Raptors Fight Tooth and Klaw to Come Up With Double OT Winby The Scorecrow May 20, 2019 0 comments
By Mateo Rispoli
In competition with the finale of one of the most culturally significant television series in the past decade, the Toronto Raptors took the Milwaukee Bucks north past the wall their backs were already up against. Kawhi Leonard and company made their rapturous return to Scotiabank Arena trailing 0-2, and the company found themselves in the hot seat.
The Raptors have had a hard time finding consistent contributors during the playoffs outside of Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, and while the former was very much still the star, he found himself surrounded by a reenergized supporting cast afraid of the nearly inescapable pit of an 0-3 series deficit.
Marc Gasol, who did a serviceable job guarding a partially incapacitated Joel Embiid while still managing to contribute on the other end in round two, had been a non-factor offensively in games one and two. Shooting 5-10 with 16 points, Gasol made more shots in game three than in games one and two combined, not to mention an exceptional passing game with seven assists. He was didn’t shy away from the perimeter like he did in game two either, making four of his eight three point attempts, one of which came when they were two down in the second overtime. Add to that five blocks and 12 rebounds and his contributions cannot be understated. An aggressive Gasol changes the face of the Raptors offense and this game is proof. Gasol held his breath and kept his head down, keeping himself in the game while playing with five fouls for a part of the fourth quarter and all 10 minutes of overtime.
Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, two key contributors during regulation, fouled out before overtime started, and once again the spotlight found itself staunch and glaringly focused on Kawhi Leonard, likely the most cutthroat player still hitting the hardwood. With a game-high 52 minutes of action, Leonard scored 36 points, eight of which came in the second overtime where he was constantly doubled, as he was for most of the game. His ability to make contested shots continues to stun, and his tenacity in taking them seems to be similarly jarring to the Bucks defense.
On the other end, Leonard took on the herculean tasks of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nick Nurse undoubtedly deserves credit for such an acute adjustment. Leonard managed to neutralize the Greek Freak everywhere besides off the glass, holding him to 5-16 shooting. At this point in the offseason, a night like this is standard Kawhi. Factor in a knee injury that sent him limping to the bench after multiple tame plays, and it’s a triumph.
For the Bucks, it’s the story of the first quarter. They shot 7-21 in the opener, and turned the ball over eight times. Considering their only lead during regulation came at 2-0, this allowed the Raptors the seize the opportunity to fight through the onslaught of a heating-up George Hill, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brooke Lopez, the only Bucks to break 15 points. Considering starters Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe each shot 3-16 with a limited Giannis, it’s a testament to their depth and the resilience they have enjoyed as a product all season.
“Whenever we got close, they’d hit some shots and take the lead back to seven or eight,” remarked Antetokounmpo. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t our best game.” Considering their air-tight performance in the playoffs so far, with this only being their second loss, it’s safe to say the potential MVP isn’t making any excuses.
There was a near filmic moment with a little under two minutes remaining in the second overtime that was set into motion when Fred Van Fleet found himself in an obvious mismatch with Khris Middleton in the short corner. Leonard notices and quickly leaves Brogdon out on the perimeter to aid his teammate, causing Middleton to force it out to Brogdon. Kawhi capitalizes on the bad pass, narrowly wedges himself between Brogdon and line by the scorer’s table, cleanly snatching the ball with his left hand and jets down the court before tempering himself for a judicious right hand dunk as to not land too hard on his ailing leg. In that scene, Kawhi Leonard asserted his otherworldly grasp on the game (if the numbers didn’t already show it); immaculate yet antagonistic defense leading to a key basket. He employed nearly every facet of his physical and mental skill set to put the Raptors up three and cement a lead they would not lose again. The Raptors invite the Bucks back to Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday, May 21, and they don’t seem to plan on it being the last game that building sees this season.