Kawhi Leonard scored eight of his 36 points in the second overtime period on Sunday to lead the Toronto Raptors to a gritty 118-112 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBAEastern Conference finals.
The Raptors, who dropped the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Milwaukee, clawed their way back to 2-1 in front of home fans and will try to level the set when they host game four on Tuesday.
Pascal Siakam scored 25 points and Spanish centre Marc Gasol added 16 for the Raptors, who got off to a quick start and led much of the night but had to battle to put the Bucks away.
“We just played a lot tougher,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We were up guarding, we were physical. We were ready to play tonight.”
Milwaukee’s Most Valuable Player finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled to just 12 points on five-of-16 shooting. Antetokounmpo’s 23 rebounds helped the Bucks stay in touch, but he didn’t reach double figures in points until the middle of the fourth quarter and he produced eight of the Bucks’ 20 turnovers.
Antetokounmpo fouled out in the first minute of the second overtime period. Moments later the Bucks managed to edge ahead 105-103 - taking the lead for the first time since Antetokounmpo scored the game’s opening basket - but Leonard and the Raptors roared back.
Leonard’s steal and dunk put Toronto ahead 112-109 and his driving bank shot gave Toronto a 114-110 lead with 32.4 seconds remaining. Leonard played a key role in limiting Antetokounmpo and Nurse said his defensive play was “probably the biggest key of the game.”
“Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and break aways,” Nurse said. “Offense was hard to come by there for both teams for a while and any time you can get a steal and a break out it’s a huge momentum play.”
Toronto had a chance to win it in regulation, but they let a 96-91 lead slip away in the final 1:13 of the fourth quarter. Milwaukee guard Khris Middleton’s putback basket from his own miss with 2.2 seconds left in regulation forced overtime. The Raptors led 103-99 with 1:29 remaining in the first extra session.
But Malcolm Brogdon floated in a shot and George Hill drained two free throws to tie it before Leonard’s jump shot fell short.
The Raptors overcame a slow night from Kyle Lowry, who scored 11 points before fouling out with 6:12 left in the fourth.
Although Leonard scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and both overtimes, some grimaces from the Raptors star sparked concerns he might be injured.
“I’m feeling all right,” he said. “This is playoff basketball. Everybody’s hurting, you just have to keep fighting.”
Hill led the Bucks with 24 points and fellow reserve Brogdon added 20. Center Brook Lopez led the Bucks starters with 16 points. “I feel like we gave ourselves several chances,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We weren’t able to get over the hump.
“When you have opportunities you’ve got to make them and we didn’t quite make enough of our good ones. I think we’ll be better in game four, Giannis, everybody.”
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