One thing we’ve learned about the Toronto Raptors is that they’re a good team that can win in multiple ways. Still, the first road playoff game in any series is going to be a test of finding ways to win — whether it’s through an energized crowd or against a team with a renewed sense of belief. It provides the test of how plans “B” through “D” work for any good team.
If tonight is any indication, the Raptors should be just fine. Despite a loose whistle and a difficult night for Kawhi Leonard and the bench, Toronto won Game 3 98-93, taking a 2-1 series lead and wrestling back home court advantage from the Orlando Magic.
Making a game about officiating feels like a losing proposition, since favour always makes its way back to you, but the Tony Brothers-led crew is definitely the first talking point from tonight. Both sides felt jilted, as “ref you suck” chants rained in Amway Center and both Leonard and Kyle Lowry had an extended discussion with Brothers after the game was over.
No matter who ended up on top, a shy whistle early on allowed two defensive-minded teams to become demonstratively physical, resulting in a slog of action — one more closely resembling the last era in which the Magic wore pinstripes in the post-season. The Raptors just did a better job of creating offence than the Magic (44.8 FG% vs. 36.3%), doing so despite a rough shooting night (5-for-19) from Leonard. Unable to get a call on multiple trips to the basket, Leonard needed help in order for the Raptors to get a win. That’s where Pascal Siakam came up huge.
Siakam finished the game with 30 points and 11 rebounds, the first Raptors player since Chris Bosh to put up a 30/10 game in the playoffs — who also did so against the Magic. He basically laughed in the faces of everyone (cough, me) who projected a difficult series against Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon, as Siakam more often than not found himself with a smaller defender on him after help had collapsed. With the mismatches, he was poised and able to finish — ending with what would be the key bucket in the game, an eight-foot, gut check of a floater with 1:33 left that gave the Raptors a six-point lead.
In a game like this, the Raptors really only needed one of their stars to break out, because the Magic struggled with consistency. They were led by 24 points off the bench from Terrence Ross, who made two critical threes late to make the game close, but made just 5-for-13 from deep overall. Orlando’s shooters were mostly famished tonight, as D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, and Jonathan Isaac combined to go 4-for-19 from three. Even a 23-10 free throw attempt disparity wasn’t enough to offset their poor outside shooting.
The Raptors’ defensive intensity, which swallowed the Magic whole in Game 2, was present early on in Game 3. A Kyle Lowry three opened the scoring, setting up a 10-0 run for the starters. Marc Gasol got an outstanding defensive performance going right from the tap, as he shut down Nikola Vucevic when they were matched up on the floor. The only exception to the Raptors’ bottling up of the all-star was when Gasol went to the bench with foul trouble in the third quarter. That’s when Vucevic scored 10 of his eventual 22; otherwise, it was a tough go.
Despite an 18-7 lead in the first, a transitional lineup made up of four bench players plus Siakam was miserable for the last 2:20, allowing Orlando to climb back in and make it a four-point game. This stretch was another learning moment for the Raptors, who really haven’t been able to play their ninth guy with much success. Jodie Meeks played only those two minutes, but was a -3. With Fred VanVleet struggling with his shooting and decision-making, Nurse is in a tough spot with his bench — a weakness that once again reared its head tonight.
Still, Lowry returned to the game to start the second and the Raptors settled down. The teams played close before halftime, as both Serge Ibaka and Leonard missed some shots as Ross got going on the other end. A half court heave from the former Raptor made it a three-point game at the half.
Terrence Ross ended the first half with THIS pic.twitter.com/iRDRsnxasD— ESPN (@espn) April 20, 2019
Similar to the start of the game, the Raptors starters were excellent to start the third. A 9-2 run out of the gate was halted when Gasol picked up his fourth foul at 9:31. Vucevic proceeded to score 10 points in the next three minutes with Ibaka on him, as Orlando would take their first lead midway through the quarter. The Raptors, though, responded with their key stretch of the game. With Gasol still on the bench, Lowry, Siakam, and some dark horse minutes from Danny Green — who had five points in the run — hurdled Toronto to a 16-0 stretch that gave them the lead for good.
Late in the game, the Magic threatened again, but Siakam’s floater was the first of two key plays in securing the win. The second was Kyle Lowry at his most Kyle Lowry-est, snagging a loose ball on a long offensive rebound — when nobody else seemed as eager to claim it — to ensure the Magic wouldn’t have a shot to tie.
BIG TIME PLAYERS, MAKE BIG TIME PLAYS pic.twitter.com/Ai6Feehzod— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 20, 2019
Lowry would finish with 12 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds, as the sheer amount of off-the-scoresheet plays continue to put his Game 1 further into the rearview mirror.
Even without their best player performing to his highest level, the Raptors found other ways to win Game 3. Just the act of doing that, when taking a technical foul or letting frustration derail your game, is sign enough that this team has what it takes. Toronto will have a chance at a 3-1 stranglehold in Game 4, which goes Sunday night.