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Game 4 Turning Point: Raptors fend off Bucks’ run thanks to divine bench play

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After the Bucks cut the lead to seven late in the third, Raptors fans were expecting a close outcome. Instead, the bench continued to save the game as Playoff Powell nailed a critical three to extend his team’s lead.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

From the tip, fans were treated to an energetic performance in Game 4 from all eight members of the Raptors’ regular rotation. It was the type of rare (of late) collective play that gives the city hope of the team actually pulling this thing off. Norman Powell and his legendary alter-ego Playoff Powell showed up once again, and with Kawhi Leonard less than 100 percent, the team needed every bit of the heroics.

After leading by ten at halftime, the Raptors came out of the gates fast in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 14 points after Marc Gasol canned a triple. Of course, then the Bucks made their move, upping their defensive intensity and taking open looks without fear. Milwaukee went on a lightning quick 7-0 run in just under a minute of game time, and Toronto braced for a fight.

The difference hung around seven points until about the four minute mark of the third, with Toronto seemingly clinging to its control of the game. But a missed three pointer by Ersan Ilyasova, followed by a rapid response triple by Powell (who had recently checked back into the game) turned a possible four point lead back into a ten point cushion.

A few plays later, Kawhi Leonard nailed a huge shot (huge in that he was having a rare off-night offensively) to get the lead back up to 12. The Bucks would never get closer.

Of note on this night was the way the bench played against a Giannis-led lineup in the early moments of the fourth quarter. Instead of sitting Giannis like he normally does to open the fourth, Mike Budenholzer inserted his star against the Raptors bench with the hopes of whittling down the Raptors’ lead. Instead, Powell, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka turned a 13 point lead into a 20 point blowout.

How’s that for your narrative?

After the game, VanVleet credited his loose and confident play (13 points on 5-of-6 shooting) to the birth of his second child, a son named Fred Jr. If the pregnancy and impending birth is what has been distracting him, then it’s all understandable — and easily forgiven! And if we are treated to more nights like this from Steady Freddy throughout the remainder of the postseason, then make that child’s birthday a national holiday.

Also of note, Serge Ibaka went absolutely bonkers in the first half, and continued his solid play throughout the most important stretches of the game. In his first ten minutes on the floor, Ibaka piled on ten points and seven rebounds, including a put-back slam that produced a look that ultimately didn’t bode well for Milwaukee’s chances:

The Raptors simply wanted this one more than the Bucks. It’s now down to a best of three, in a series that will likely go seven games.