By Frank McLean
After Sunday night’s double overtime marathon win for the Toronto Raptors over the Milwaukee Bucks in game three of their Eastern Conference Final that cut the Bucks lead in the series to two to one, the big question was which team was going to be the most tired?
Game three was another night where you thought you seen everything you can from Kawhi Leonard he went out and did a little bit more.
He went out and played a career high 52-minutes out of the 58-minutes of game time, and scored 36-points on what it looks like an injury somewhere in his legs or thigh. He played the last 22-minutes of the game without taking a break.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse before game four said that Leonard told him on Monday’s off day that it a long way to game time and that he got some rest and that he was ready to go.
Nurse added in his comments that he likes to go with him for 10-minutes at a time before getting a breather but playing the double overtime “difficult circumstances”.
When game four started Leonard looked slow and sluggish. The Bucks were defending him with double and sometimes triple teaming him.
Khris Middleton was the main defender getting help from Brook Lopez, Ersan Iiyasova, and George Hill.
They pounded the living daylights out of Leonard in a style of defense that looked like the 1990’s Detroit Pistons. Somewhere if he was watching the game Bill Laimbeer would have approved.
Leonard was un-Leonard like thanks to the Bucks taking him out of the game in the first half with only five points and five rebounds but the Raptors led 65-55 at halftime because others stepped up.
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred Van Vleet carried the load so for once it didn’t have to be Leonard being the hero.
Lowry had 18-points in the first half and finished the game with 25. He looked like the Kyle Lowry that Bryan Colangelo traded for a dominate guard who can carry a game by himself.
Gasol had 17. Powell with 18, Ibaka with 17 and 13 boards, and Van Vleet with 13 played their best game of the series when it was needed most.
After only scoring five points in the first half Leonard he scored 14-in the second to finish with-19.
They won the game 120-102 to tie the series two game apiece making this now a best of three and now making it to the NBA final and a shot at the Golden State Warriors seems more of a distinct possibility than it did four days ago.
“One of the biggest pluses was that we were functional in the minutes when Kawhi was not out there and tonight when Kyle and Kawhi was out there,” Nurse said post game.
“They are out there guarding tough players and making tough shots it’s good that we could play well and rest them.”
The Bucks problem was they couldn’t stop a Raptor that did not have a number two on his jersey.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said afterwards, ”you have to give Toronto credit they stepped up especially the bench. We are going to have to look at the film and see where we are defensively. We are going home now. These are two great teams and it’s going to be a hell of a series.
“We have to finish better at the free throw line and hit more threes.”
As we head back to Milwaukee for game five Thursday night we know one thing, the Raptors are going to have to win one game there if they are going to get to their first ever NBA Finals.
They are going to need everybody to chip in and help the cause like they did in game four and take the load off Leonard.
What they have done is added a new wrinkle for the Bucks to have to defend, they just can’t concentrate on Leonard now.
The Raptors showed Tuesday night that they have a chance to win this thing by winning the biggest game in franchise history
Game five Thursday will be next biggest game in franchise history, can’t wait to see how it will turn out.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96.
photo credit Larry Millson