“That rebound. That was the game. That’s Kyle. And that has nothing to do with scoring. He stuck his nose in there, he ran through that ball, and he got the rebound. He won the game for us”.
That was Marc Gasol on the play that helped the Raptors edge out the Magic 98-93, to take a 2-1 series lead on Friday night in Orlando. It was also the play that embodies why this Raptors team is so dangerous.
Nurse made some curious (bad) lineup decisions, Terrence Ross frightened us, and Kawhi missed more shots (14) than the Raptors attempted free throws (10). But as the ball zipped toward Augstin and Ross with a 3 point Raptor lead and 19 seconds to go, none of that mattered. Kyle Lowry saw the basketball, and he just wanted it more that anyone else in the building. Except for maybe Tony Brothers. That guy really loves attention.
This game had several storylines. Wildly inconsistent officiating, the best game of Pascal Siakam’s playoff career, and the worst of Kawhi Leonard’s. But to me, the most important running narrative throughout this contest was Toronto’s resiliency. The Raptors had about a half dozen opportunities where they could have gifted all the momentum to the Magic, and let this game slip away.
But they didn’t. They stayed with the hot (spicy) hand on offense, took advantage of Orlando’s tendency to over play the paint which helped set up good shots, and flat-out just looked like they wanted this win more.
In the Raptors Republic playoff roundtable, we got asked what the Toronto’s biggest strength in the playoffs is. My answer was their depth. Not their bench, or luxury to remain competitive with 11-man rotations, but their bevy of tier one talent. Kawhi Leonard is the best player on this team, but he doesn’t have to be every night, in order for the Raptors to grind out a playoff win.
Between Lowry, Gasol, Leonard and our Spicy Lord & Savior, this team has four guys who can take over games for sustained periods of time, and pick up the slack for any teammates who don’t have it in the tank that night. Four players who can be the go-to-guy with the game on the line. Four guys who can swing the result of a playoff game. They showed that depth in Game 3.
On a night where Kawhi Leonard’s jumpshot was as unsettled as his stomach, the Raps were searching for answers early. Pascal Siakam had all of them.
In what was unquestionably his best playoff game of his young career, Siakam more than picked up the sack for his struggling teammate, posting a line of 31 points, 11 boards, 5 assists on 65% shooting from the field.
Toronto began the game trying to get Leonard going, and it didn’t work out so well. Missing all of his first 5 looks, it was apparent that something was troubling the former Finals MVP early in the game. That didn’t stop the Raptors from starting the game on a 10-0 run, capped off by a corner 3 from the man who made a living from that spot on the floor this season.
Toronto closed the first frame with a 5 point lead, but more importantly they assisted on 7 of their 10 made field goals.
Kawhi didn’t make his first bucket until the 3:48 mark of the first quarter, yet he was still one of the Raptors best three players. He didn’t let his shortcomings on offense, or the whistle which Tony Brother seemingly swallowed during shoot around, seep into the other areas of his game.
As his shooting struggles persisted into the second quarter, Kawhi counterbalanced the bricks with brains. Not known for his passing, Leonard did a great job of finding open shooters on the perimeter when the Magic collapsed on the lions share of his drives. The difference between Game 1 and 3, was that the Raptors made their open shots.
The Orlando crowd, who hadn’t seen a playoff game since Dwight Howard was as famous as Lebron James, were willing their team to remain competitive during the first half. Orlando cut a double digit lead to one, with 4 minutes remaining in the first half. Siakam and Leonard calmed the storm, going on an 8-0 mini run to close the second quarter.
Toronto held onto a 3 point lead at halftime.
With 6:30 remaining, Nikola Vucevic capped off a convincing campaign lobbying for Ibaka to not get minutes in this series, by draining a 3 to give the Magic a 1 point lead. It lasted for 6 seconds. Toronto went on a screaming 16-0 run following that shot, subbed out Ibaka for Gasol, and began to assert their dominance on a Magic team who didn’t know how to respond to being punched in the mouth.
Orlando went 0 for 10 during a 6 minute stretch to close the third, silencing what was once a deafeningly loud arena.
In one of the final offensive possessions of the quarter, Pascal Siakam reminded us all why this was his game. Catching the ball on the perimeter, facing up his defender, going up, under and around to make an And-1 which may have broken the Scoville scale.
The spin move had so much flair it was like watching Ren McCormack take over the dance hall in the final scene of Footloose. If you haven’t seen that movie then shame on you.
Toronto was up 11 heading into the final frame.
But the Magic didn’t go quietly. Lowry’s triple with just under 8 minutes remaining gave the Raptors their biggest lead of the night, then Orlando came storming back.
A massive fourth quarter push was capped off by a Ross 3 pointer to make it 96-93, with 41 seconds on the clock. The game hung in the balance as Leonard caught the ball at the top of the key, sized up Gordon, and let go a jumper that found the front of the rim, ricocheting back toward the free throw line.
Then Kyle Lowry did the most Kyle Lowry of things: winning a 50/50 ball in crunch time. Number 7 jolted between Augustin and Ross, who both took a step toward half court, each assuming the other one would collect the loose ball, and gathered the most important rebound of the series. Game over.
On a night where the number one option didn’t have it, the grit of Kyle Lowry, the efficiency of Toronto’s shooting, and the incredible play of their number 2 (verging on No. 1) option, collectively lifted them above their feisty opponents.
The Toronto Raptors faithful will wait with baited breath for the announcement of the officiating crew for Sunday’s game four.