Thanks to stalwart defence and a gritty resilience that had not yet been seen from this club in the post-season, the Toronto Raptors managed to take Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks with a 118-112 double-overtime victory.
A thrilling feat for sure for the Raptors and the local media, but what about outlets from outside the market?
Here’s the view of Toronto’s Game 3 win as seen from local Milwaukee reporters and the U.S. national media:
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel – Extra effort not quite enough in tense Game 3 battle
That is what you call an instant classic, though it may not be remembered like that in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t play their best. They swam upstream all night, yet somehow still forced the Toronto Raptors to overtime. They cheated death a second time, locking down in the final minute of the extra frame to force a second overtime.
Then, they lost star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who fouled out just 36 seconds into the second extra period. They responded by taking the lead, something they hadn’t done since the opening moments of the game when they led, 2-0.
But that advantage was short-lived. Marc Gasol nailed a three-pointer. Kawhi Leonard picked off an Eric Bledsoe pass and the Bucks never led again, falling, 118-112, Sunday night at Scotiabank Arena. The loss tightened up the Eastern Conference best-of-seven series, which the Bucks lead, 2-1.
ESPN – For the Raptors, Game 3 came down to their will to survive
The two losses in Milwaukee to begin the conference finals exacerbated a tension that’s familiar in a game where probabilities rule — but not always justly. Coming into Game 3, the Raptors had compiled just a 52.1 effective field goal percentage (eFG) on uncontested shots since the start of the Philadelphia series after ranking second in the NBA (at 68.1 per cent eFG) in uncontested attempts during the regular season.
For the Raptors regulars and their coach Nick Nurse, balancing faith in a team’s longstanding success against the cruelty of recent results is a difficult task in the post-season. How do you respond when a group of players that drained uncontested shots at a higher rate than all but one other NBA team loses that touch over three chilly weeks? Do you make wholesale changes in your rotation and offensive approach even if, as the NBA axiom goes, you’d take those same shots tomorrow night?
On Sunday night, Nurse split the difference. He maintained the Raptors’ usual starting lineup, yet tinkered with the rotation and flipped some defensive assignments. Most prominently, Leonard was handed the hefty assignment of Antetokounmpo — and the results were impressive.
ESPN SportsCenter – Kawhi, Raptors adjustments caused Giannis to struggle in Game 3
“Yes, Kawhi Leonard’s gonna get the lion’s share of credit – and he should because he’s been a great defender for a long time – but it wasn’t just Kawhi Leonard. There was a second person there everytime Giannis started he loves to spin back to the middle but there was the other guy there resulting in eight turnovers to five baskets for Giannis tonight, and that’s the winning formula for Toronto, even if it takes two overtimes.”
NBA.com – Leonard stars in Raptors’ Game 3 adjustments
Kawhi Leonard has grown into one of the best offensive players in the world, a machine that ranks second in this post-season in scoring (32 points per game), with an ultra-efficient true shooting percentage of 65.5 per cent (third-best among players with at least 50 post-season field goal attempts).
But what makes Leonard truly special is how good he can be on both ends of the floor … in the playoffs … having played more than 50 minutes … while hobbled by a leg injury … and with his team’s season on the line.
The Toronto Raptors are still alive in the Eastern Conference Finals, having escaped with a 118-112, double-overtime victory in Game 3 on Sunday. They’re still alive because Marc Gasol finally made the shots the Milwaukee Bucks have been daring him to shoot all along, because Pascal Siakam had his best game of the series, and because Fred VanVleet and Danny Green picked timely moments for their only buckets on a night in which they combined to shoot 2-for-20.
But mostly, the Raptors have a chance to even this series in Game 4 because Leonard was the better of the two superstars on the floor. And he was just that, in part, because he was defending the other one.
CBS Sports – Kawhi puts Toronto on his back in double-OT win to keep East finals from getting away
Kawhi cannot do this on his own, even if it seemed through vast stretches of Game 3, busting through triple-teams and taking the toughest defensive assignments, he needed to. Kawhi was a superhero on Sunday night: A game-high 36 points in a game-high 52 minutes – check that: a career-high 52 minutes – getting to the line 13 times (and making 12 of them) while playing his typically elite defence.
Kawhi was Batman, but the Raptors can only beat the Bucks when the rest of the team plays like his Robins. That’s what the Raptors were on Sunday night, something we’ve only seen in spurts during this post-season: A complete basketball team. Powell came off the bench for a crucial 19 points. Pascal Siakam played his best game in weeks, scoring 25 points and getting an enormous block on Brook Lopez in overtime. Danny Green and Fred VanVleet couldn’t buy a shot, but shooters shoot, and both of them made clutch threes in overtime.
The key difference from a Raptors team that got blown out in Game 2 and a team that played a consistent Game 3 was a rejuvenated Marc Gasol. Gasol blamed himself for the Game 2 loss. In Game 3, though, he was the exact opposite, playing aggressive basketball from the jump and not passing up shots – as his two threes in the first few minutes of the game indicated. If Gasol set a bad tone in Game 2, he set a perfect tone in Game 3, ending with 16 points (on 4-of-8 three-point shooting), grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking five shots.
Los Angeles Times – Kawhi Leonard proves his value in Raptors’ victory over Bucks
For 52 minutes eight seconds of basketball — “I damn near played an hour,” the Raptors forward told teammate Pascal Siakam — Leonard proved what the Raptors have figured out, what the Clippers know and what the San Antonio Spurs couldn’t hold on to.
No matter what, this guy’s worth it.
If it means the public mocks your “load management” when Leonard sits one end of a back-to-back, so be it. If it means you lose a game here or there in the 82 leading up to the post-season because you’re watching his minutes, do it.
If you have to send your most popular player, a homegrown star who actually wanted to stay with your team through the prime of his career and beyond, away in a blockbuster trade, you say, “Deal.”
If it means you send executives across the Canadian border to watch Leonard repeatedly, like the Clippers have this season, get the passport out. If it means taking a drive to Milwaukee from the draft combine in Chicago on the slight chance it helps you sign Leonard this summer in free agency, buckle up and head north on I-94 West.
With his team down 2-0 in the series, Leonard was the first line of defence on Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, fighting over and through screens trying to keep Milwaukee’s best offensive option from picking up steam. On offense, he carried the load too, scoring at least 30 points for the 10th time this post-season.