At the 6:37 mark of the third quarter in Game 3 of Raptors vs. Magic, Nikola Vucevic hit the second of two threes taken on consecutive trips down the floor. It gave the Magic the lead, 59-57, their first since the end of Game 1. Up that point, Toronto had been in control for six straight quarters of basketball. But control in this case is relative, and the Raptors’ grip on Game 3 had been steadily loosening to that point. With the Orlando crowd getting up and Kawhi Leonard not his usual self, the Raps found themselves suddenly behind, and looked in trouble.
So, in response, Toronto ripped off a 16-0 run, reasserted themselves in the game, and never quite looked back.
Now, there’s an obvious other turning point in Game 3 — which we’ll get to in a minute — but I’m of the opinion that these kinds of runs are what makes Toronto the more dangerous team in the series (if not the East). The Raptors had already stretched their legs quite a bit in this one, jumping out to another good start and a lead that got as large as 11 in the first quarter. But they were unable to close it out like they had in Game 2.
This is in large part due to some extremely ineffective minutes from bench-heavy units featuring all of the usual suspects of late: Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka. Rhyming off some of these players is the reason why I’m here, because it was actually Ibaka who made a surprising play to keep Toronto’s run going.
The Raptors’ 16 points in that stretch came from the usual sources: Danny Green had seven opportunistic points (a three and two crafty lay-ins), Kawhi chipped in a pair of free throws (he was labouring), and Pascal Siakam went wild from all over. Despite the most onerous minutes load on the team, it was indeed Siakam who kept up the pressure on both ends, playing smothering defense on the Magic and then leaking out in transition whenever he could.
In the midst of that run, however, there was Ibaka — who had let Vucevic get going in the first place, and who the Raptors had to play because of Marc Gasol’s foul trouble — making a striking assist to Siakam for two of his seven points in the run. For me, that was the moment I knew everything would be all right for the Raptors. If Ibaka is making confident assists, there’s just no way to beat them. (For the record, Ibaka’s second assist on the evening came off a Lowry three that gave the Raptors their biggest lead of the game at 17 points.)
Of course, then Siakam did this, and it was thoroughly over:
[Morpheus voice] he's beginning to believe https://t.co/3IxiPvNpcm— Daniel Reynolds (@aka_Reynolds) April 20, 2019
That’s not to say the Magic didn’t make it interesting. Late in the fourth, after a Terrence Ross three (the former Raptor jumped off the bench for 24 points), Orlando did close the gap to a mere three points. That set up Kawhi’s final clean look at a jump, which he short-rimmed, and would have led to a chance for the Magic to tie it. It felt like a weird redux of Game 1, a tense situation that Toronto could have and very much should have avoided.
But by that point, with everything the Raptors had done to take control of the game, there was no way Kyle Lowry was going to let things go that way.
BIG TIME PLAYERS, MAKE BIG TIME PLAYS pic.twitter.com/Ai6Feehzod— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 20, 2019
The Raptors kept possession. Ball game. 2-1 series lead.