In the span of 73 seconds in the first quarter on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard scored on a driving dunk, a driving layup, and a two-foot dunk on a hand-off from Marc Gasol.
The Toronto Raptors’ star was clearly feeling better.
Leonard scored 34 points on an array of shots to lead the Raptors 107-85 over the Orlando Magic, giving Toronto its first 3-1 playoff series lead in franchise history.
Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell had 16 points apiece, while Serge Ibaka added 13. Kyle Lowry had nine points to go with nine assists for the Raptors, who can close out the best-of-seven opening-round series with a win on Tuesday in Toronto.
Leonard had been under the weather in Friday’s 98-93 win, scoring 16 points on 5-for-19 shooting, and coach Nick Nurse revealed after the game that Leonard had missed a couple of days of practice.
“Just some flu-like symptoms,” Leonard said at Sunday morning’s shootaround. “It doesn’t mean anything. No excuses over here. That’s why I didn’t say anything to nobody.”
Leonard, acquired last summer in the trade that sent popular Raptor DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio specifically for a shot at an NBA finals appearance, shot 12-for-20 from the field on Sunday, and added six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
The Raptors got off to a slow start, but pulled away with a big second quarter, and had built a 19-point lead early in the third quarter. The Magic clawed their way back and pulled to within 10 midway through the third, and when Ross chucked up a 33-foot shot at the buzzer to end the frame, the three-pointer cut the Raptors’ lead to 82-70 with one quarter left to play.
Montreal native Khem Birch converted a three-point play early in the fourth that pulled the Magic to within 11 points, bringing the Amway Center crowd to its feet. But the Raptors replied with a 10-0 run that quickly extinguished any Magic momentum and put the Toronto up by 21 points with 6:06 to play.
The pockets of red-clad Raptors fans roared when Siakam threw down an alley-oop dunk from Fred VanVleet with 3:34 to play that put Toronto up by 23 points, and sent scores of Orlando fans to the exits. Nurse went deep into his bench for the final few minutes.
The Raptors shot 54 per cent on the night and outrebounded Orlando 45-34. The Magic made just seven of their 33 three-point attempts (21.9 per cent).
The Raptors defence was reminiscent of its Game 2 rout: locked in virtually from the get-go.
“The key is how hard are we going to get down and play defence,” Nurse said pre-game. “We are tinkering with our coverages and adjustments all throughout the game, depending on who’s in, who’s out . . . We’ve shown some defensive muscle here in this series, and we are going to need to continue to do that.”
Orlando raced out to a 9-1 lead, but the Raptors settled down and when Leonard drove to the hoop for a dunk midway through the first quarter, Toronto took its first lead of the game. The Raptors shot 61 per cent in the first quarter and led 28-26 to start the second.
The Raptors outscored Orlando 30-16 in the second quarter. Siakam’s three-pointer with 4.5 seconds left sent the Raptors into the halftime break with a 58-42 lead, the biggest of the game to that point.
Orlando upset Toronto to win the series opener 104-101. The Raptors replied with a 111-82 rout in Game 2.
Game 6, if necessary, would be Thursday in Orlando. The winner of this series meets either Brooklyn or Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sixers lead that series three games to one.