On the heels of a memorable and grueling double-overtime battle in Game 3, the Toronto Raptors faced questions as to whether they would be able to bounce back with another inspired effort just 48 hours later. Those concerns were alleviated in a hurry during Game 4, and Nick Nurse’s team cruised to a 120-102 victory to send things back to Milwaukee at 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite a raucous home crowd at Scotiabank Arena, the Bucks struck first and with authority. Milwaukee began the night with a 12-5 run and that spurt included a pair of dunks from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The rest of the first half, however, belonged to the home team. The Raptors put together a quick 10-3 run to tie the game.
Kyle Lowry led the way with 12 points in the first five minutes and the Raptors converted six three-pointers to take a one-point lead at the end of the opening period.
The biggest blow of the first half would then occur coming out of the quarter break, as Toronto scored the first nine points for a 13-0 run overall. The end result was a double-digit lead.
For the remainder of the half, the game took on a back-and-forth nature, with the pace slowing down and the shot-making of the first quarter evaporating on both sides. Still, Toronto took a 10-point lead into the break, based heavily on 28 points from the bench (including 12 points and nine rebounds from Serge Ibaka) and 18 points from Lowry.
Despite a visible hobble for the entirety of the evening, Kawhi Leonard was still able to make his mark, finishing at the rim over Antetokounmpo early in the third quarter.
The Raptors then built a 14-point lead but the Bucks did put together a response. Milwaukee zoomed to a 9-1 run to climb within six points, with Khris Middleton being the key in creating the upward trajectory.
When Ersan Ilyasova lofted a three-point attempt at the 3:50 mark of the third quarter, the top-seeded Bucks had the opportunity to cut the margin to just four points. That shot went begging, though, and the Raptors countered with five points in the blink of an eye to prompt a timeout with a 12-point lead.
Toronto then extended their advantage to as many as 16 points before the end of the third quarter and took a 13-point edge to the fourth quarter. From there, the Raptors threw the game-deciding haymaker, beginning the fourth with a 10-3 run to build a 20-point edge with less than nine minutes remaining.
The visitors briefly cut the deficit to 14 points with 5:30 to go but, in short, the run never materialized for Milwaukee. The Bucks’ leading duo of Antetokounmpo (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Middleton (30 points, seven assists, six rebounds) performed at a high level, but there wasn’t much to hold on to for the supporting cast, representing a familiar refrain for NBA teams on the road in a high-pressure environment.
Though the Raptors did receive considerable contributions from Leonard (19 points, seven rebounds, four steals), Lowry (25 points, six assists, five rebounds) and Marc Gasol (17 points, seven assists, five rebounds), the story of the evening was the work of Toronto’s reserves. Norman Powell scored 18 points, Fred VanVleet broke out of a playoff-long slump with 13 points and six assists, and Ibaka posted a crucial double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. That bench uptick was well-timed to say the least and, simply put, the Raptors could use an extension of that production when the series shifts back to Milwaukee.
The historic numbers are disastrous for NBA teams that fall behind 3-1, and that is doubly true for those squads that do so without the benefit of having two home games remaining. That was the backdrop of the evening for the Raptors but, after 48 well-played minutes, Toronto made things a little more interesting heading into Thursday’s Game 5.