None of the bad stuff from Game 3 matters.
It doesn’t matter that whatever flow the Raptors had in Sunday’s first half was reduced to a pathetic drip in the second half. Toronto posted 58 first-half points, tallying 18 assists on 21 buckets in the first 24 minutes. They followed it up with 38 points on putrid shooting in the second half. Oh well.
It doesn’t matter that Kyle Lowry, who put up 11 critical points on 4-of-7 shooting while masterfully running Toronto’s offense, fouled out with 6:12 remaining in regulation. Fouls reset once the final buzzer goes. He’ll be back on the floor for Game 4, and his body of work through three games has been totally Lowry-like. Good enough.
It doesn’t matter that Danny Green and Fred VanVleet were borderline unplayable for the first 41 minutes and 48 seconds of the game. Their two combined buckets (on 20 total shots) both came from long range, at crucial moments, in the minutes after Lowry was sidelined. Their defense was essential, too. Milwaukee doesn’t finish 38-of-102 from the floor without those two popping in for random flashes of rim protection in crunch time.
Who gives a damn that Pascal Siakam missed two free throws in the closing minutes of regulation that would have all but sealed the win for Toronto. Everything else he did — the 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting, the 11 rebounds, the two corner threes and the game-saving weak-side block on whoever the hell it was (the victim of his swat doesn’t matter either) — all more than made up for the instance in which his nerves failed him. The doomed three-pointer at the end of regulation that he hoisted was hardly a failure of his own creation.
It doesn’t matter that Marc Gasol was 3-of-20 over the first two games of the series. At long last, Game 3 saw Gasol take the shots everyone from fans to analysts to Nick Nurse himself was screaming for him to let fly. He canned four of his tries from deep, and finished the night with a positively Gasolian 16-12-7 final line in a grueling 45 minutes. That he cleanly negotiated the last 15:11 of the game while sitting on five fouls was as essential as it was miraculous.
It doesn’t matter that Kawhi Leonard tripped over the foot of ref Ed Malloy early on and looked a little shaken for the remainder of the first quarter, nor does it matter that he limply missed a potential game-winner at the end of the first overtime. He’s got a famous buzzer beater already, and the work he put in over the final five minutes of the game are the reason it’s easy to shoo away the bad vibes right now. His thunderous lefty dunk with 3-ish minutes to play, followed by the vintage Leonard steal and dunk he strung together with 1:45 left to put the Raps up 112-109, were the stand-out plays. He also had a hand in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 12-point, 5-of-16 night, too, after taking the role of primary defender against the most indefensible guy in the league.
“I think his defense was probably the biggest key of the game,” said Nurse after the game. “Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and breakaways. Offense was hard to come by there for both teams for a while, and any time toy can get a steal and a breakout, it’s a huge momentum play.”
Oh, and it really doesn’t matter that Leonard may or may not have double-dribbled on his lefty thunder slam either. Call it retribution for the three-shot foul Nikola Mirotic drew earlier in the evening by body checking an airborne Norman Powell.
On the topic of Powell, it doesn’t matter that he fouled out just moments after Lowry picked up his disqualifying foul. Without his 19 points off the bench in yet another one of his trademark Bucks-punkings, the game isn’t close enough at the time of his sixth foul for it to matter. Nurse teased lineup changes and a heavier dose of Norm before the game. Keep that shit coming from here on out, dude.
What’s to come next doesn’t matter a lick right now either. Positive regression is sure to be on tap for Milwaukee in Game 4. Milwaukee’s starters aren’t going to shoot a combined 19-of-69 from the field again in this series. I mean, the fraud Eric Bledsoe might go all bricky again, but Middleton’s 3-of-16, Giannis odd passiveness and Mirotic’s 3-of-11 surely won’t all repeat in the same game. Hell, the guy who literally never misses, Malcolm Brogdon, may be subbed into the starting five to protect against such a wonky shooting line from befalling Mike Budenholzer’s go-to unit again. That’s a problem for Future Nick Nurse, for Tuesday’s Raptors.
It doesn’t matter that the road for the Raptors is still slanted decidedly uphill. Winning three of four isn’t much less daunting than having to win four of five, especially with two games still to come at Milwaukee’s lamely-titled home arena. That said, Toronto was down 2-1 to Philly and won the series. It’s doable. After the Raps survived 16:12 without Lowry to finish Game 3, they should believe in anything.
The toll of 15 playoff games, at least 10 which have been grimy festivals of sludge, may be building up. Leonard’s never played more minutes than the 52 he compiled in Game 3; Gasol should be walking around with an oxygen tank for the next 44 hours. That’s part of the deal. Milwaukee played two overtimes on Sunday night, too.
After the end of those overtimes, with 58 mostly horrid minutes of basketball in the books, it was the Raptors who came away up 118-112. Toronto has life, and it’s the only thing that matters right now.