Toronto has to keep exploiting the chinks in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP armor.
When Kyle Lowry fouled out with more than 6 minutes left in a potential death-blow Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Milwaukee, with his team already down 2-0, most fans thought the series was over.
Then again, most fans don’t have a player of Kawhi Leonard’s magnitude on their team. So they lack an understanding of how iconic, clutch performers get down.
Leonard played 52 minutes, scored 36 points and willed his Raptors squad to a 118-112 double OT win over Greek Freak and the surging Milwaukee Bucks. The fact that he is hobbled with some ailments was never used as an excuse.
The Raptors capitalized on Greek Freak’s poor offense and stole Game 3, changing the entire course of a series that appeared to have Milwaukee sweep written all over it.
As usual, Leonard did it on both ends of the floor and prevailed in his one-on-one matchups with Giannis.
With the Raptors caught in a see-saw battle and their No. 2 scoring option and ball handler on the bench, the consensus opinion was that Greek Freak — everyone’s popular choice for NBA MVP entering this series — would pick up his intensity down the stretch and guide Milwaukee home for the win.
Instead, Game 3 became an indictment on certain aspects of Greek Freak’s game and a further elevation of Leonard’s rightful place among the game’s greats. This crossover sent Antentonkoumpo and a teammate into a logrolling competition.
Yes, Leonard was in his Kobe Bryant zone and gave a lesson in iconic play to the up-and-coming NBA superstar. Kawhi didn’t hit a buzzer beater in the same dramatic fashion that sent Philly home in Round 2, but the impact of his elevation was all the same.
Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, scored just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting. The point total was his fewest in a playoff game since he was being indoctrinated into the life as a 20-year-old back in 2015. Through three quarters, Antetokounmpo had only six points on 3-for-8 shooting. In fact, seven Milwaukee players and five Raptors had outscored him to that point — and the usually aggressive rim attacker hadn’t earned his way to the foul line even once.
On top of that, the game was there for the taking. The Raptors were a wounded animal that Greek Freak had a chance to put down.
Antetokounmpo made a couple of shots early in the 4th quarter, but his shaky free-throw shooting caused him to miss three of his five attempts. He then went scoreless while playing the entire first overtime and fouled out just 36 seconds into the second OT.
Drake waved goodbye to Giannis and the Bucks in Game 3 👋 pic.twitter.com/g7LlbjgAIy
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 20, 2019
Hardly an MVP worthy performance and a missed opportunity that may come back to bite the Bucks in this series.
Greek Freak said all the right things after, like “I didn’t expect this series to be easy.” His heart can’t be questioned and odds are he will bounce back in Game 4 with a better performance. In addition to the offensive egg he laid, Greek Freak was outplayed by Pascal Siakam, who looked more like the MVP candidate, scoring 25 points and horsing 11 boards. 19 points from unheralded Norman Powell and 16 points and 12 boards from veteran Marc Gasol also contributed to what was probably the biggest win in Toronto Raptors franchise history to date.
Greek Freak admitted in the post-game presser that Toronto’s defensive shifts gave him a lot of trouble. If Tornado is going to find a way to make him settle for jumpers or pass the ball to the open man, then the Raptors have a chance to win the series.
Everybody has a weakness. Greek Freak’s weaknesses are minimal, but in a playoff series, when a bucket is needed and the defensive intensity is at 100, they become glaring. He’s already been anointed as the heir apparent to LeBron James as the best player in the game. And with that title comes a huge responsibility to lead your team to victory, particularly in games that are there for the taking.
He didn’t seize the moment on Sunday night but has four more games to erase this setback from his memory, adjust to the defensive changes Toronto made and establish himself as a player that can rise above the moment and lead his team to a championship.