Toronto is back from the dead in the NBA playoffs

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The Raptors were done. They were cooked. 

It was Game 3 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Boston Celtics, and Toronto was down two games to zero. The Celtics had a two-point lead with half a second left — surely not enough time to get a good look at the basket.

Then Kyle Lowry heaved the ball across the court over a 7-foot-tall defender on an inbounds play, the ball landed smoothly in the hands of OG Anunoby, and Anunoby drained the shot.

The Raptors were alive. And following a convincing Game 4 win over Boston on Saturday, they suddenly look more than just alive … they look like a team that can threaten to win the Eastern Conference.

First, let’s discuss Game 4. Yes, the Celtics went cold from beyond the arc, with Jaylen Brown especially having a nightmarish evening, going 2-for-11 from deep. Jayson Tatum didn’t fare much better — while he was able to get to the line and get his points, he shot 1-for-6 from 3 on the night.

So sure, shots weren’t falling. But the Raptors’ defensive adjustments caused problems for the Celtics. The conscious Toronto effort to keep the ball out of Kemba Walker’s hands worked, as Walker finished with just nine shot attempts on the night. (He also finished 1-6 from deep, as did, weirdly, Marcus Smart.)

With no Gordon Hayward (ankle), the Celtics didn’t have another real scoring threat who could change up the game. The Raptors closed out on deep shots hard, and dared the Celtics’ non-stars to beat them. It worked.

On the offensive end, the Raptors were aggressive, with Pascal Siakam leading the attack and working to get to the rim. With him as an aggressive slasher, the Raptors were able to get open looks from deep for Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka. Ibaka especially was a surprising offensive force, finishing with 18 points after going 7-9 from the floor and 4-4 from deep.

The series is 2-2, and this series feels like it’s going seven games. The one worrying thing for the Raptors has to be fatigue. With the season on the line, Raptors coach Nick Nurse went with a shortened bench. Only eight Raptors played on Saturday, and one — Matt Thomas — got three minutes.

Lowry, Siakam, and VanVleet all played 44+ minutes on Saturday. All three played 38+ minutes in Game 3. I admire Nurse for saying “screw it” with the season on the line and playing his best players as much as humanly possible, but he’ll have to manage those minutes going forward.

If the Raptors can keep this going, however, the East suddenly looks a bit wide open. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are surprisingly down 3-0 to Jimmy Butler and the Heat, and with Giannis reportedly fighting an injury, Miami could coast into the Eastern Conference Finals with a win on Sunday.

Miami is great, but that’s a team that the Raptors or Celtics will feel they can compete with, and beat.

With a half second left in Game 3, the Raptors looked finished. Now, they’ve got a clear path to the NBA Finals.