Towards the end of Game 1 last weekend, the Raptors were giving everyone a familiar knot in their stomach. Late-game execution left a lot to be desired, the team looked out of sorts, and a lower-seeded squad was stretching them to their limit. Common sense coming out of that game was that the Raptors would balance out quickly. After all, with the roster turnover of 2018-19 — and the addition of Kawhi (freaking) Leonard — there was no way history could repeat itself again, right?
If that was your leading thought coming out of the first game of this series, Game 4 was the realization of it — the demonstrative proof that the Raptors are better than the Magic. Throughout Sunday’s game, Toronto’s defence forced Orlando into unsustainable forms of offence. Despite some intermittent scares and an awesome performance from Aaron Gordon, it worked out. Led by 34 points from Leonard in an outstanding bounce back performance from a flu-ridden Game 3, the Raptors won Game 4 107-85 to take a 3-1 series lead home to Toronto.
Kawhi was more than his 34 points in Game 4 and showed what having a superstar can provide in a playoff setting. Every time the Magic made a run, especially early in the first and midway through the third, Kawhi would answer with a play on both ends of the floor. Leonard was 12-for-20 overall, adding six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks, finishing a +20.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 22, 2019
KAWHI LEONARD IS VERY GOOD AT BASKETBALL pic.twitter.com/IpS1HAM86n
An added bonus for the Raptors was that their bench put in great work on both ends. Norman Powell had his best playoff game since dunking into our living rooms three years ago against Indiana, scoring 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Serge Ibaka was also super efficient, finishing with 13 points on six shots while grabbing eight rebounds. Even Fred VanVleet, who’s struggled this series, drew an important charge and had nine points.
Again, Kawhi was awesome, but the play of those three guys really stands out to me. So far in this series, the only moments you’ve had to sweat as a Raptors fan have been the transition periods where two or more bench players see the floor. Tonight, Nick Nurse didn’t have to bring the starters back except to flex on the Magic up 20 with four minutes left. Otherwise, the bench was good enough to support the starters — a marked difference from the first three games of this series. Overall, their proficiency led the Raptors to shoot 53.3% from the field and 39.3% from deep.
Unlike Games 2 and 3, the Magic had a run in them right from the opening tap. A couple Raptors turnovers resulted in points on the other end, as Orlando would take an early 7-0 lead. The Raptors had a response, though, led by three straight baskets from Leonard — along with this gorgeous series of passes from Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, who once again worked their oft-magical pick and roll into an open look.
Ball movement is a beautiful thing pic.twitter.com/DTAiEepJCx— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 21, 2019
The run ended up being 17-4 for the visitors, giving them a 28-26 lead after one. In the second, Toronto broke the game open. Some solid bench play was propped up by Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry playing with Powell, Ibaka, and VanVleet, as both teams got hot from the field. When the starters returned for Toronto, though, their defence dialled in on Orlando’s efforts — captained by two blocks by Leonard. The Magic would make just one field goal over the last 5:22 of the first half, resulting in a 58-42 halftime lead for the Raptors.
In the third, Aaron Gordon fought the good fight for Orlando. He made two tough jumpers out of the break, attacking the paint ruthlessly. Gordon would end the game with 25 points, seven rebounds, and five assists — the problem was his supporting cast wasn’t there.
Jonathan Isaac fought foul trouble in the first half and didn’t score. Nikola Vucevic was neutralized by Marc Gasol (again) and shot just 5-for-14. D.J. Augustin has quietly normalized to D.J. Augustin levels of production — scoring eight points and finishing a -21. Orlando would shoot just 21.2% from three, their second straight game missing at least 70% of their distance shots.
Midway through the third, Kawhi would pass the 30-point mark. Another solid stretch by the bench — carrying a 13-point lead and ending the quarter up 12 — gave the Raptors an open door to finish proceedings early in the fourth. An 8-0 run bookended by Powell buckets did just that, putting the Raptors up 19 and snuffing out any rally efforts by the Magic.
Now, for the first time in franchise history (which is a whole thing to unpack in itself), the Raptors have a 3-1 series lead. Tonight was a big win in the context of the Eastern Conference too. Philadelphia appears poised to close out their own five-game series on Tuesday, while Boston has finished a sweep and Milwaukee will likely finish theirs tomorrow.
Game 5 between Toronto and Orlando will go Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena.