Kawhi Leonard is clearly not right.
The mysterious left leg injury he suffered in Game 3 visibly plagued him throughout Game 4. But it didn’t matter Tuesday.
The Toronto Raptors posted their most impressive performance of the Eastern Conference finals to secure a critical 120-102 win over the Milwaukee Bucks to tie the series at 2-2 and avoid a trip to Milwaukee facing elimination.
They got a big game from Kyle Lowry. They got a big game from the bench. And they got a strong effort from Leonard, who powered through his leg injury to help ensure that the Raptors would keep pace in this series.
Leonard in pain throughout
Leonard was visibly hobbled multiple times throughout the game with the undisclosed injury he suffered in Game 3, most notably after dunking on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the third quarter.
He took a pass from Marc Gasol at the top of the key and found a wide open lane. Antetokounmpo shifted to meet him at the rim, but it was too late as Leonard slammed the ball home.
He was in apparent pain when he landed after the physical play and came up clutching his leg. But he kept on playing. And he kept on making an impact on the game.
It wasn’t vintage Leonard. But the Raptors didn’t need a monster game from their superstar. They built a big enough lead in the fourth quarter to allow Leonard to leave to a standing ovation with 3:39 left having logged 19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals in a dominant victory.
Raptors play coy with Leonard’s ailment
As expected, he didn’t expound much on the injury after the game, sticking to a stoic line of playoff jargon.
"I feel good,” Leonard told reporters. “I'll keep going and keep fighting. We have a chance to make history. I mean it's no excuses. We're playing basketball and we got a win tonight."
Head coach Nick Nurse also didn’t offer much detail.
Nick Nurse on Kawhi's health: HE'S FINE pic.twitter.com/Xku6SNsA9R— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) May 22, 2019
“I think he’s fine,” Nurse said. “I think he’s fine. ... He looks OK to me.”
Huge effort from Toronto bench
Leonard was allowed his time to rest in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to the big effort from the three-man Raptors bench unit.
Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet combined to score 48 points and outshine a Bucks reserve unit that tallied 23 points among six players.
The game was back-and-forth early on with both teams coming out hot in a first quarter Toronto led 32-31. But it was the Raptors reserves who sparked a 13-0 run that carried over from the first quarter that gave Toronto a 41-31 edge in the second quarter that Milwaukee wouldn’t threaten for the rest of the game.
Powell and Ibaka combined to score 10 of those 13 points in the tone-setting run that set Toronto up to control the remainder of Game 4.
Powell finished with 18 points, five rebounds and three assists while Ibaka tallied 17 points and 13 rebounds. VanVleet redeemed himself from Sunday’s woeful 1-of-11 shooting performance with 13 points and six assists while shooting 5-of-6 from the field. He hit all three of his 3-point attempts.
Lowry, Gasol come up big too
Lowry, now the old-school face of the franchise whose had more than his share of playoff struggles, had a strong showing as well, tallying 25 points, six assists and five rebounds while hitting all 10 of his free throws.
The Gasol who struggled mightily in Milwaukee came up big again at home with 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Bucks struggle after first quarter
A Bucks team that cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs with one loss and opened up a 2-0 series lead against Toronto finds itself in a fight for the first time this postseason.
They didn’t put up much of one on Tuesday.
Khris Middleton was the shining light for the Bucks and the primary reason Milwaukee kept in striking distance until Toronto slammed the door shut late in the fourth quarter. He scored 30 points on a blistering 11-of-15 rate from the field that included hitting 4-of-7 3-pointers.
Giannis draws taunts from Drake
Antetokounmpo improved on his 12-point effort from Game 3. But his 25-point, 10-rebound performance was notably marred by his struggles at the free throw line, where he hit 6-of-10 shots. He air-balled a free throw in the first half, much to the delight of the Raptors crowd and No. 1 fan Drake, who taunted Antetokounmpo throughout the game.
Nikola Mirotic posted 11 points, as no other Bucks player posted double figures. The role players who were difference makers at home were seldom found making plays on Tuesday. There were no heroics from Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon or George Hill.
And Eric Bledsoe was absent, managing 5 points and 3 rebounds in just 20 minutes that weren’t plagued by foul trouble.
The series we expected
It all adds up to the competitive series many thought we’d see in the Eastern Conference finals that appeared to slip away when the Bucks cruised to a Game 2 win at home.
But as should be expected, role players are thriving at home and struggling on the road for both teams, making the balance of what is now a best-of-three series with the right to face the Golden State Warriors a truly compelling one.
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