TORONTO – Kawhi Leonard has dedicated much of his season to the topic of load management.
Load management went out the window on Sunday night.
While his Toronto Raptors season was on the line, Leonard had a career-high 52 minutes – almost all after his awkward first-quarter finish. And he set up his last stellar line, finishing with 36 points, nine rebounds and five assists to lead Toronto to a 118-112 double overtime win over Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Conference Finals. # 39; Is.
The win brought the Raptors back into the series, as they are now leading 2-1 in this best-of-seven affair – largely thanks to Leonard's latest exploits, which took place exactly a week after that. He maintained the Toronto season with his miraculous ringtone. -beater to close the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 semifinals of the conference.
"He loves this basketball game," Raptors goaltender ESPN Kyle Lowry said at the end of Sunday's game. "That's what happened … He loves basketball, playing badly, playing in anything to win, that's what it proved tonight."
The subject of the suffering felt by Leonard never disappeared after landing in the first quarter and back on the court by hopping on one leg. It appeared at that time that his left leg was bothering him – only so that he could, much later in the tilt, grab his right leg after running down the ground and skied for a huge left-handed slam at the last minute with 3:13 to play in the second extra hour.
After the match, however, the Raptors played down the problems. Toronto coach, Nick Nurse, said that he thought Leonard was "in agreement", and Leonard himself dismissed any reason to expect that he would not be happy. there is no time for this series.
"I'm fine," he says. "I'm just going to keep fighting, I'm going to play."
He admitted that he needed a lot to play those career minutes and lead the Raptors to victory.
"Certainly," said Leonard, when asked if he felt like he had spent so much time. "It's 52 minutes, and it's the playoffs, so you really feel it, when you play 30 minutes you always feel it.
"I just do not worry and I get my treatment and go to the next one."
When Lowry was fouled in the middle of the fourth quarter, it was fair to ask if there would be a "next" relevant, given that a defeat could have put Toronto in a 3-0 hole, but fatal, of the series. .
The Raptors were at the head of almost every set-up and almost every extra time, but they scored almost all five points: Leonard, Pascal Siakam (25), Marc Gasol (19), Norman Powell (19) ) and Lowry (11).
At the end of the regulation period, Lowry and Powell both made a mistake, leaving Nurse to face Fred VanVleet and Danny Green for overtime – each of which hit his first and only shot of the match, both from behind. the 3-point line. (VanVleet was 1-in-11 for the game, and Green was 1-in-9.)
Meanwhile, Lowry spent at least half of his usual seat at the end of the bench, often doing something other than watching the court as his teammates tried to keep his season alive without him.
"I was not [watching], "Lowry told ESPN." I was just trying to get the ball in and get the ball out. But when you believe in my teammates like me, you just have to support them and do whatever you can possibly do.
"That's the only thing about it, it sucks, but we won, so that's all that matters."
The Raptors' triumph was, as usual, largely attributable to Leonard. Although Nurse did not change his starting lineup, he changed rotations and defensive missions, including forcing Leonard to spend more time with NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo than in the first two games.
After defending only three shots in the first two games, Antetokounmpo scored one in nine and scored two points under Leonard's protection in match 3, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. When Antetokounmpo faced off against another, he scored 4 to 7 and scored 10 points.
"Listen, I think Kawhi is the best two-way basketball player in the NBA," Lowry told ESPN. "I personally believe it.
"And when you have a guy like that, who can do what he can do defensively, and offensively, you put him on the best player when you need him."
The Raptors needed, and it worked. Antetokounmpo finally failed in the second overtime by trying to charge Siakam, finishing with 12 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and eight turnovers.
Siakam (25 points, 11 rebounds and three interceptions) and Gasol (16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks) also bounced back, after being beaten in the first two games of the series.
However, it was Siakam 's two missed free throws at the end of regulation time that gave Khris Middleton the opportunity to tie the game in the final seconds and send the match to overtime. .
At the end of the match and the win, Leonard was not tired enough to not spoil his teammate.
"[I told him] "Shit nearly played an hour of basketball tonight," Leonard said with a smile. "He was like," My bad, Kawhi. I will make these two free throws next time. "
That night, however, there was no harm, no fault for Toronto. Indeed, for the last time this season, and for the second time this week, Leonard made the Raptors triumph.
Now, they will just need to redo it three times in the next four games if they want to get to the NBA Finals for the first time in the history of the franchise.
"I just want to win," said Leonard. "That's it.Nobody wants to go home.We want to continue fighting to achieve that goal, and that's all.
"That's why I'm proud of [playing] on both sides of the ground, and that's what happens. "