How the Boston Celtics Respond in Game 4 Will Tell Us All We Need to Know About Their Championship Hopes

OG Anunoby, Jaylen Brown
OG Anunoby, Jaylen Brown / Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics were on the verge of going 3-0 on the defending champion Toronto Raptors. Kemba Walker made the play of his career with a no-look pass to Daniel Theis to put his team up two with half a second remaining. Then O.G. Anunoby snuck to the corner, Kyle Lowry dropped it in the breadbasket, and Anunoby hit an ice-cold game-winner to keep the Raptors in this series.

It could be a playoff-changing play. Game 4 will come on Saturday evening. Toronto is officially back in the series after the Celtics looked far and away like the better team for the majority of the minutes to that point. But losing a game with less than a second left on the clock, a mere moment away from an insurmountable deficit, is the definition of a back-breaking development. Jaylen Brown called his blown coverage on the play a "f---ing disgrace."

These Celtics have championship hopes. They looked the part during the playoffs so far. Game 3 was the first playoff game they lost, and frankly they hadn't come very close to losing to that point. Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker take turns carrying the load offensively, Brown has been an elite two-way player, and all of their other pieces are falling into place perfectly. But talent only gets you so far. Mental toughness is a huge part of going the distance in the NBA playoffs.

Boston has exhibited some of that mental toughness. They came back from 12 points down in Game 2 on the back of Marcus Smart's five straight three-pointers. Frustration was evident ini several of their first-round matchups with the Philadelphia 76ers. But every time, they persevered, as great teams do.

How great this team is will be defined by how, or more appropriately if, they bounce back in Game 4. That sort of devastating loss has completely derailed championship contenders before. Boston also doesn't have a ton of experience in these spots to lean on; Tatum and Brown are already playoff vets but this is their first time going into a game as the team to beat, rather than underdogs. Walker is in the middle of his longest playoff run ever. The Raptors, on the other hand, know precisely what they need to do in order to end up with a ring at the end of the playoffs.

Back-breakers like Anunoby's shot happen to all teams. The Celtics are not special in that regard. But the line between pretenders and contenders is razor-thin. It's made up of little things like being able to come out and play to their fullest ability even after a brutal loss that has everyone declaring the series isn't over. Boston has the talent to make a deep playoff run. But all that talent is for naught if they can't bounce back. Tonight will tell us all we need to know about this Celtics squad.