The Boston Celtics get their first chance to clinch their third conference finals berth in the last four seasons when they take on the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Wednesday night near Orlando.
The Celtics forged ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series with a 111-89 blowout victory in Game 5 on Monday. A win Wednesday would send Boston to face the winner of the Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks semifinal for the chance to represent the East in the NBA Finals set to begin Sept. 30.
The Celtics lost in the conference finals in both 2017 and ’18 before being eliminated in the semifinals by the Bucks last season. Despite being a win away from advancing, Boston isn’t resting on its laurels.
“The job’s not finished yet,” swingman Jaylen Brown told reporters. “We’ve still got a lot of work that needs to be done.”
The Raptors have already shown this series they can’t be counted out. Down 2-0 after two games, Toronto won Game 3 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from OG Anunoby — the tail end of a play that began with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. The Raptors rode that momentum to a strong showing in their Game 4 win but fell flat out of the gate in Game 5, scoring just 11 points in the first quarter and trailing by as much as 30 down the stretch.
“You never flush it; you learn from it,” said point guard and team leader Kyle Lowry. “Every single game is a different game. … Make adjustments, continue to grow and figure it out. Right now we are in a brink of elimination, literally fighting for our lives right now on the basketball floor. It’s win or go home.”
Toronto never faced a 3-2 deficit on its path toward its first NBA championship a season ago. Throughout the series, the team has leaned heavily on Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, with each member of the trio averaging above or near 40 minutes a game. Their importance is even greater after key reserve Serge Ibaka showed up at practice Tuesday wearing a walking boot, the result of a twisted ankle sustained in Game 5.
Ibaka is listed as questionable for Wednesday night.
“We’ll just wait and see on that,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “But same as always, if he’s there, we’ll play him. I think there’s a good chance of that. If not, we’ll move on to the next guy and get them ready to go.”
The Celtics are similarly leaning on their Big Three of Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker to get through to the next round. Brown, held to 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting in Game 4, responded with a game-high 27 points in Monday’s blowout win.
“Jaylen’s got big-time character,” coach Brad Stevens said. “… I don’t think it would have mattered if he missed a couple early. He was going to be aggressive, and that was good for our team.”
–Field Level Media