Toronto’s Fred VanVleet, left, collides with Boston’s Kemba Walker, right, as he goes to the basket during Thursday’s game in Lake Buena Vista Fla. Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Hope is a powerful thing.

And the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors woke up Friday morning with just that.

Boston’s Tacko Fall holds his hands on his head after the Toronto Raptors hit a game-winning 3-pointer in Game 3. Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

“We just needed something to feel good (about),” Fred VanVleet said after their improbable 104-103 win Thursday over the Boston Celtics. “It’s been a rough couple of days… we’ve been pretty hard on ourselves the past couple of days. It hasn’t been pretty. The mood hasn’t been great but you just need a little magic.”

The Boston Celtics didn’t just lose a playoff game when OG Anunoby’s shot flicked through the net, they energized the Raptors. They didn’t just miss a chance to go up 3-0, they allowed the Raptors to believe in themselves again.

Toronto has been away from home longer than any other team. Because of travel restrictions imposed in the COVID-19 pandemic, they holed up in Florida weeks before anyone else. Their bubble fatigue was further along than others. The weight of their situation was weighing heavier than it was on other teams. After two losses, their will to fight was challenged like never before.

“You never know what the pulse of the team is. You don’t know where guys are at,” VanVleet said. “There wasn’t a lot of talking going on the last couple of days. Guys were just trying to lock in and the locker room was pretty quiet before the game. You hope guys are in the right mindset but we really didn’t talk about anything. So you hope for the best.”

You can bet the Raptors talked after that win. You can bet they went back to their hotel and enjoyed their night. They went to sleep with smiles on their faces. They’ll practice on Friday with a little extra zip in their passes. They’ll spend the day knowing that one more win gets them even and then, from there, who knows?

Two good nights of sleep and the knowledge that they can pull this off is bad for the Celtics. A 3-0 deficit would have been insurmountable. The Raptors would have faced elimination in Game 4 on on Saturday.


Now Boston needs to come back strong. If the Celtics take anything from Game 3, it’s the knowledge that Toronto has caught a second wind and will carry it over to Game 4. If Boston can’t counter that energy and the Raptors even the series, they’ll be facing a best-of-three series and a team brimming with hope.

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