Kawhi Leonard came into Game 3 against the Orlando Magic playing some of the best basketball of his career.
His otherworldly play didn’t continue Friday night, but one of Leonard’s teammates had his back in a big way.
Pascal Siakam scored 30 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as the Toronto Raptors took a 2-1 series lead over the Orlando Magic, defeating the home team in front of a sellout crowd (second largest in Orlando Magic franchise history).
“He’s unbelievable,” guard Kyle Lowry told reporters after the game when asked about Siakam. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s going to continue to get better. His personality is just to go play and have fun.”
It was a miserable start to the game for the Magic. Toronto ran out to an early 10-2 lead on the home team, taking advantage of four Orlando turnovers in the game’s first five minutes.
“Tonight, obviously our turnovers hurt us again,” Nikola Vucevic said after the game. “We had too many of those, which led to empty possessions for us. Against a team like them (Toronto), we can’t have that.”
Toronto made four of their first six three-point attempts, and their lead could have been significantly more if not for the heroics of Jonathan Isaac.
Isaac kept the Magic in the game early with his effort on the defensive end. The long and lanky forward was everywhere on the floor for Orlando, recording two steals and two blocks in the game’s opening period.
Isaac’s stellar defensive play aside, the Magic still began the game ice cold, missing 11 of their first 15 field goal attempts. Nothing came easy for the Magic in the first quarter, especially in the paint where Toronto was smothering Orlando’s offensive attack.
“We’ve got to figure out the beginning of halves,” Coach Clifford told reporters in his post-game conference. “Both games (Games 2 and 3), first five minutes of the first quarter, first five minutes of the third quarter.”
A strong close to the game’s opening quarter by the Magic cut Toronto’s double-digit lead to five points.
Terrence Ross got rolling in the second quarter, scoring 11 of his 24 points to lead all scorers in the period. Orlando’s sixth man brought Magic fans to their feet as time expired in the first half, burying a half-court shot off the backboard as the buzzer sounded.
A huge turning point early in the second half came about stemming from a fourth personal foul charged to Marc Gasol, who has basically taken Vucevic completely out of this series.
Gasol was replaced by Serge Ibaka, who is no defensive slouch himself. But Ibaka presented Vucevic with significantly less resistance in the paint. In an offensive flurry that stretched over four minutes, Vucevic scored 14 straight points in the third quarter.
Not enough Os in VOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCH for this one. pic.twitter.com/PTViw6a3RI— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) April 20, 2019
Orlando briefly took the lead in the third, but the Raptors promptly went on a deflating 16-0 run to push their lead to 15 points.
Outside of Vucevic, the rest of the Magic went 1-15 in the third quarter.
A highly-contested and deep Lowry three-pointer from the wing with the shot-clock winding down in the fourth quarter gave Toronto their largest lead of the game at 17 points.
But like they’ve done most of the year, the Magic found a way to claw their way back into the game. A D.J. Augustin corner three, followed by an Aaron Gordon jumper, cut Toronto’s lead to eleven. Moments later, Ross also knocked down a big three-point field goal midway through the game’s final period to draw Orlando within ten points.
Orlando got Toronto in the penalty relatively early in the fourth quarter, which Gordon and Vucevic took advantage of.
Evan Fournier, who struggled mightily for most of the contest, knocked-down a huge corner three with 3:54 left in the game - cutting Toronto’s lead to just seven points. A few possessions later, Ross pulled down a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a lay-in that pulled the Magic within four.
But Siakam, like he did all night, hit a clutch running jumper to push Toronto’s lead back to six points.
“I think we have to move him up from our third option,” Coach Nick Nurse jokingly said in his post-game conference. “He made a lot of big buckets. He was really patient, and I thought he would see a mismatch and wait until he had enough composure or an angle - a pump fake or whatever. He’s just a really mature player.”
Coming out of a late timeout, Ross hit a three from the top of the key to bring the game within one possession.
Orlando got the stop they needed on Toronto’s next offensive possession, but unfortunately, they couldn’t secure the defensive rebound. With 12.9 seconds remaining, Leonard was able to ice the game at the free throw line.
“The disappointing part about tonight was, in the fourth quarter, the rebounding game,” Clifford added Friday night. “Powell ran down a long one, which led to a three, and then obviously the last one (Lowry’s rebound).”
Orlando will have another crack at Toronto Sunday night. The Raptors have reclaimed home-court advantage, but the Magic can still even the series with a win before heading back to Toronto.
Regardless of the outcome, Orlando fans were heard Friday night in the team’s first home playoff game in seven years.
“Great. Obviously talk to the guys about it, but it makes a huge difference,” Clifford remarked regarding the Amway crowd. “The fans here are terrific.”
“The crowd was great tonight,” Lowry said at the podium after the game. “But a good team is going to stick together no matter what. Ups and downs, we stayed leveled and rode the wave.”
The Magic will be looking to catch a wave Sunday night and ride it all the way back up north, hopefully with the series knotted-up at two games apiece.