a horrendous 20 per cent shooting, clanging three-pointers off the rim, airballing forced jump shots, and missing on seemingly easy lay-ins.

While the Raptors defence kept Boston honest in the beginning, that soon evaporated too. And by the time Brown scored on a pullup jumper late in the second quarter the Celtics were up by 28 points. It felt more like 58.

A Brown stepback jumper stretched Boston’s gaping lead to 30 points late in the third, and Boston led 87-63 with one quarter left to play.

A Powell three-pointer pulled Toronto to within 18 points early in the fourth, but coach Nick Nurse, looking ahead to Game 6, went deep into his bench soon after.

The Raptors were beaten virtually across the board, but one telling stat, particularly in Siakam’s case, was the fact they were beaten — and beaten up — by Boston in the paint, outscored 48-32.

The Raptors had been riding the momentum of a thrilling Game 3 victory that saw OG Anunoby connect on a buzzer-beater off a jaw-dropping pass from Lowry with 0.5 seconds to play.

Toronto was the dominant team in Game 4, finally playing like the club that finished second in the East in a solid regular season.

That momentum ended with the speed of a burst balloon on Monday.

Anunoby’s seven points were a team-high in the first quarter. Lowry and Ibaka, with two points apiece, were the only other Raptors who scored in an ugly period that was almost the worst in Raptors playoff history. They scored just nine points in a quarter versus Detroit in the 2002 post-season. Toronto trailed 25-11 to start the second.

The second quarter was no better. Lowry and Ibaka led the way with just five points each and the Raptors trailed 62-35 heading into the halftime break.

The Raptors had been 7-2 all-time in Game 5s before Monday, and had won Game 5s the previous four times they’d been tied 2-2 in series.

The Raptors had the biggest comeback in franchise history and the NBA’s largest in a decade earlier this season when they clawed back from a 30-point deficit to beat Dallas on Dec. 22.

There were no late-game heroics on Monday. Boston is now 5-2 against Toronto since the restart.

This series shows how there is no such thing as a home game in the NBA bubble in Walt Disney World. The designated “away” team has won each game in the series. Toronto is the “away” team on Wednesday.

Boston took the series opener 112-94 and Game 2, 102-99. The Raptors bounced back to take Games 3 and 4 by scores of 104-103 and 100-93.

Watch Game 6 between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics on Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and SN NOW.

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