The visiting Toronto Raptors withstood the early surge by the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, shook it off, and then went on to grind out a 105-99 victory to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Bucks led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter.
“We wanted to come in and get the win, and we weathered the storm early,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 15 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter.
Leonard added seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals.
“The game (Leonard) played tonight,” guard Kyle Lowry said. “It was pretty good. Big stage. On the road. Superstar. Superstar.”
The Raptors can advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history by winning Game 6 in Toronto on Saturday. Game 7, if necessary, would be played Monday in Milwaukee.
The two-time defending league champion Golden State Warriors will face the East champs in the Finals.
“There are a lot of fighters on this team,” said Fred VanVleet, who added 21 points. “It’s on the road, and you have to weather the storm and I think we did a good job of that tonight.”
The Bucks led 32-22 after one quarter and 49-46 at halftime. During the third quarter, they led by as many as 12, but took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter before the Raptors took over.
“One of the themes at halftime was that we’ve done a pretty good job of creating good shots for the most part,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We had to eliminate possessions where they weren’t great. I thought we did a good job of creating good chances, and the guys stayed positive.”
Lowry had 17 points, and Pascal Siakam finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“They are the best team in the league and you have to play them hard,” Siakam said.
The Raptors shot 36.9 percent from the field but were 41.9 percent from 3-point range. The Bucks shot 45.2 percent from the field and were 32.3 percent from 3-point range.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 24 points to lead the Bucks. Eric Bledsoe had 20 points, Malcolm Brogdon added 18 points and 11 rebounds, Brook Lopez scored 16 points, George Hill had 12 points, and Khris Middleton had six points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“We’ve been a resilient team all year,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re going to go to Toronto thinking about winning one game.... If we had a few more defensive rebounds from the three-, four-, five-minute mark on, the result might have been different.”
He mentioned one play where Leonard missed a 3-pointer but was able to get his own rebound, saying, “That’s a critical play that can’t happen.”
Toronto took a one-point lead on VanVleet’s 3-pointer with 8:57 left in the fourth quarter. Leonard’s 3-pointer one minute later put the Raptors ahead by four.
Siakam’s dunk pushed the Raptors into an eight-point lead with 6:20 to play. The Bucks pulled back within four on Lopez’s driving layup with 5:31 left.
After Marc Gasol nailed the 3-pointer to make Toronto’s lead seven, the Bucks trimmed the deficit to two on Antetokounmpo’s 3-pointer with 4:04 left.
Lopez tied the game with a 3-pointer with 2:44 to play, but the Raptors regained a 3-point lead seconds later when VanVleet sank a trey. Middleton’s layup pulled the Bucks to within two with 59.7 seconds remaining.
The Raptors led by three after Gasol made one of two foul shots with 34 seconds to play. After a Milwaukee turnover, Siakam’s dunk increased the lead to five.
After Lowry opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to tie the game, the Bucks pulled out to a 12-point lead on Antetokounmpo’s dunk with 7:43 to go in the period.
The Raptors answered with a 9-0 run, cutting the margin to three.
The Bucks went ahead by six, but the Raptors cut the gap to one on Leonard’s 3-pointer with 1:32 left in the quarter.
Milwaukee led 75-72 after three quarters.
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