TORONTO – Nothing in the NBA playoffs goes off as planned.
Rotating rows can be tweaked and defensive wraps can be refined, but no matter how much preparation has been done, the decisive minutes of a playoff game are nothing more than a desperate survival practice. Each possession is a fire drill, and few of them resemble the inspired gigs elaborated on sharp paintings by the basketball kids, when everything is in peace.
For the Toronto Raptors on Sunday evening, they fought for their after-season life, unforeseen circumstances were the norm. Kawhi Leonard unfortunately landed in the first quarter with questions that were buzzing throughout the game about his condition.
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Their starting point guard, Kyle Lowry, dropped out of the game with more than six minutes left in the rules. Their most productive offensive guard in Game 3 was the reserve Norman Powell – and he fouled out five minutes later. It left the Raptors with a backyard by Danny Green and Fred VanVleet, who had shot a collective for 20 at night. With seven seconds left in control, Pascal Siakam – a 78.5 percent shooter on the line this season – had the opportunity to secure the win with a couple of free throws but missed both.
Despite the detention plight of four points with about 70 seconds remaining in both the fourth quarter and the first overtime, Raptors leaned on Leonard and a wise defense to survive Milwaukee Bucks 118-112 in double overtime of match 3 in the Eastern Conference finals .  The larger the stakes are on a certain possession, the less the game jokes from both teams. With Lowry on the bench, Raptors were without their game manager for the last 16 minutes of action. "It was horrible to watch," said Lowry that he must watch the game as a spectator.
At the same time, Buck's starting point defense fought Eric Bledsoe during his minutes on the court, as it actually referred to guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, who fouled in the opening hour for other overtime. Khris Middleton, who suffered a series of miscues with the game in balance, also had a memorable night.
Ultimately, the Raptors, like the ones usually won in the spring, won Leonard's shoulders. He finished with 36 points, including Toronto's three last goals and eight of his last 10 points in double overtime.
"His resilience," says Marc Gasol. "He didn't allow his fatigue, his pain, no matter what disturbed him – he struck it."
Leonard has been constant for a Toronto team whose individual artists have been variable during the better part of three weeks. The raptors escaped Philadelphia 76ers thanks to Leonard's theaters a week ago with a 4-3 series, but the historic shot – squat, the four bounces and the rest of it – occurred during a cold shooting snap that has confused the raptors for days.
The two losses in Milwaukee to begin the conference final exacerbated a tension known in a game where probabilities regulate – but not always fair. Coming into Game 3, Raptors had just compiled a 52.1 effective field goal percentage on uncontested shots since the start of the Philadelphia series after ranking second in the NBA (a 68.1 percent eFG) in uncontested trials during the regular season.
For the Raptors regulators and their coach, Nick Nurse, the belief in a team's long-standing success against the cruelty of the latest results is a difficult task in the aftermath. How do you respond when a group of players who drained undisputed shots at a rate higher than any other NBA team loses that contact over three chilly weeks? Do you make wholesale changes to your rotation and offensive approach, even if, as the NBA axiom goes, would you take the same shot tomorrow night?
|First 2 games |
|3-pt FG%||35% %||43%|
On Sunday evening, the nurse shared the difference. He maintained Raptor's regular start line, but changed with the rotation and twisted some defensive missions. Most prominent, Leonard was handed over to Anttokounmpo's tough mission – and the results were impressive.
"Kawhi did a good job," said the nurse. "He was up and didn't give him as much runway to fly away. But then the other guys who ended up on a breaker or in different parts of the game. They were all a little more locked in. We took steps forward to become physical . "
Antetokounmpo recorded more turnover than field goals in match 3 and was only 1 to 9 from the field of possessions Leonard served as his top defender. Leonard was not the only resistance Antetokounmpo encountered, who saw several bodies on catches near the basket. The raptors helped and recovered with precision, giving only 10 undisputed appearances in the 58-minute half-court to a distance-paying team.
But the most significant difference for Toronto in its first win in the series was the factor It had been most detrimental in its losses:
The Raptors simply beat their unsurpassed shot attempts.
In Game 3, the Raptors performed worse in finding quality in the basket. Their quantified shot probability (a state at Second Spectrum that measures the quality of shots with respect to both the shooter and the defense) was lower than their score for Game 1 and Game 2 in Milwaukee.
But for the first time in a good while, Raptors were their old self on uncontested trials: 11-21 from the field, with an effective target percentage of 66.7, much more in line with their strong seasonal performance.  After the match, the nurse was asked if the team had adopted a new identity in the playoffs, somewhat more akin to grit-and-grind, the gasol's more robust, less offensive dynamic Memphis team. While most NBA trainers would be proud of a law that has established an identity around a sting defense, the nurse noted that after the acquisition of Gasol, the Raptors led the NBA in 3-point percentages, a state that almost seems prehistoric in view of the events of  "I still think we are creating very good shots," says the nurse, who has been stuck in his belief that the basketball gods will eventually correct this strange difference when they started on Sunday evening. "I still hope that more of them will go in. I think they will come".
Meanwhile, the raptors reduced the series and now track 2-1 – a series cannot be closer after three matches.