Kawhi Leonard's 36 Leads Raptors to Series-Saving Game 3 OT Win vs. Giannis, Bucks

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2019

TORONTO, ONTARIO - MAY 19: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors drives to the basket against Malcolm Brogdon #13 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half in game three of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals at Scotiabank Arena on May 19, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors are on the board in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.

Toronto defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 118-112 in a double-overtime thriller in Sunday's Game 3 at Scotiabank Arena and is now down 2-1 after dropping the first two contests on the road.

Kawhi Leonard (36 points, nine rebounds and five assists) led the way, but he received critical help from supporting-cast members Pascal Siakam (25 points, 11 rebounds and three steals), Norman Powell (19 points) and Marc Gasol (16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks).

Even with all that, the Raptors needed two overtimes to win when Siakam missed two free throws in the final 10 seconds of regulation that would have pushed their lead to four. Khris Middleton scored on the other end to tie the game, and Siakam missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer.

Siakam made up for his crunch-time struggles by drawing Giannis Antetokounmpo's sixth foul in the second overtime, which allowed Toronto to finally escape with the win. He also blocked Brook Lopez in the final minute of the game with the Raptors nursing a two-point lead before Leonard pushed the advantage to four on the other end.

Antetokounmpo finished with just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting, although he grabbed 23 rebounds to go with seven assists and four blocks. George Hill led the Bucks in scoring with 24 points, while Malcolm Brogdon added 20 off the bench.

           

Roadmap for Raptors' Comeback Runs Through Gasol and Siakam

Welcome to the Eastern Conference Finals, Raptors supporting cast.

Inconsistency from Toronto's secondary options has been an issue for much of the playoffs, but Siakam and Gasol challenged that narrative just in time during Sunday's bounce-back win. Siakam's performance was particularly important because he has been the team's next-best scorer for extended stretches this season and the one the Raptors turn to whenever Leonard needs a brief respite.

It was a welcome change after he was an ugly 6-of-20 from the field in Game 1 and struggled on his way to eight points in Game 2. His lackluster showing was a primary reason the Raptors wasted Kyle Lowry's 30 points in the series opener.

The first two games were also a continuation of the issues that plagued Toronto in the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers when Leonard shot 39 times in Game 7 and seemed to take an it's-me-or-bust approach with the season hanging in the balance instead of letting his teammates shoulder some of the responsibility.

It would have been easy for Siakam to fold after he missed the free throws and buzzer-beater in regulation, but he remained aggressive and drew the critical sixth foul on Antetokounmpo. He also drew an offensive foul on Giannis earlier in the game that put the Bucks star in the precarious position he was in for the second overtime.

Siakam also calmly drilled two free throws in the final 20 seconds of the second overtime after consistently attacking the lane, battling on the boards and taking advantage of the openings created by the double-teams Leonard draws.

His showing—as well as that of Powell before the offensive spark fouled out—was all the more necessary because Lowry fouled out and Leonard was playing with a noticeable limp even though he was still brilliant enough to spearhead the offense in crunch time.

It wasn't just Siakam anchoring the supporting cast, as Gasol played like he was still in his prime in his most important showing in a Raptors uniform.

He facilitated from the top of the key, stretched the defense with four triples (one of which gave Toronto the lead in double overtime) and provided stellar defense on Antetokounmpo. The Raptors constantly swarmed multiple defenders at Antetokounmpo and Middleton during the game in large part because Gasol is talented enough to bounce from the perimeter to rim-protector role.

The Raptors made it clear they were going to force someone else besides the two All-Stars to beat them, but they couldn't have done so without Gasol challenging every shot and helping hold Antetokounmpo and Middleton to a combined 8-of-32 (25 percent) from the field.

He was the veteran, playoff-tested presence with poise who the Raptors—a team known for coming up short at this time of year—surely envisioned when they acquired him via trade.

At this point, Toronto cannot count on Danny Green (three points on 1-of-9 shooting), Fred VanVleet (three points on 1-of-11 shooting) or Serge Ibaka (five points on 2-of-9 shooting). None of them have even scored in double figures in this series after they were inconsistent at best against the Sixers.

Milwaukee is as well-suited as any team in the league to deal with Leonard with a defense that was No. 1 in defensive rating during the regular season, per NBA.com, and the ability to throw Antetokounmpo's wingspan on him in crunch time.

It becomes even easier for that NBA-best defense to hone in on No. 2 when there are so many offensive nonfactors on the floor in the aforementioned trio. Even Lowry has a regular-season PER of 18.4 compared to a playoff PER of 15.5, per Basketball Reference, and often takes a backseat on the offensive end in crunch time in the postseason.

That means the Raptors need game-altering performances from Gasol and Siakam to have a chance against Milwaukee's stout defense, especially since they must win at least one on the road to complete their comeback attempt.

The versions of the pair that played Sunday will be up to the task.

          

Raptors' Defensive Focus Means Bucks Must Make Brogdon Starter Again

The Raptors made an adjustment for Sunday's game and threw even more defensive attention at Antetokounmpo than usual. Milwaukee's counter-adjustment for Game 4 should be returning Brogdon to the starting lineup.

The Virginia product missed almost two months of action with a plantar fascia tear, and the Bucks have understandably treated his return with caution. He is coming off the bench, played 17 minutes in his only game in the second round, played 27 minutes in Game 1 against the Raptors and played 25 minutes in Game 2.

It is time to move past caution with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line.

Toronto is essentially sending a wall of defenders at Antetokounmpo every time he enters the lane, putting even more onus on the need for shooters surrounding the potential MVP. Brogdon is arguably the team's best shooter and finished the regular season at 50.5 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from three-point range and 92.8 percent from the free-throw line.

His presence would open up the floor and make the Raptors pay for their additional focus while also shifting Eric Bledsoe to a new bench role after he scored in single digits in the first two games and was 3-of-16 from the field with five turnovers in Game 3.

Bledsoe has struggled against the Raptors, but anchoring the secondary unit off the bench against Toronto's bench players could help him rediscover his offensive game with less pressure and responsibilities outside of providing a scoring spark.

By comparison, Brogdon is averaging 16.3 points and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and hitting three triples in each of the first three games in this series.

"I feel fortunate to have been around a lot of good teams," head coach Mike Budenholzer said of his point guard, per Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com. "I can't think of a guy that's emerged in the second round in a game, I think, four and five and now into one and two that's almost picked up right where he left off. He was so good for us all year—90, 50, 40 [shooting percentages]—does so many good things. I think certainly from my perspective what he's been able to do, I just thought, if we can just get back going—he's exceeded all of our expectations."

Brogdon is also a better defender than Bledsoe and would be a more valuable stopper on Lowry at the start of games.

Milwaukee's defensive rating during the regular season when Brogdon was on the court was 101.6 but dropped to 103.5 when he was off it, per NBA.com. It was 103.3 when Bledsoe played and improved to 101.6 when he was off it.

Brogdon will provide better defense against Toronto's starters and superior shooting to capitalize on the openings when the Raptors collapse on Antetokounmpo. It's time to return him to the starting lineup.

           

What's Next?

The series continues with Tuesday's Game 4 in Toronto.

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