An exhausted Kyle Lowry was down to his final media question of the night.
As he thumbed through his phone Wednesday evening, searching for a picture of the three stitches he received in his chin after taking a midgame elbow by Boston Celtics guard Brad Wanamaker, the Toronto Raptors‘ point guard was asked about the game played by teammate Norman Powell.
While his head was still searching for his phone, he quipped, “Can I say what I really want to say?”
“F—, that was great,” Lowry said. “Thank you, Norm. That was f—ing unbelievable. S—. That was cool. We needed that.”
It was Lowry’s shot with 11.7 seconds to go in the second overtime that put Toronto up four and in position to win the game. But after a Jayson Tatum 3-pointer, it was Powell’s free throws with five seconds left that helped to ice the game.
Toronto had to deal with a 3-point attempt by Marcus Smart and survive an inbounds pass with 0.7 to go without fouling, but when the buzzer sounded and the Raptors held on for a 125-122 victory, this Eastern Conference semifinal series was headed to Game 7.
“I think everyone came into this series expecting a long series,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “I don’t think we lived up to that in the first couple of games. We were able to work ourselves back into position to give ourselves a chance and Game 7 to go to the Eastern Conference finals … all you can ask for is a chance, so …
“Long game, longer than we all would have asked for, but time to get some rest and go back at it again.”
Powell had a chance to finish off the game at the end of the first overtime with an isolation play drawn up just for him. He missed a long 3-point attempt, but he also came out firing in the second overtime to ensure his team took home the victory.
Powell scored 10 points in the second overtime, had a key block on Daniel Theis, hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:23 to play and added a steal that turned into an and-1 to put Toronto up four with 38.7 to go.
“He saved us. He saved our season,” VanVleet said. “That is his trademark now. You never know when it is going to happen, but it always happens at some point in the playoffs, so he was huge for us. Obviously, Kyle was steady the whole night, but Norm really gave us boost there.”
The play at the end of the first overtime was almost identical to one Toronto coach Nick Nurse drew up for Powell in the first game of the season.
Way back on Oct. 22, 2019, the Raptors opened the season against the New Orleans Pelicans and that game was tied at 117 in the final seconds of regulation. And like he did Wednesday night, Nurse called for Powell to be isolated at the top of the key. Powell didn’t hit the shot, but Toronto still went on to win.
Nurse said he trusted Powell in the same situation against Boston because of his ability to “bolt up and score.” And even though the shot didn’t go in, it did give Powell some extra juice heading into the second overtime. But he knows it’ll take a complete effort if the Raptors want to stave off elimination once again.
“I think the games that we’ve won [in this series] has shown we have to put together a full 48-minute effort,” Powell said. “Have no lulls, offensively or defensively. Whatever happens through mistakes and moments where we do mess up whatever the game plan is, we continue to fight through it and figure it out and help one another.”
Powell finished with 23 points, second to only Lowry for the Raptors. Lowry had 33 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 53:28 of work. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was Lowry’s third game in franchise history with at least 30 points in a game while facing elimination.
Lowry said the game was about going out and playing as hard as possible to force a Game 7 on Friday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“We were playing against a physical, tough team that is well coached with a couple All-Stars, some real nice stars and a great team,” Lowry said. “We had to work hard for this win and for us; that is what we do. We work hard and we play every possession like it is our last and find ways to pull out victories.”
Nurse, who has been with Lowry in Toronto since 2013, first as an assistant before becoming head coach last season heading into the Raptors’ championship run, said what Lowry did in Game 6 was simply “what the great players do.”
“It’s what the tough, tough players do, the great players do. And he is, man. He’s a great one,” Nurse said. “He’s fun to watch. He’s the ultimate competitor. Toughness, and he steps into it; he’s not afraid of the moment. Made some big ones for sure — played great.”
Nurse improved to 39-15 (.722) all time in games after a loss. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, that’s the highest winning percentage of any coach in NBA history in games following a loss (minimum 50 games).
Now, Nurse will get to coach in his second Game 7. The first was in last year’s conference semifinals — when Kawhi Leonard‘s bouncing shot sent the Raptors on to the conference finals while sending 76ers back to Philadelphia.
“At the start of the series — or, I don’t know, the start of the playoffs, or even before — if you would’ve thought that Boston and Toronto [would] get on a collision course, it’s going to be a hell of a series,” Nurse said, “and we almost didn’t make it one because of our play a couple times, and obviously we’ve won a couple close ones. But we got a good series. We got a Game 7.
“Let’s see what happens.”