Pascal Siakam put the Raptors on his back Friday night, posting a double-double to carry his team to a tight Game 3 victory as Toronto played spoiler in the first NBA playoff game in Orlando since 2012.
Siakam rolled for a superb 30-point, 11-rebound performance to spearhead a 98-93 victory over the Orlando Magic, giving the Raptors a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series.
The Raps were able to survive a late-game comeback by the Magic, who were led by a fiery 24-point performance from former Raptor Terrence Ross. Orlando all-star centre Nikola Vucevic had 22 points and 13 boards, while Jonathan Isaac added 14 points.
Kawhi Leonard had 16 points on a chilly 5-of-19 night from the field. Danny Green had 16 points, while Kyle Lowry added 12 points, 10 assists and nabbed five rebounds – including one that put the brakes on Orlando’s last-ditch chance at tying the game.
It was the first playoff game in Orlando after a seven-year postseason drought. It had the feel of a very big night inside the packed Amway Centre. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attended the game. The mascot, Stuff the Magic Dragon, propelled down from the ceiling.
Every fan in the building wore a glow bracelet, and when they lit up on demand, it looked like thousands of twinkling stars in the night sky. And it was loud – like we’ve-been-starved-for-this loud. The Magic had won nine consecutive games at home, dating back to their Feb. 28. victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Much like they had in Game 2 in Toronto, the Raptors burst out to a 10-0 lead right off the opening tip, as the excited crowd fell temporarily silent. It wasn’t Leonard putting up the points this time though – the Raps superstar began the night shooting cold following his 37-point performance in Game 2. It was later revealed Leonard has missed the past couple of practices due to feeling ill.
“It’s the playoffs and we want to come out and win the game. That’s all I’m thinking about, and it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are,” said Leonard. “This is the journey to become a champion and these are the things you’ve got to go through.”
This time it was Siakam doing the scoring, rolling for 12-first-quarter points on breezy three-pointers and crafty layups.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year,” said Lowry of Siakam. “It’s pretty cool to see him come from where he’s come from — starting but not playing much, in the G-League, winning a championship and then have a good year last year and take the next step this year. It was a great game for him. It’s fun to watch.”
Isaac was creating the excitement for Orlando, menacing with steals, blocks, dunks and deep balls. Vucevic, who had gone a combined 6-for-21 in the first two games, was showing signs of life with two dunks toward the end of the first quarter. Fans finally got to bellow “Vooch” as their glow bracelets lit up like fireflies.
The most promising moment for Orlando happened as the first half was closing. A Leonard turnover paved the way for a crazy half-court shot at the buzzer for the ex-Raptor Ross, and the Orlando crowd went berserk. It sent the teams into their locker rooms with Toronto ahead by the uneasy score of 48-45.
A few minutes into the second half, with the elite-defending Marc Gasol seated on Toronto’s bench after his fourth personal foul, Vucevic got hot. The 7-foot all-star from Montenegro was able to score over Serge Ibaka. He erupted with blocked shots, explosive layups, turnaround hook shots and confident three-pointers. The man who struggled to get to the rim through the first two games took advantage of Gasol’s bench time, with a 14-point third quarter.
The Magic gave their crowd some thrills by rolling to within three late in the fourth, on the back of two huge buckets by Ross.
Orlando covered Leonard a little differently and made life tough for him.
“Listen, that was a gutsy performance by him,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse of Leonard, noting the star was not feeling well. “To go out there and fight through that and still play 37 minutes… I’m most proud of his 10 rebounds. He was just battling, it wasn’t easy for him out there tonight.”
Green, who had not been getting his usual chances beyond the arc, hit 3-of-7 attempts from deep, on a 5-of-11 shooting night. Gasol, who stifled Vucevic for most minutes he was on the floor, also added nine points points. Norman Powell added eight points and overall the Raps shot 44.8 per cent, while holding the Magic to 36.3 per cent.
Lowry was the one to make the key rebound with 15 seconds left and the Magic trailing by three. The play enabled Toronto to take control of the clock, forcing Orlando to foul and effectively stopping their comeback. The Raps closed it out from there.
The series resumes Sunday night in Orlando, before swinging back to Toronto on Tuesday.