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Game 3 Turning Point: Kawhi refuses to lose a must-win contest

After their two key performers fouled out, the Raptors were backed against a wall yet again down the stretch of Game 3. However, Kawhi Leonard put on his cape and took the game over by himself late.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was the biggest roller coaster game of the season. The stakes were higher than they’ve been all postseason, and no matter what Toronto did, fans were never exactly comfortable. We’ll never be comfortable, not when the Raptors are matched up against a team as good as the Bucks.

So when Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell (two really clutch basket and play makers for the Raptors in Game 3) fouled out before regulation had even ended, the chances of Toronto squeezing out a victory in overtime seemed bleak. But from pressure comes diamond-quality performances — Pascal Siakam continued to be aggressive (the same will be said for Marc Gasol) and Fred VanVleet kept shooting the ball despite missing his first nine shots from the field before finally making a key three late in the fourth quarter.

But the hero, as it’s been all season, was undoubtedly Leonard, who joked with Siakam post-game, saying “you made me play almost an hour of basketball” after Siakam failed to seal the victory late in regulation. Siakam had missed a late free-throw attempt that would’ve given Toronto a four-point lead and likely closed the game back at the first buzzer.

Instead, by the time the second overtime rolled around, the Raptors and Bucks were in a fist fight to come away with the win. Giannis Antetokounmpo would foul out early in the second OT period, and at that point it was the Raptors’ game to lose. That’s when Kawhi turned on his jets and took the game over — an extraordinary feat considering he came away limping on both legs on multiple occasions from as early as the first quarter.

With a one-point lead, and just over three minutes remaining in the final overtime, Kawhi came away with an open court steal and dashed down the court at full speed. He split two Milwaukee defenders and launched himself off both feet for an emphatic slam that put the Raptors up three. It was Kawhi’s ultimate statement. The second the Bucks called for timeout, Kawhi sat down on the bench in obvious pain — but he didn’t allow that to affect his plans of winning this game. It was the most gutsy performance we’ve seen from Kawhi all season.

After that play, Kawhi was everywhere he needed to be in order to lock up the Game 3 victory. He made two more superstar plays: first, he unbelievably intercepted a pass — and then beat Malcolm Brogdon to the loose ball — which led to an easy breakaway dunk.

And then just a few plays later, Leonard would make what would be the clinching layup in a bruising post move over his defender Brogdon. There was just no way to stop Kawhi.

It wasn’t the most efficient we’ve seen Kawhi this postseason — he shot 11-for-25 in the game — but this was the “winningest” we’ve seen him in a Raptors uniform. He was never losing this game, and like Kyle Lowry, Leonard just put his heart on his sleeve and took the game he wanted (and needed) to win.