Leonard bounces back, guides Raptors to a 3-1 series lead

This game marked a lot of firsts for the Toronto Raptors.

It was the first time in this series that Toronto’s bench outscored Orlando’s (38 to 22). The first time Toronto has ever broken 53% from the field in a playoff game. The first postseason where they have ever won 2 consecutive road games, and the first occasion in franchise history where the Toronto Raptors have led a playoff series 3-1.

Behind 34 points and a dominant defensive performance from Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors pushed the Magic to the brink of elimination Sunday night, rolling to a 107-85 victory.

Orlando came out of the gates with a zip in their steps. Taking advantage of two back-to-back Raptors turnovers, the Magic opened Game 4 with a 7-0 run. They had the Raptors on their heels early, manufacturing opportunities in transition as a result of Toronto’s poor decision making.

The Magic didn’t miss a field goal attempt until the 6:53 mark of the first quarter. But as they say, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Orlando’s stellar play came back down to earth just as quickly as it took off. Following the midway point of the first quarter, swishes turned into bricks, coverages were blown and the Magic did not look comfortable. Kawhi continued to be an aggressor, bullying his way to the rim and getting off beautifully efficient looks at the basket. The difference this game? The whistles were working.

Leonard did not allow his nightmares of Tony Brothers to influence his style of play. If anything he was more aggressive on Sunday. He was being rewarded for his rim-seeking play, getting to the line four minutes into the game, and nine times throughout the course of the night.

Before you knew it, ball movement became crisper than the glass of wine DJ Agustin will likely be enjoying in Cabo next weekend. The Raptors began to sense the vulnerability of this Orlando team, and took firm advantage of it.

One Danny Green triple, an open-court Pascal smash and 6-0 mini run by Kawhi later, Toronto found themselves in the drivers seat.

Leonard alleviated any concern surrounding his sickness which hampered his performance in Game 3, and prevented him from practicing in Orlando. The 2014 Finals MVP looked to have a clean bill of health Sunday evening as he was scoring early and doing it in a variety of ways.

Baseline isos, dribble handoffs, shooting from distance and the splits, good lord did you see him split those doubles? There was nothing they could do to stop him.

As the first frame came to an end, the Raptors led by only two. But the play of Kawhi, the defensive clinic being put on display, Jack Armstrong saying “a little blow by!” 4 times in one quarter and one rude rejection by Ma Fuzzy Chef, set the table for what would be a vice grip of a second quarter.

Toronto’s bench, anchored by Ibaka, helped to weather a mini storm that the Magic countered with to begin the second quarter. After a bit of back and forth, Ibaka jumped over three Magic players to secure an offensive rebound and finished over top of them. It was a play that accurately represented the compete levels for both teams at Amway Arena last night.

When Nurse put the starters back in, things really got fun. There was absolutely nothing Steve Clifford could conjure up to slow down Kawhi Leonard. I don’t think there’s a coach alive who could have deterred him from scoring last night. The rim seemed to feel like a hula hoop to Leonard, as he used his menacing play on the defensive end of the floor to charge his batteries on offense. Like this:

What do you do with that?

The Raptors closed the half on an 13-2 run, capped off by a Siakam corner (of course) three, which only twisted the knife that was already firmly wedged into the hearts of Magic fans.

Toronto finished the first half shooting 56% from the field and forced 8 Orlando turnovers, leading to 11 fast break points. The Raptors led by 16 points after 24 minutes.

It was more of the same in the second half. An encouraging start for the Magic, only to be thwarted by the offensive fire power of Leonard and company.

Marc Gasol, who was extremely quiet on the offensive end of the floor on Sunday, only attempting 3 shots and netting 2 points, continued to wash out Orlando’s best player on defense. Big Spain made things really difficult for Vucevic in Game 4, so much so that you forgot he was on the court at times. Keeping the talented Serbian in the rut he had been in since Game 2, prevented the Magic from having any lifelines to make this game competitive.

The Raptors ballooned their lead past 20 in the 4th quarter, but Nurse refused to take his foot off the gas. Even with the game firmly in hand, the rookie head coach sent a message to his opponent, extinguishing any sliver of Magic momentum that could have been carried over from game 4 to 5.

With 3:30 remaining and the starters still on the floor, the Raptors turned an errant Orlando pass in to a Globetrotters-esque fast break, punched into the net by the Spice Lord himself.

It was a play that eloquently summed up the statement made by this Toronto Raptors team, as they look to abolish the narratives created from playoff demons past.

Toronto will now look to complete the gentleman’s sweep, advance to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, and hopefully send Evan Fournier to a remote Caribbean Island where he has no way to access Twitter for the remainder of the Playoffs.

Game 5 tips off at 7pm EST Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena.

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