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Raptors’ OG Anunoby stuns Celtics with a series-saving buzzer-beater

Raptors forward OG Anunoby releases the game-winning shot at the buzzer over Celtics defender Jaylen Brown. Toronto got within 2-1 in the playoff series with the win. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Toronto Raptors were a half-second away from a 3-0 series hole against the Boston Celtics, but somehow that was still plenty of time for OG Anunoby to deliver a stunning buzzer-beater and a 104-103 win Thursday night.

Game 3 of the second-round series was fiercely fought Thursday, with Kyle Lowry seeking to revive the defending champions after a blowout loss in Game 1 and a fourth-quarter collapse in Game 2. But Boston appeared to seize control for good when Kemba Walker wove through four defenders and fed center Daniel Theis for a dunk with 0.5 seconds remaining that gave the Celtics a 103-101 lead.

The Raptors returned to their huddle, where Coach Nick Nurse said they remained calm and composed as he drew up a play he pulled from an instructional video put out by legendary coach and broadcaster Hubie Brown. When they exited the huddle, Lowry set up on the right sideline with Tacko Fall, Boston’s 7-foot-5 center, set up in front of him.

Nurse’s play called for guard Fred VanVleet to race toward the ball as the first option, utilizing a screen from center Marc Gasol to free himself. Boston’s Jayson Tatum lay in wait for VanVleet, forcing him off course and making a pass to him impractical. As Gasol dove toward the basket, Boston’s Jaylen Brown hugged him tightly to prevent a lob to the basket. Meanwhile, Anunoby slid quietly in the far corner, where he stood alone to receive a gorgeous, high-arcing cross-court pass from Lowry.

Brown attempted to recover from the paint to the corner to contest Anunoby’s shot, but the catch-and-shoot release was quick and Anunoby’s jumper was pure. The game-winning three-pointer barely cleared Brown’s fingertips and rattled through as the buzzer sounded, giving Toronto the win and narrowing Boston’s lead in the series to 2-1.

“The pass was nothing,” said Lowry, who finished with a game-high 31 points, six rebounds and eight assists. “OG made the shot. All the credit goes to the shot. This is OG’s moment. That’s a great moment for that kid. That’s the type of moment that his even-keel attitude [helps him] stay calm. He’s built for that.”

To the amusement of his teammates, the mild-mannered Anunoby simply walked toward the bench after drilling a shot that effectively saved Toronto’s season. No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

“That was true OG form right there,” said VanVleet, who added 25 points and six assists. “To knock down the biggest shot of his life and act like nothing happened.”

Boston entered Game 3 with a 6-0 record in the postseason, getting strong contributions from Walker, Tatum and Brown. Walker led the Celtics with a team-high 29 points Thursday, and Brown added 19 in the loss. They did more than enough to win, playing through an early scoring flurry from Lowry and executing their offense well down the stretch.

But the 23-year-old Anunoby, a late first-round pick in 2017 in his third NBA season, had other ideas. After an appendectomy limited him to just six postseason appearances during Toronto’s run to the 2019 title, he returned this season to establish himself as a valued but unheralded three-and-D contributor on a veteran-dominated roster.

Brown, who was beside himself after the turn of fortune and peppered his comments with profanities, said that the Celtics’ final defensive possession was a “disgrace.”

“No excuse for it,” he said. “Ridiculous. Can’t take your foot off the gas. We just needed one stop to win.”

Anunoby scored 12 points in Game 3, hitting three of his five three-point attempts and claiming 10 rebounds and three steals. Like many nights, his contributions would have been overlooked if not for his quick-trigger heroics that beat the buzzer.

“I expected to make it,” he explained matter-of-factly. “I don’t shoot trying to miss.”

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