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Marcus Smart transition block helps Celtics escape Raptors 92-87

The Celtics shot 13-for-23 from the free throw line, bricked threes all night, but Grant Williams and the starters escaped the series on defense as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined for 50 points.

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors - Game Seven Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The game went exactly where Game 4 and Game 6 went. The Celtics led by 10 with under five minutes remaining, Kemba Walker heaved a three, dumped to Marcus Smart under pressure from OG Anunoby, who charged. Jayson Tatum missed a three and shot in the lane, while Daniel Theis fouled out 11 seconds after coming in for Grant Williams. Williams got fouled by Kyle Lowry for his sixth — and missed both.

Moments before Grant stepped to the line, with Norman Powell on the run for the potentially game-tying bucket moments before, Smart chased him down and pinned his layup attempt on the left side of the glass. Tatum rebounded Williams’ second miss and split a pair of his own free throws. The Celtics closed 3-for-8 at the free throw line, but stopped a heave by Fred VanVleet and narrowly escaped with the game, and the series, 92-87.

In final stand for the championship Raptors and the biggest game of Brad Stevens’ tenure, the Raptors appeared gassed and the Celtics overwhelmed. Boston started 0-for-7 from three, largely on open looks, shooting 14 threes to 10 inside the arc, where they converted 60%. The heaves kept coming anyway.

The Celtics’ shots, particularly from Walker and Brown, consistently hit the back of the rim on a line. Smart fared better, cracking the lid open with a pair of first quarter threes, while Brad Stevens turned back to Robert Williams early and throughout the night as Theis faced foul trouble.

Walker shook his early troubles with a layup inside, as the Celtics found success at the rim, but threes like a Brown attempt at the top of the arc that he chased after turned into an uncontested Powell transition layup. The Celtics led 21-14 early, until the Raptors rotated in Serge Ibaka and Matt Thomas for a 20-4 run.

Ibaka, in form, hit a pick-and-pop three and Thomas drilled another as part of a 12-1 burst that came together in just over one minute. Siakam got on the board with free throws after committing a turnover and two early misses in the lane. Then Fred VanVleet hit a three to take a lead. Semi Ojeleye responded with his own to escape the frame with a one-point lead.

The Celtics’ struggles continued into the second, but the Raptors handed the ball away repeatedly and the fast break fired up Boston’s offense. Walker fed Brown after a steal for an open layup he nearly missed, then Toronto shot back with makes from Siakam and Lowry. Ibaka scored inside on a cut and VanVleet on a drive forcing the Celtics, without a purpose, into a timeout midway through the frame.

Brown brought the Celtics to 8-for-13 inside the arc and Williams flushed a put-back soon after. Ibaka kept pressuring Boston though, because Game 7 wouldn’t make sense otherwise, with a put-back of his own and three in transition.

Smart carried the Celtics back, scooping a steal and lining up a perfect alley-oop to Tatum at the rim in transition. Tatum stripped OG the next possession, then missed in the lane as Boston’s shooting woes continued. Walker converted inside on the next possession, and Brown grabbed a third steal to feed Smart on the run for a 41-40 lead with the foul.

Brown drilled a three, Walker a signature mid-ranger, and the Celtics rode a put-back into a 50-46 lead. Boston’s best offensive stretch continued into their infamous third quarter. Tatum hit a spot-up three, Brown’s baseline jumper nervously fell through and Walker split a pair of free throws to propel Boston ahead 55-46.

Toronto and Boston traded 5-0 runs, then a bad night for Walker continued with an attempted heave from three on a foul called on the floor and a near air-ball on his next jumper. He shot 5-for-15 into the fourth quarter.

The Raptors rode four free throws from a Anunoby steal and Powell drive, then Ibaka powered through Smart to cap an 8-0 run. Stevens attempted some zone in the third, good for a stop, but VanVleet broke it from the mid-range to get within 62-61. The Raptors briefly took a lead on a VanVleet three, then Walker and Tatum responded with jumpers into the fourth quarter. As the fourth quarter began, Tatum had 22 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

Walker, Theis and Tatum exploded into the final frame on a 7-0 run, but Theis picked up his fifth foul one minute in, forcing split minutes from the Williamses. Brown scored on a breakout dunk for an 83-71 lead, fell into a split and stayed down into a timeout. He got up, jogged it off and stayed in the game, with a 10-for-16 shooting line.

Walker hit a pair of shots as Grant rotated into the game, as the Celtics stayed ahead on six Raptors turnovers. Grant forced a steal inside on Siakam to set up a Tatum finish and nine-point lead, then Powell and Siakam hit shots in the lane to stay within six points.

The Raptors pulled within two, with Tatum’s last two shot attempts missing, the latter sending Powell in transition to tie the game. Smart met him at the rim, and despite a pair of Williams missed free throws, Tatum flew in to grab a critical offensive rebound. He split his pair of free throws, leaving the door open for the Raptors, but VanVleet missed a long three.

Walker converted at the line, rare on this night of tight shooting, and the Boston Celtics are on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

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