The Toronto Raptors dazzled like a team ready for a much bigger, brighter stage as they expertly eliminated the Orlando Magic Tuesday night and cruised into Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs.
It was the first time in club history the Raptors had ever won four straight playoff games – this one a 115-96 beat-down. They also became the first Raps team to finish a seven-game series in five games.
The Raps are advancing to the second round for the fourth consecutive year. As the game ended, the Raptors waited to see if the Philadelphia 76ers would hold on to their big lead and eliminate the Brooklyn Nets and advance to a second-round meeting with the Raps.
Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 27 points – including five three pointers – and checked out after his 32 minutes to a booming chorus of MVP chants by the fans inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
Pascal Siakam had 24 points – including a trio of three-balls. Kyle Lowry rollicked for 14 points and nine assists, and continued to show off his postseason-leading knack for drawing charges.
“We know what we are, and what we can be,” said Lowry after the win. “We got some great veterans, and guys that’s been through it. It’s been pretty fun to be part of a team that’s just kind of staying the course – no ups, no downs. We’re just going to ride it.”
This version of the Raptors is different from past years, that much has become crystal clear in recent days. It had taken the Raptors six games to finish Washington and Milwaukee the past two seasons, and seven to close out Indiana and Miami in 2016.
This year’s squad led start to finish in Tuesday’s Game 5, giving not the slightest suggestion a return trip to Orlando for Game 6 was even remotely possible. These Raptors put the Magic on the mat and stomped a collective gym shoe into its throat.
Lowry got involved offensively right off the tip, bullishly attacking the rim and scoring his team’s first nine points. He’d been criticized for going 0-for-7 from the floor in the Game 1 loss, but on this occasion, his shots were falling to go with everything else he does well.
“I enjoyed playing with him this whole series,” said Leonard of Lowry. “And I feel like he made us all better.”
Toronto’s efficiency was absolutely clinical, starting with their stout defence. The Raps starting five zipped the ball between them like they had been playing together for years, and it showed in their impressive assist numbers. They dominated on the boards, turned the Magic over and lured them into fouls. Behind Lowry’s 12-point first quarter points, the Raps built an authoritative 35-19 lead.
Drake was hollering and cheering courtside. Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer was sitting up high among the people, wearing a red We The North playoff tee over his dress shirt.
They watched the Raps go on a 13-3 second-quarter run, more than making up the handful of points their bench gave Orlando back. Led by Marc Gasol, they once again smothered Orlando’s all-star big man Nikola Vucevic, holding him to just six points on the night on 3-of-10 shooting.
Siakam and Leonard confounded once again with their three-point shooting and unsolvable moves to the hoop.
They set a club record for assists in a half of a playoff game with 19 on 23 made field goals in the first two quarters.
Lowry – who leads all NBA players this postseason in charges drawn and loose balls recovered – was tearing around the floor all night doing a lot more of those things. He jogged off the floor late in the second quarter with what appeared to be a finger injury.
But the all-star point guard was back on the floor with this team when they emerged from the locker room at half-time, leading by 20 points. He’d later have the finger on his right hand taped up after the game, saying he popped it out and then “popped it back in.” He was grateful for the upcoming rest days.
“He was amazing in this series,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse of Lowry. “Maybe as good as I’ve ever seen him.”
The Raptors were up by 31 inside the third quarter, but there were still thrilling moments to be had: some driving dunks by Norman Powell and spicy spin moves from Siakam.
D.J. Augustin, who had exploded for 25 points in leading Orlando to a Game 1 win, led his team with 15 points as Orlando was quietly lulled into its off-season by the dominant Raps. Terrence Ross had 12 points and Aaron Gordon had 11. Defensively, the stifling Raps held Orlando to 38.6 per cent shooting.
The Raps would empty their bench and get every man into the game. Toronto fans sang out “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye” as both teams’ reserves played out the clock. The fans closed out the night in standing ovation for their advancing Raptors.
They’ll now await the schedule to see when the Eastern Conference semi-finals open in Toronto.