Blakely: Did Raptors buzzer-beater change the series? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
This game was over.
Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker was having his own personal barbecue and the Toronto Raptors defense was his grilling meat of choice.
And with the game's outcome seemingly in the balance, Walker turned to one of the Celtics favorite role players, Daniel Theis, whose dunk with 0.5 seconds to play put Boston ahead 103-101 for what many understandably thought would be a commanding 3-0 series lead over Toronto.
But just like those GIFs of WWE star The Undertaker rising out of a tombstone, the Raptors aren't quite ready to close the casket on their season after getting a no-time-on-the-clock 3-pointer from OG Anunoby for a 104-103 win. More importantly, it kept Toronto's season alive for at least another couple games.
For most of this series with Toronto, it has been Boston making the tough plays defensively or getting the clutch baskets on offense down the stretch.
Walker's pass to Theis in the final second of play. A Jaylen Brown sequence of back-to-back dunks and a blocked shot. A 3-point play by Brad Wanamaker.
Boston got all of that, and it came right on time.
But the Raptors kept clawing, showing a level of fortitude and toughness that reminded us all that they were not going to relinquish the crown of being the NBAs best team -- the Celtics are going to have to snatch it away.
Boston almost did just that, seemingly coming up less than a second away from putting the Raptors in a series hole no team has fully climbed its way out of successfully.
But for Game 3 when it mattered most, Toronto finally had that breakthrough moment when the final horn sounded and they came away with the win.
As painful as the buzzer-beating loss was for Boston, this game will be remembered as one to grow on for the Celtics if they continue to play at an elite level and eventually get to the NBA Finals, which is still very much a realistic goal.
Toronto is the defending NBA champion and has played with an edge about them all season, good enough for them to have the second-best record in the East coming into the playoffs.
They have pushed Boston to step its game up from the Philly series and to the Celtics credit they have done that thus far.
The idea of the Raptors getting swept was one the Celtics knew wasnt going to happen.
Even with Pascal Siakam going from All-Star stud to All-Dud most of this series, the Raptors are too talented, too prideful and just too damn tough-minded to go out like that.
And with the win on Thursday, they finally have confidence coming from someplace other than what they did last year or last series.
Now we have a series.
And for the Celtics, now they have a chance to show their growth and maturity into not just a good team but a great one.
Because the way they lost wasnt just the Raptors smacking them in the mouth.
It was a punch to the gut, or wherever Brad Wanamaker's knee landed in Kyle Lowry's below-the-belt region.
As much as folks want to cling to this game ultimately being decided by an Anunoby 3-pointer at the buzzer, players on the Celtics roster can't help but think about the missed free throws or the missed open jumpers and put-backs that in retrospect may have been just what they needed to get the win and with it, put a stranglehold on the series.
But to dwell on that right now is a moot point.
As Jayson Tatum spelled out in his postgame press conference, there's no point in thinking too long or too hard about what happened because there's nothing they can do to change that now.
The Celtics lead the series 2-1.
But don't think for a minute that the Raptors won't come into Game 4 feeling as though the series momentum is in their favor.
And the Celtics?
Now is their opportunity to put their mental toughness and resilience to a great test against a great team.
This is what playoff basketball should be about, where every possession, every play could mean the difference between winning or losing, advancing in the playoffs or advancing to the team plane headed back home for the season.
It isn't about how you handle adversity or unexpected success, as much as it is about how you respond to it.
Boston has handled success well, showing no signs of letting up from one game to the next.
It's here now.
And no one knows for sure how this Celtics group in the Bubble will handle it.
There's surely added pressure now.
So will they bounce back or buckle under?
That will depend in part on how Boston deals with those two final plays, Theis' dunk and the Anunoby 3-pointer.
Do they build off the ease at which Walker set up what should have been the game-winning play, or do they obsess over the loss and allow it to linger like a dark cloud that eventually rains on their plans of a deep playoff run?
Because whichever direction they turn to will not only have a major impact on Game 4 but also this series, one in which the Raptors showed the mental toughness of a true champion to breathe life into a season that was on the eve of tapping out for good.
The Raptors responded to the challenge. .
Now it's the Celtics turn.