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If not for Precious Achiuwa, the game wouldn't have even been close.

Sure, his two missed free throws in the dying seconds of regulation are going to be the lasting moment of regret for the Toronto Raptors when this series eventually comes to an end. There's no doubt Achiuwa had been beating himself up about the missed shots as he sat in front of the microphone taking questions post-game. But the 22-year-old center had maybe the best game of his career. If not for him, the Raptors wouldn't have been in a position to force overtime before a miraculous Joel Embiid turnaround three-pointer clinched Game 3 104-101 and virtually ended the season for the Raptors.

Achiuwa did almost everything right both before and after those missed free throws. He was nearly perfect from the field, with timely buckets on cuts to the rim and a pair of three-pointers off the bench. And while Embiid certainly went off in the second half, it was no fault of Achiuwa's who was in his face, pestering the 76ers' superstar to take contested jumpers way outside his comfort zone.

"He’s a huge reason why we were even in the picture tonight," Fred VanVleet said of Achiuwa's 20-point outing. "For a young guy to have a breakout performance like that is big for him. He’ll lose some sleep over the free throws as we all do, we’ve all been there, but we got to bounce back and get better from it."

"Don't want him to live in that play for sure because he was really, really effective and forceful out there tonight," added Raptors coach Nick Nurse. "That's just what happens, man. You get out there and you play this game, you're gonna get put in situations like that and you're gonna live and die with the results."

Even on the final bucket, though, a Hail Mary off-balanced three from Embiid to redeem himself after Kawhi Leonard famously sent him off the court crying back in 2019, Achiuwa was there in Embiid's face and making life difficult. He'd even forced the 76ers to take a timeout with less than one second on the shot clock thanks to his ferocious defense prior to the game-winner.

But these are the learning experiences Raptors coach Nick Nurse has been talking about for months now. This is why he wanted this young team to get into the playoffs and feel these moments. This is why games like these are so important, regardless of the outcome.

"It’s tough. Got to think about this but that’s about as tough a loss as I can remember here for my time. Obviously, if we pull that thing out, we got ourselves a series and instead, you got yourself a really, really deep hole to dig out of," said Nurse. "But, at least I thought we brought it and they played with great intensity and played really tough and put ourselves in a position to win and it just didn’t go our way tonight."

Anunoby Rises to the Call

With all the attention the 76ers are paying to Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet right now, the Raptors have decided to let OG Anunoby show just how far he's come as an offensive creator. It's still not always pretty, but the 24-year-old kept Toronto alive with crucial buckets off the dribble and in the corners while the Raptors' offense could barely generate a good look. He nailed a step-back corner three to put Toronto up one in overtime, but, like Achiuwa, his missed free throw in overtime proved critical.

"He looked really confident with the ball," Nurse said of Anunoby who lead the Raptors with 26 points on 8-for-18 shooting. "I thought he made good plays, he made a few passes out of positions that he took the ball to as well and made some tough shots as well."

Embiid Adjusts to Raptors Plan

For the first time all series, the Raptors actually had their way with Embiid early Wednesday night. He wasn't racking up fouls or freeing up open shooters with all the attention Toronto was sending his way. Instead, the Raptors were playing disciplined, holding the 7-foot center to just five points on 2-for-5 shooting with four turnovers in the first half.

Then, everything changed.

The Cameroonian giant almost single-handedly outscored the Raptors in the third quarter, nailing tough shots against defense Toronto was happy with. 

"He got a little more aggressive and he made a lot of tough shots. There's nothing you can do against shots like that," Achiuwa said. "Fadeaway trees. Pump-fake threes. Fadeaway, pump-fake, spin-around, top-of-the-free-throw-line jumpers. There's no better defense you can play possibly. He just hit a lot of tough shots."

Embiid nearly erased Toronto's 10-point first-half lead with 18 points in the third en route to 33 points, his new series high.

Trent Heats Up in Return from Illness

Gary Trent Jr. was simply not himself in the first two games of the series.

He was fighting through an illness and it had clearly sapped him of the energy that makes him so special. There was no juice in his legs for the first two games, but in Game 3, that totally changed. His defense was once again a difference-maker for the Raptors with those pesky hands, swiping balls away, and spurring on Toronto's transition game. He grabbed two steals in the first half and got to work with his classic pull-up game, nailing the kind of jumpers Toronto so desperately needed from him earlier in the series. 

When the Raptors needed buckets in the second half, Trent repeatedly stepped up. With three minutes to go, he showed off those much-improved catch-and-shoot skills, nailing a crucial three to put the Raptors up late in the fourth. 

"This is the best that I’ve felt in the last week," said Trent who's been battling an illness for over a week now. "I don’t know what it is. Fever up to 102, lost like eight pounds. Slowly but surely I was getting my body back, getting my wind back, that’s about it. Just trying to push through.”

After mustering just 10 minutes in Game 2, Trent nailed four three-pointers and finished the night with 24 points for Toronto, tying Pascal Siakam and VanVleet combined.

Home Sweet Home

It's been almost three years since the Raptors last played a home playoff game and so much has changed. There's no Kyle Lowry, no Leonard, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, or Norman Powell, but inside the arena, everything still feels relatively the same. Sure, it wasn't Game 5 of the NBA Finals vibes in Scotiabank Arena, but the fans certainly made a difference Wednesday night.

Every time Embiid touched the ball, Raptors faithful let him hear it with constant booing and the occasional expletive. They, of course, mixed in a few "Refs you Suck" chants and breathed life into what had been a lifeless Raptors team through two games.

Help is on the Way

Scottie Barnes is already out of his walking boot and nearing a return for Toronto. If things continue heading in the right direction, he'll likely play in Game 4, Nurse said.

"We need more games. We gotta figure out a way to dig in there Saturday afternoon and figure out how to get more games because I think you can see again some obviously valuable time out there for Precious OG, Chris those guys need these moments," Nurse said.

Up Next: Game 4 vs. 76ers

The Raptors will have two days off before returning to the court Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. for Game 4 vs. the 76ers.