TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors found life in the Eastern Conference finals.
It definitely wasn’t easy and wasn’t always pretty. It required not one but two overtimes and a sub-par performance from Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But the Raptors found a way, thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s clutch performance. Leonard scored 19 of his game-high 36 points in the fourth quarter and overtimes as the Raptors defeated the Bucks 118-112 in double-overtime.
Leonard’s steal and dunk put Toronto ahead 112-109 and his driving bank shot gave Toronto a 114-110 lead with 32 seconds left in the second overtime.
Playing a fraction better in front of the energized home fans at Scotiabank Arena — it’s one of the best environments in the NBA — the Raptors crawled back into the series, avoiding a disastrous 3-0 hole.
NBA DRAFT COMBINE: Winners and losers
The Bucks lead the series 2-1; Game 4 is Tuesday (8:30 p.m., TNT) in Toronto.
Toronto had a chance to win the game in regulation but squandered 96-91 lead in the 73 seconds of the fourth quarter. Milwaukee guard Khris Middleton’s putback after his own miss with 2.2 seconds remaining forced overtime.
Toronto also led 103-99 with 1:29 left in first overtime. But Malcolm Brogdon’s floater and George Hill’s two free throws tied the score at 103, and Kawhi Leonard’s jump shot at the end of the first overtime fell short. He didn’t get the same friendly bounce he got on his buzzer-beating, series-clinching shot in Game 7 against Philadelphia in the conference semifinals.
The Raptors had to overcome poor shooting from key players (Danny Green, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka) and play through Kyle Lowry’s foul trouble.
Lowry fouled out with 6:12 left in the fourth quarter with the Raptors ahead 88-82. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Lowry’s teams were 1-17, including 0-4 in the playoffs, when he fouls out of a game before Sunday’s game.
Toronto also forced Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo into one the roughest offensive playoff games of his career. He didn’t reach double figures in points until 7:46 left in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and eight turnovers. He fouled out 4:24 left in the second overtime.
Before the game, Raptors coach Nick Nurse hinted at lineup changes. But he kept his starters the same — Lowry, Leonard, Siakam, Gasol and Danny Green. Nurse’s trust in Gasol paid off, and he gave more minutes to reserve Normal Powell, who had 10 of his 19 points in the first half. Gasol finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
George Hill led Milwaukee with 24 points.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.