Led by a monster performance from Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors not only bounced back in their series with the Orlando Magic, but they looked like a playoff contender to fear.
In one of his finest nights since joining the Raptors, Leonard scored 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting as the Raptors crushed the Magic 111-82 on Tuesday night to tie their best-of-seven playoff series 1-1.
Kyle Lowry, who had gone without a point in Game 1, rebounded with a 22-point night on 8-of-13 shooting, along with seven assists, while Pacal Siakam had a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double.
The Raps seized the momentum as the series moves to Orlando.
“We didn’t feel we played our best basketball in Game 1,” Leonard said. “We just wanted to protect home court really, that’s it.”
Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 20 points, while Terrence Ross had 15. D.J. Augustin, who had been slippery at points in Game 1 as he tallied 25 points, was this time held to nine. All-star centre Nicola Vucevic was limited to six points.
With Saturday’s loss, the Raptors had fallen to a 1-6 record in the opening game of the playoffs. On five of those six past occasions, the Raps had responded by winning Game 2, and they did it again this time.
No. 2-seeded Toronto jumped out to an 11-0 lead off the tip as No. 7-seeded Orlando missed their first six shots and remained off the scoreboard for more than five minutes.
The Magic, who had emphasized taking care of the ball in Game 1 – coughing it up just 11 times that day – turned it over five times in the opening quarter. Augustin didn’t add a single point in the first quarter.
Leonard exploded for 12 first-quarter points, Lowry finally got his first field goal of the series as the home crowd erupted for him, and the Raps rolled to a 26-18 led as the opening quarter closed.
Toronto had certainly increased its intensity for Game 2, and it showed in the personal-foul category. Leonard and Green had each picked up three fouls by midway through the second quarter, and the team had 15 by halftime.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse opted not to limit Leonard’s minutes too early, despite being in foul trouble.
“I guess I had a decision to make there, right? I think at that point we were off to a good start and we were imposing our will on the game and I figured I’d roll the dice so our will could continue to be imposed,” Nurse said.
Gordon and Ross were the only Orlando players putting up significant numbers, and the Raptors took a healthy 51-39 lead into the locker-room.
Leonard was the best player on the floor. He showed splashes of that next-level talent many have been predicting since he was acquired last summer for DeMar DeRozan.
He shook off defenders with spin moves that make the crowd gasp. He bulldozed through double-teams, came out of nowhere to intercept Orlando passes, and divied out assists. He scored every which way, from driving dunks and alley oops to four three-point balls.
“Tonight he was in a groove,” Lowry said.
Leonard sparked Toronto’s offensive storm with his third-quarter burst, and it was contagious. Gasol then hit a barrage of threes, and Lowry and Siakam were attacking the rim. The Raps looked more confident than they had all series to that point, and they constructed a hefty 24-point lead.
After he went 0-for-7 from the field in Game 1, the Raps vowed they’d put Lowry in position to be more aggressive. He added four rebounds and seven assists, a pair of steals and a blocked shot to his stat line as well as four fouls. He left the game to a standing ovation, just as Leonard did.
With Toronto’s two big men more equally sharing the five-spot minutes in this game, Serge Ibaka contributed 13 points and eight boards, while Gasol had nine points (three three-pointers), three rebounds and five assists. They also helped keep Orlando’s top player – Vucevic – in check.
The Raptors were much improved defensively all around on Tuesday. They held Orlando to 37-per-cent shooting this time compared to 40 per cent on Saturday, and created 17 turnovers to 11 in Game 1 (and had just nine themselves). They held Augustin to 1-of-6 shooting this time. They were very effective double-teaming Vucevic’s post-ups, holding the Magic big man to 3-of-7 from the field.
“Obviously [Leonard’s] offence is sticking out with 37, but just a much more locked-in defensive approach,” Nurse said of his star’s team-leading performance. “But I think it was a teamwide thing defensively so he was a big part of that but about every guy who hit the floor was locked in as a team defence tonight.”
The Raps, who had only used nine players on Saturday, were able to empty the bench this time and get all the reserves in to finish the game.
The Raps will fly to Orlando on Thursday for Games 3 and 4, which take place Friday and Sunday.