Raptors impose their will in Game 3 road win over Magic

Raptors impose their will in Game 3 road win over Magic
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ORLANDO, FLA.—Now three games into a playoff series, as the Raptors and Orlando Magic find themselves at the moment, the time for serious or stark strategic change has come and gone.

It is now about will and toughness, both mental and physical, and the Raptors showed more than enough of it here Friday night.

Raptor Kawhi Leonard looks for daylight with Orlando’s Aaron Gordon defending in Friday night’s Game 3 in Orlando.  (John Raoux / AP)

Fighting foul trouble and a rare off-night offensively from Kawhi Leonard, Toronto’s ability to “impose its will” on the game at the most significant moments was the difference in a spellbinding 98-93 victory over the Magic at an electric Amway Center.

The win gives Toronto a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that resumes here Sunday night. Game 5 is in Toronto on Tuesday with Game 6, if necessary, back in Florida on Thursday night.

For all the time between games to think about adjustments and make them, as a playoff series progresses it’s often just a matter of working harder, concentrating more, playing with a consistently high level of intensity. Players tendencies are almost immediately apparent. The counters to counters to specific moves aren’t all that hard for smart professionals to understand. It’s just doing it.

“Play harder,” was how Kyle Lowry put it Friday morning. “Play harder than we played last game. I’m not even trying to be cliche. I’m really, like, we have to play harder than we played last game, and play harder on every possession. Just go out there and play at a pace, at a frequency where we’re playing hard and not (just) being aggressive — just playing hard — and make sure we know where we are on coverages, what we’re doing game plan wise, and make sure we execute everything.”

And stay composed, as the Raptors did when Orlando — backed by a crowd of 19,367, which was the second-largest in the building’s history — took a one-point lead midway through the third quarter.

The veteran Toronto team, steadfast in its belief in itself, went on an 18-2 run as if to say, “Sorry, you youngsters aren’t quite ready yet.”

The run came with centre Marc Gasol on the bench with four personal fouls and with Pascal Siakam scoring half of Toronto’s points. The scoring was impressive, but no more so than the shutout defence that killed any Orlando momentum.

“You just have to play, man,” coach Nick Nurse had said early Friday morning. “We’ve got to be able to play through that (opposing team runs and hostile environments) by now.

“A lot of these guys have played in a lot of games like this, so they’re ready. We’ve just got to make sure we understand it’s a 48-minute game, right? And go into it with that mindset.

Playing basically an eight-man rotation — Jodie Meeks filled a three-minute gap in the first half — the Raptors managed their energy as well as the game. The players and Nurse knew when it was time for someone to catch their breath and they massaged the playing time nearly perfectly, another must at playoff time.

“The main thing is, I would say, you’ve gotta exert of mental and physical effort,” Nurse said. “You’ve got to understand, if there’s something or some reason, why you can’t run as hard as you can, or get down and move, then you need to come down and rest until you’re ready to do that, because I just think each possessions becomes so magnified. And it isn’t just guarding your guy. It’s providing team defence, and team blocking-out, and chasing loose balls, and cutting hard on offence, and all those things that take a lot of energy.”

Siakam ended up playing nearly 43 minutes and poured in 30 points for the Raptors, while Nikola Vucevic bounced back from two awful games to scored 22 for the Magic.

Raptors tormentor Terrence Ross dropped 24 for Orlando, while Leonard was just 5-for-19 from the floor and had 16 points for Toronto.

Nurse had been asked before the game whether Siakam had done enough to solidify his spot as Toronto’s “third option,” and that brought a wry smile to the coach’s face.

“If he has, he’s maybe dropped down one from the second option,” the coach joked. “He’s been great, he really has. That’s almost a serious answer. He’s probably our second option, to be honest. Kyle’s running the offence. He’s doing a zillion things, and we’re certainly doing some things for him as well.

“Similar to Kawhi, he does it in a lot of ways. He does it in transition, he does it on the block, driving from the perimeter and he can shoot.”
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