Here are some takeaways with Toronto now holding a 2-1 series lead:
It's not often it feels like the No. 2 seed in a first-round series stole a game - especially one in which it led by 17 points in the fourth quarter - and yet as we step back and collect our Game 3 thoughts, that's precisely how it feels.
An under the weather Kawhi Leonard struggled through what was likely the worst postseason performance of his career, shooting 5-of-19 from the field and committing six turnovers to produce 16 points on 28 individual possessions. Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol both battled through foul trouble, the latter of which finally allowed Magic All-Star Nikola Vucevic to break out of his early-series funk. The Raptors also attempted 13 less free throws than Orlando.
Underdogs or not, the Magic might be kicking themselves for failing to capitalize on all those factors working in their favor in what was the franchise's first home playoff game in seven years.
If you had to come up with an answer as to why the Magic couldn't take advantage of the Raptors' struggles, Pascal Siakam is a good place to start.
The Most Improved Player front-runner suddenly looks like the most valuable player in this series, finishing Game 3 with 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and four assists in a game-high 42 minutes. The third-year big man, who also knocked down three of his four 3-point attempts on the night, was a game-high plus-13 and made a number of crucial defensive plays, including his great contest of Terrence Ross on Orlando's final possession of the game.
Siakam seemed to have a response for every Magic run, and it was his energy and shot-making ability late in the third quarter that helped the Raptors pull away. After a Vucevic 3-pointer with 6:37 remaining in the third gave the Magic their first lead since the end of Game 1, Siakam answered with a catch-and-shoot triple of his own, sparking a 19-6 Raptors run to end the quarter that included Siakam single-handedly outscoring the Magic 10-2 over a span of 4:46.
Through three games of this series, Siakam's now averaging 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists on 55 percent shooting.
Lowry's statistical bounce back after his scoreless dud in Game 1 has been well documented, but it's the feisty point guard's ability to impact a game in subtler ways that makes him such a respected star among his peers.
Case in point, after Leonard bricked another jumper to seemingly hand Orlando the ball down only three points with less than 20 seconds remaining, Lowry emerged among a swarm of Magic players to track down the game-saving offensive rebound.
Raptors fans will surely take exception to the Magic's free-throw advantage in Game 3, but the one area of officiating that truly sticks out so far in this series is Leonard's inability to draw fouls.
The former Finals MVP is absorbing a ton of contact on his drives and post-ups but has only attempted 13 free throws over 103 minutes on the court. Compare that to the fact he averaged 7.5 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes during the regular season, or simply look at Leonard's advanced free-throw metrics over his last five postseason runs:
|Playoffs||Leonard FTA per FGA||FTA per 100 poss.|
We spent a considerable amount of time after Games 1 and 2 discussing how great Gasol was at defending Vucevic, but Game 3 truly gave us an indication of his mastery.
Vucevic posted 22 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, and a steal Friday, but most of that damage was done after a fourth foul forced Gasol to the bench early in the third quarter. With the Spaniard off the court, Vucevic was able to establish good post positioning, demand the ball down low, and finally break free for some pick-and-pop jumpers, including a couple of 3-pointers.
When Gasol was on the court, however, Vucevic had no space to breathe, scoring just six points on 1-of-4 shooting in the 25 Game 3 minutes he shared the floor with the Raptors big man.
|Vucevic Games 1-3 (98 mins.)||Gasol on (76 mins.)||Gasol off (22 mins.)|
|FG%||30.4% (7/23)||54.5% (6/11)|
Perhaps Green was merely being sarcastic given how often that mind-blowing fact has been cited this season, but his facial expressions as he processes that thought are hilarious, nonetheless.
While the Raptors' starters - and their starters with Ibaka in place of Gasol - continue to dominate Orlando's top players, Toronto's depleted reserves continue to struggle, and one lineup substitution from head coach Nick Nurse isn't helping.
Nurse continues to end the first and third quarters using Siakam-led bench lineups, with the quintet of Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks, Siakam, and Ibaka being outscored by 11.8 points per 100 possessions in the series.
The easiest fix is to simply stop trotting this lineup out, but if Nurse is going to use it, at least run the offense through Siakam. Far too often, these units are being run by VanVleet, which completely negates the value of having Siakam prop these Lowry-less and Leonard-less lineups up.