TORONTO – – Kawhi Leonard carried the Toronto Raptors through most of the postseason.
However, after Leonard played 52 minutes in Toronto’s double-overtime win on Sunday and was noticeably favoring his left leg, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said teammates knew Leonard was limited Tuesday and that the rest of them “had to step up.”
The Raptors did, especially Lowry, who scored 18 points in the first half to set the tone and finished with 25 points as the Raptors defeated the visiting Milwaukee Bucks 120-102 to even the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals at two games apiece.
Game 5 is Thursday in Milwaukee. The winner of the best-of-seven series will advance to meet the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
“We have had to rely on (Leonard) so much, and when everybody steps up, it takes the load off him,” Lowry said.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse added of Leonard’s health, “I mean, yeah, we were concerned. I think (Leonard) is fine. I think he’s — you know, he logged a lot of minutes. He’s certainly tired, like a lot of guys in this series are. You know, he looks OK to me.
“I think there’s a number of guys out there that aren’t 100 percent on both sides of the ball. But, again, he’s got tremendous will. He’s got tremendous desire, and there’s one time I was trying to give him an extended rest there, and he didn’t really want it. So he must be OK.”
Leonard contributed 19 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes.
Norman Powell added 18 points off the bench for the Raptors. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol each scored 17 points, and Fred VanVleet had 13 points. Ibaka also grabbed 13 rebounds.
Powell, Ibaka and VanVleet led a strong showing by Toronto’s bench that made the difference.
“I’m going out there and trying to impact the game where I see that I can,” Powell said. “Just take what the defense is giving me and just stay confident in my reads. Just try to follow the game flow. We’re just playing for one another. We were talking to each other on different shots, different reads that are there.”
Khris Middleton amassed 30 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Nikola Mirotic contributed 11 points.
“They did a great job on us defensively,” Middleton said. “They took advantage of some of our defensive coverages and just made shots. For the most part, they got anything they wanted. We’ve got to be better.”
The Raptors led by as many as 16 points during the third quarter and had a 13-point margin entering the fourth.
“I think defensively, just tonight didn’t feel like where we need to be defensively, as good as we need to be,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They got to good spots. They shared the ball. They passed it. They made open shots. They made some high-degree-of-difficulty shots, so that’s a bad combination. They’re making open looks, and then they’re making tough ones, too.”
VanVleet sank a 3-pointer that bounced around the rim several times before dropping in, Ibaka knocked down a free throw, and Powell hit a one-footer to put Toronto ahead by 20 points with 8:35 to play in the game.
The Bucks crept within 14, but Lowry’s layup had the lead at 21 with 3:50 to go. Ibaka’s dunk bumped the lead to 25.
The Raptors led 32-31 after one quarter, and they scored the first nine points of the second quarter to increase the margin to 10.
Middleton’s 3-pointer with 7:08 remaining in the first half trimmed the deficit to five.
George Hill made two free throws to reduce the margin to four with 3:08 left, but Toronto went up by nine on Powell’s 3-pointer with 1:53 left.
The Raptors led 65-55 at halftime with Lowry scoring 18 points. Middleton had 16 first-half points for Milwaukee.
The Raptors led by 13 early in the third quarter on Pascal Siakam’s layup and free throw.
The Raptors had the lead as high as 14 before the Bucks went on a 7-0 surge to cut the gap in half.
Toronto pulled away again, taking a 12-point lead on Leonard’s step-back jumper with 3:15 remaining.
Lowry made two free throws with 1:17 to go, and Toronto led by 15. The Raptors were on top 94-81 after three quarters.
–Field Level Media