With Golden State having clinched its fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals on Monday, the question left to be answered is who will represent the Eastern Conference. After Milwaukee held serve with two home wins Toronto looked to do the same, having cut the Bucks’ series lead in half with a double overtime win Sunday night. With Kawhi Leonard looking to be less than full strength the Raptors received contributions from everyone that played, with Kyle Lowry leading six double-digit scorers on the night.
Toronto’s 18-point win evens the series at two games apiece, with Game 5 scheduled for Thursday night in Milwaukee. Below is a look at Game 4, with the Raptors bench stepping up after struggling for much of the first three games.
Raptors 120, Bucks 102
Kawhi Leonard said after Game 3 that he was fine, despite it being apparent that he was favoring his left leg after landing awkwardly during the first quarter. Add to the “injury” the fact that Leonard played 52 minutes on Sunday, and it should come as no surprise that he looked to be less than full strength Tuesday night. He still scored 19 points, shooting 6-of-13 from the field and 6-of-8 from the foul line, while also accounting for seven rebounds, four steals, two blocks, one assist and one three-pointer in 34 minutes played.
During the first half Leonard rested at the same time as Giannis Antetokounmpo, with Nick Nurse looking to match minutes after “The Klaw” was so effective defensively in Game 3. That wasn’t the case in the third, as Leonard remained on the floor when Antetokounmpo went to the bench with 5:07 remaining. Toronto led by seven at the time, and when Leonard was finally replaced by Marc Gasol with 1:17 remaining the Raptors’ lead increased to 14. During the first quarter rest Leonard had a heat pad on his left leg, and late in the third it appeared as if ice was being used. He’s obviously playing through whatever the issue is, and there was no entry on the pregame injury report, but that’s something to keep an eye on heading into Game 5.
With Pascal Siakam, who’s been Toronto’s second-best player for most of the postseason, accounting for just seven points, six assists and four rebounds in 23 minutes, one would assume that this would bode well for Milwaukee. But that wasn’t the case, thanks in part to Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Lowry, who posted a line of 11 points, five assists and four rebounds before fouling out Sunday, tallied 25 points (6-of-11 FGs, 10-of-10 FTs), six assists, five rebounds and three 3-pointers in 34 minutes. The point total is one less than what Lowry accounted for in Games 3 and 4 combined. As for Gasol he had his second consecutive quality performance, scoring 17 points (6-of-11 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) with seven assists, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal and three 3-pointers.
In the two games in Toronto, Gasol averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 blocks and 3.5 three-pointers per game. The key for Marc is to have that level of play occur in Milwaukee as well. In the first two games of the series he averaged 4.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 three-pointers per game, shooting 3-of-20 from the field.
The bench, which was outscored by Milwaukee’s reserves by a 130-78 margin in the first three games of the series, stepped up in a big way. Norman Powell put up 18 shots (6-of-18 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs), scoring 18 points with five rebounds, three assists, one steal and four 3-pointers in 32 minutes. Serge Ibaka, who scored a total of 17 points in the first three games of the series, added 17 points (7-of-12 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), 13 rebounds, two assists and one steal in 24 minutes, and Fred VanVleet accounted for 13 points (5-of-6 FGs), six assists, one rebound, one steal and three 3-pointers in 25 minutes played. VanVleet tallied just ten points in the first three games of the series, shooting a combined 4-of-20 from the field and having as many fouls as assists (ten).
On the night Toronto’s bench trio outscored Milwaukee’s bench by a 48-23 margin, more than making up for Leonard’s laboring and Siakam’s lackluster performance.
What also helped Toronto was its change in defensive strategy, at times using a matchup zone in an attempt to keep Antetokounmpo out of the lane. The move wasn’t as successful as it was in Game 3, with the MVP candidate scoring 25 points (9-of-17 FGs, 6-of-10 FTs) with ten rebounds, five assists, three blocks, one steal and one three-pointer. But where it was successful was limiting Bucks players other than Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, who shot 11-of-15 from the field and scored 30 points with seven assists, six rebounds and four 3-pointers.
Eric Bledsoe played just 20 minutes due in large part to his ineffectiveness, scoring five points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field while also accounting for three rebounds and two assists. Bledsoe has struggled this series, averaging 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 three-pointers per game while shooting 24.4% from the field and 2-of-19 from beyond the arc. Brook Lopez shot 2-of-3 from three but finished Game 4 with eight points, three assists, two rebounds, one steal and one blocked shot, and Nikola Mirotic finished with 11 points, two assists, one rebound, one steal and two 3-pointers, and his four turnovers matched Antetokounmpo’s total.
The bench wasn’t much better, as Malcolm Brogdon scored four points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field. Brogdon, who scored 20 points in Game 3, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists in his 28 minutes on the floor. George Hill, who scored 24 on Sunday, was also held in check. The veteran guard attempted just two field goals, making one, and he posted a line of five points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and one three-pointer in 27 minutes played. Ersan Ilyasova was Milwaukee’s most productive reserve, as he played 18 minutes and scored seven points with three steals, two rebounds and one assist, and Pat Connaughton accounted for three points, two rebounds, two assists, one block and one three-pointer in 14 minutes.