With eight seconds left in Tuesday's game, the snarling, clutch-shooting Kyle Lowry that Canada had come to adore reared his head and had his best moment of this NBA postseason so far– hitting a 20-foot step-back jumper to put an anxious game away.
After a shaky loss in Game 1, the Toronto Raptors bounced back with a 106-100 Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, surviving a late-game onslaught by Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Behind 23 points by DeMar DeRozan and a bounce-back 22-point night from Lowry, the Raptors evened the series 1-1 as it now heads to Milwaukee.
Lowry, who hit just two of his 11 field goal attempts in Game 1, was 6-of-12 on this occasion – including the big shot in the dying seconds to stop a comeback from the young Bucks, who had been charging hard with late-game acrobatics by Antetokounmpo.
"I was just playing, taking my shots, being aggressive," said Lowry. "My teammates challenged me. I got to the free throw line nine times and got aggressive early."
The Toronto faithful, all clad in red playoff t-shirts that read "Northside," seemed at little tense to open the night, wondering what their team would show after Saturday's Game 1 letdown.
Serge Ibaka, questionable the past few days nursing an ankle he sprained on Saturday, was in the starting lineup.
DeRozan got off to the fast start, hitting four of his first five field goal attempts for a 12-point quarter. Antetokounmpo, who troubled the Raps endlessly on Saturday by racing out in transition, was held to two points in the first quarter on 1-of-6 shooting. Toronto lead 28-25 to end the quarter.
A big Raptors sequence to start the second jolted Toronto in a convincing direction. First Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson both hit threes, then they got a big stop, which lead to an easy bucket for P.J. Tucker, prompting the Bucks to cry for a timeout. It was perhaps the most commanding Toronto moment of the series to that point, as they built a nine-point lead.
The Raptors called on two youngsters for some meaningful minutes this time. Rookie big man Jakob Poeltl came in to chew up some time early after Jonas Valanciunas picked up a second foul. Delon Wright entered midway through the second to be a pest on Malcolm Brogdon, chasing him around the floor and contributing to Toronto's solid passing.
That's when Lowry began to step up his offence, driving through the lane multiple times, sinking layups or drawing contact and getting to the line, tallying a 12-point quarter to boost his tally to 17 points.
"He's a competitor, and a fighter," said Toronto Coach Dwane Casey of Lowry. "And I just knew he wasn't going to be satisfied with the way he played in Game 1."
Antetokounmpo was plucking rebounds like crazy, but he was missing shots at an unusual rate early on, from jumpers to layups and tips. He was 4-for-14 from the field by half time but had ten boards and four assists. His low production kept the Raptors in the driver's seat, not to mention they had finally come alive from beyond the arc. Toronto took a 55-52 lead into halftime.
The Raps built that lead up to 13 points, but it never felt comfortable. The young Bucks chipped away at it, by executing some of the same things that made them so terrifying in Game 1 – driving dunks from the Greek Freak, jumpers by Khris Middleton, sweet three-point shooting from Tony Snell. Worse, they were forcing Toronto to turn the ball over.
The Raps' lead evaporated to just one point going into the fourth.
Ibaka, who hadn't shot particularly well early in the night, pumped up his offence in the final quarter, and ended the night with 16 points, seven boards and six assists. Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and 10 boards.
The Bucks kept hacking at Toronto leads. They did so by scoring in ways that took the air out of the crowd, like a stunning Antetokounmpo to Thon Maker alley-oop dunk or a variety of ridiculously athletic manoeuvers by the Greek star that had him soaring over or through Raptor defenders to put the ball in the hoop. It was a one-point game in the final minutes.
Antetokounmpo led his team with 24 points and a playoff career-high 15 boards, while Middleton added 20 points. But Lowry's dagger put the game away with eight seconds left.
"They showed me more bodies in the paint tonight. In the first game they let me go in the paint a lot. In the second game tonight, they didn't let me," said Antetokounmpo. "We definitely gained a lot of things out of these two games. I think we got their attention."
Game 3 is Thursday in Milwaukee.