TORONTO – Nothing in the NBA playoffs is going as planned.
Line rotations can be tweaked and defensive covers can be fine-tuned, but no matter what preparation is made, the crucial minutes of a playoff game are nothing more than a desperate exercise in survival. Each possession is a fire drill and not many of them look like inspired games drawn on whiteboards by basketball brains when everything is at peace.
Sunday night, the Toronto Raptors were fighting for their lives in the playoffs. Unforeseen circumstances were the norm. Kawhi Leonard landed awkwardly in the first quarter with questions swirling throughout the match on his condition.
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Their starting goaltender, Kyle Lowry, missed the game with more than six minutes to play. Their most productive offensive guard in the third match was the Norman Powell Reserve – and he fouled five minutes later. This left the Raptors a backyard composed of Danny Green and Fred VanVleet, who had pulled a collective 2 against 20 that night. Seven seconds from the end of regulation time, Pascal Siakam – a 78.5% shooter on the line this season – had the opportunity to win with a pair of free throws, but he missed both goals.
Despite persistent problems and the loss of four points at the end of the fourth quarter of the hour and the first overtime, there remained about 70 seconds, but the Raptors relied on Leonard and on a brave defensive to beat Milwaukee Bucks 118-112 doubling the time of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The bigger the stake on a given possession, the less clever the game of both teams. With Lowry on the bench, the Raptors did not have their match manager for the last 16 minutes of action. "It was awful to watch," said Lowry, who had to watch the game unfold as a spectator.
Meanwhile, Bucks goaltender Eric Bledsoe struggled, as did de facto leader Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed the game in the opening minutes of the second overtime. Khris Middleton, who suffered a series of misunderstandings with the game in the balance, also spent an unforgettable night.
In the end, the Raptors won as they usually won this spring – on Leonard's shoulders. He finished with 36 points, including the last three goals of Toronto and eight of their last 10 points in doubles in overtime.
"Its resilience," said Marc Gasol. "He did not allow his fatigue, his pain, anything that bothered him – he beat her."
Leonard is the only constant of a Toronto team whose individual performers have been changing for nearly three weeks. The Raptors have escaped the Philadelphia 76ers through Leonard's theatrical troupe a week ago with a 4-3 win, but the historic hit – the squat, the four rebounds and everything else – occurred during a cold shot that confused the Raptors for days.
The two defeats at Milwaukee early in the conference final have exacerbated a familiar tension in a game in which the odds prevail – but not always rightly so. Since the beginning of the Philadelphia series, the Raptors had accumulated only 52.1 percent on unchallenged shots after placing second in the NBA (eFG 68.1%) in attempts undisputed from the regular season.
For Raptors regulars and their coach, Nick Nurse, balancing confidence in a team's long-standing success against the cruelty of recent results is a difficult task in the playoffs. How do you react when a group of players who have used uncontested shots at a higher rate than all other teams in the NBA, except one, lose that contact in three cold weeks? Do you make deep changes in your rotation and your offensive approach, even if, as the NBA axiom says, you take the same moves tomorrow night?
|First 2 games||Game 3|
|PC FG of 3 points||35%||43%|
Sunday night, the nurse divided the difference. He maintained the usual Raptors starting lineup, while tinkering with rotation and reversing some defensive tasks. In particular, Leonard has been entrusted with the daunting task of Antetokounmpo – and the results have been impressive.
"Kawhi did a great job," said the nurse. "He was standing up and not giving him as much track, but it was the same for the other players who ended up with him in a change or in different parts of the game, they were all a little more stuck. not forwards to exercise. "
Antetokounmpo recorded more turnovers than field goals in the third game and was only 1 out of 9 among the possessions for which Leonard was his main defender. Leonard was not the only resistance faced by Antetokounmpo, who had seen several bodies captured near the basket. The Raptors helped and recovered accurately, yielding only 10 uncontested shots in the half-court in 58 minutes to a team that prioritizes spacing.
But the biggest difference for Toronto in its first win in the series is the factor that most detracted from its losses:
The Raptors simply hit their undisputed shooting attempts.
In game 3, the Raptors have actually been less successful in finding quality looks on the basket. Their quantized fire probability (a Second Spectrum statistic that measures the quality of shots taking both the shooter and the defense into account) was lower than their scores for games 1 and 2 in Milwaukee.
But for the first time in a long time, the Raptors were at the start of indisputable attempts: eleven percent of the total, with an effective percentage of goals of 66.7, which corresponds much more to their strong performance of the regular season.
After the game, the nurse was asked if the team had adopted a new identity in the playoffs, something more like grain and grain, the visiting card of the more robust and less offensively dynamic teams. Gasol. While most NBA coaches would be proud of a team that created an identity around a stingy defense, Nurse noted that after the acquisition of Gasol, the Raptors were leading the NBA with a 3-point percentage , a condition that seems almost prehistoric given the events of the past month.
"I still think we are creating a lot of good shots," said Nurse, confident that the basketball gods will eventually correct this particular disparity, as they started on Sunday night. "I still hope that more of them will go in. I think they will."
Meanwhile, the Raptors have reduced the series and now find themselves 2-1 – a series can not be closer after three games.