The Toronto Raptors entered Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night with their season on the line. Those were the stakes, facing a possible 3-1 series deficit should they lose after coming up big in double-overtime Sunday.
Instead, the Raptors won – and they won big. In the process, they’ve not only reignited this series, which is now tied 2-2 heading back to Milwaukee for a can’t-miss Game 5, but breathed life into their fanbase as they are two wins removed from seeing their team appear in the NBA Finals.
The Raptors’ latest win came in encouraging fashion, with major contributions from the likes of Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, as Kawhi Leonard was held to 19 points, and the best performance thus far from the bench, led by Serge Ibaka, Norm Powell and Fred Van Vleet, who was celebrating the birth of his son Fred Jr.
In the coverage of the game, much of the focus is on the return of the bench mob, Leonard’s all-encompassing impact on his team and sideline entertainer Drake. As we do following each and every Raptors playoff game, here’s a look at what the out-of-market media had to say following Toronto’s season-saving win:
Live from Jurassic Park, the Inside the NBA crew broke down what Charles Barkley called “a perfect bench game” from the Raptors:
ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz marvels at the Raptors’ collective basketball IQ and examines how Leonard can impact a game even on an off-night.
“Kawhi is going to get attention all the time, no matter what,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry told ESPN. “It’s the Kawhi effect.”
The privilege of having a transcendent superstar like Leonard isn’t just the gift of the singular performance that wins a game, though Leonard has done plenty of that over the past six weeks of the postseason. The team also enjoys the ability to leverage a defence like Milwaukee’s that devotes its full weight and diligence to stopping Leonard.
…Easing Leonard’s load was imperative for Toronto because the three-time All-Star came in still gassed from Game 3. Though there has been no specific diagnosis and Leonard insists he feels good, Raptors coach Nick Nurse characterized his best player as “tired,” and Lowry said he was “a little bit limited.” Leonard’s 19 points were his lowest output since Game 3 of the Raptors’ first-round series against Orlando, a night he was under the weather.
…When the Raptors fail to hit open shots as they’ve done so frequently over the past few weeks against Philadelphia and Milwaukee, it’s easy to forget about the collective intelligence of the outfit. But Leonard, Gasol and Lowry conducted an honours class in basketball IQ in Game 4. Lowry led the team with 25 points, including a 10-for-10 night at the free throw line, the product of some heavy manufacturing — turning broken possessions into meaningful points by simply drawing contact against a destabilized defence.
…The Raptors clawed back into the series on faith in probabilities and personnel. Milwaukee will be equally steadfast in its belief. Such is the NBA’s deep post-season, when elite teams know and like who they are, and are willing to live and die on those identities.
The NBA’s daily injury reported listed zilch about Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard.
Not the 1:30 p.m. report, not the 5:30 p.m. report and not the 8:30 p.m. report.
But Leonard is not 100%. That’s visible when he favours one leg. No one is saying what is causing the discomfort. As they like to say in the NHL, let’s just call it a lower-body injury.
…An interesting thing happened this season as the Raptors managed his minutes and sat him in 22 of 82 games. Toronto won without him, going 17-5 in the games he didn’t play, including wins against multiple playoff teams. The Raptors had a better winning percentage without Leonard.
He played 34 minutes, and the Raptors outscored Milwaukee 29-27 in Leonard’s 14 minutes on the bench.
…Leonard has been perhaps the best player of this post-season, averaging 31.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals and shooting 51.8% from the field and 39.1 per cent on three-pointers. When Leonard is on the court, the Raptors score 111.5 points and allow 101.1 points per 100 possessions for impressive plus-10.4 net rating.
He has scored at least 30 points in 10 of Toronto’s 16 playoff games.
…Ibaka didn’t even realize something might be amiss with Leonard.
“You know, Kawhi plays at his own pace, and sometimes, it’s hard to know,” Ibaka said. “But at some point, I felt maybe he’s going a little too much. So I ask somebody on the bench, and when I heard that, I thought, ‘Oh, wow.'”
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel — Milwaukee totally hates Drake, who doesn’t own the Raptors but is somehow allowed to freely roam the court
The Journal-Sentinel’s JR Radcliffe compiles feedback from Bucks fans on their ongoing fixation with Raptors ambassador Drake, and wonders aloud why he occupies so much real estate on the Scotiabank Arena sidelines:
Rapper Drake is not all that popular in Milwaukee at the moment.
The Toronto Raptors superfan, who apparently is allowed to roam the court freely during Raptors games, definitely was on the city’s nerves during and after Toronto’s 120-102 win over the Bucks on Tuesday, which pulled the teams into a 2-2 tie in the Eastern Conference finals series.
It was irritating when he waved goodbye to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks after Toronto barely survived a double-overtime battle Sunday in Game 3. But now, he’s reached a new level of clowndom. Is he giving Raptors coach Nick Nurse a massage during the game? How is this … allowed?
“They can’t guard these guys,” Stephen A. Smith says of Milwaukee’s supporting cast, which struggled to contain players like Norman Powell on Tuesday night.
The Bucks had no answer for the aggressive defence of the Toronto Raptors, stagnating throughout the night. Milwaukee’s own defence surrendered back cuts, featured lazy closeouts and allowed too many open looks.
…It wasn’t just one Raptors player who crushed the Bucks. It was all of them.
Kyle Lowry got going early, scoring 12 of his 25 points in the first quarter. Marc Gasol was efficient all night, stretching the floor and dabbling in a few buckets inside for 17 points. Toronto’s bench — oft-maligned during the playoffs — was fantastic, with Norman Powell hitting big shots on the way to 18 points, Serge Ibaka 7 of 12 for 17 points and Fred VanVleet 5 of 6 for 13 points.
Oh, and Raptors star Kawhi Leonard? He had just five points at halftime and the Raptors were still ahead by 10. When he added 11 points in the third quarter – he finished with 19 – it essentially broke the Bucks’ collective back.
…And now for a brief trip into the Twitter feed of bona fide Kawhi hater Skip Bayless:
“The Raptors bench finally showed up”.
(Yes, that’s John Cleese).