The Toronto Raptors are headed home from Florida with a chance to close out this first-round playoff series in their own building on Tuesday night.
The Raptors put a bow on their weekend in sunny Orlando with a second victory there over the Orlando Magic on Sunday –107-85 – giving them a 3-1 series lead.
After struggling with flu-like symptoms in Friday’s win, Kawhi Leonard had a bounce-back game Sunday, leading the Raps with 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting. Pascal Siakam had a 16-point showing on 7-of-14.
The last time a Raptors squad won three straight playoff games was against the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2016-17 season – a series they won in six. This is looking like a team in rhythm, one that can confidently eliminate an opponent in five games.
“Road wins are great, especially in the playoffs, but obviously we all know the job isn’t done yet,” said Leonard. “When you have good teammates, good chemistry, guys step up and that’s how you win games in the playoffs. It’s not one man, it’s a team. We all did it collectively all year. It showed tonight.”
Leonard said at Sunday morning’s shoot-around at a local high school that he was feeling better. The even-keeled superstar – a guy never known to complain about anything nor divulge many details about himself – merely said he had hydrated and rested, and was ready to play.
The Raps once again put the Magic in a predicament defensively. Siakam and Leonard can hurt you in different ways, and you have to focus big attention on them both, but how? Siakam had picked them apart on Friday night, rolling for 30 points. Leonard could do that and more on any given night.
Leonard had nine points in the opening quarter, while Siakam had six. Kyle Lowry was driving to the hoop and creating for his teammates too. Wide-open three-point opportunities were opening for Danny Green, even though the reliable three-point man would make just 2-of-6 from beyond the arc – part of his eight-point night.
If Orlando tried to double-team Siakam Sunday in response to his big Friday outing, Siakam certainly didn’t notice.
“I think they kinda dug in a little bit more than they did before,” said Siakam. “But for me, that’s cool. I can always make a play and find my teammates and stuff like that. It wasn’t no double-team, but I think they digged a little more, which was okay.”
Toronto’s lead swelled to 58-42 by halftime, and much of the energy in the building swiftly disappeared. Just two nights earlier, the Amway Center was booming with the enthusiasm of fans who hadn’t seen the Magic in the postseason since 2012. As Sunday’s game went on, the hopes of their No. 7-seeded Orlando squad overachieving and surprising the No. 2-seeded Raptors seemed to have dissipated.
Leonard was reaching in to create steals. He had two blocked shots, and scored on crafty layups, driving dunks and three-point balls. Then you had Siakam, with alley-oop balls, creative post-moves and shots from beyond the arc. Each astounding bucket was met by quiet groans from the Magic faithful.
Lowry had nine points and dished out nine assists on a 3-of-8 shooting night, while also turning the ball over six times. The all-star point guard grabbed four rebounds, four steals and recorded the best plus-minus on the floor: a plus 26.
“It takes a good team to understand situations, mismatches,” said Lowry. “For me it’s being a good teammate, helping my guys and if I need to score I can score. If I need to pass I can pass, but winning is all that matters.”
Toronto’s bench contributions were big. Serge Ibaka added some defensive relief while also posting 13 points and eight rebounds. Norman Powell contributed 16 points along with his hustle defence.
Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 25 points, while Evan Fournier added 19. All-star big man Nikola Vucevic was held to 11 points and five rebounds – courtesy of more veteran defence by Marc Gasol.
The Raptors were in such command throughout the night that it actually became boring. Even the freestyle rap comedy troop that performed at halftime couldn’t liven up the house.
The most amusing thing that happened was a lengthy and very humorous wide-mouthed expression of shock on the face of Raptors coach Nick Nurse after he observed a questionable call on Fred VanVleet early in the game. Captured by cameras, his funny reaction promptly caught fire on social media, with fans creating memes.
It was also a chance for Raptors fans to catch a rare playoff glimpse of players much, much further down Toronto’s bench. Jeremy Lin, Patrick McCaw, Eric Moreland, Jodie Meeks and Malcolm Miller all got to finish out the night for the comfortable Raptors.
This first-round series now shifts back to Toronto for Game 5 on Tuesday. Fans can already envision a second-round playoff series that could possibly begin in Toronto next weekend.