Toronto – So much of the season for Kawhi Leonard with Toronto Raptors has been spent on load management.
Well, the load management came out the window on Sunday night.
With his team's season on the line, Leonard played a 52-minute career on Sunday night – almost everyone comes after he clumsily landed on the Leop in the first quarter – and put his last line of stars, ending with 36 points, nine rebounds and five assists to lead the Raptors His win 118-112 overtime doubles on the Milwaukee Bucks in the 3rd game of the Eastern Finals.
The win brought the Raptors back to the series, as they are now going to the Bax in the best affair of seven – mostly thanks to Leonard's last heroism, which came exactly a week after Leonard kept the season of Toronto here. His amazing buzz to close the Eastern semifinals.
"He likes this game of basketball," Raptors maintain Kyle Laurie later said ESPN. "That's what he was, he likes basketball, to play pain, to play anything to win, that's what's proven tonight."
The subject of how injured Leonard never went after he landed awkwardly in the first quarter and returned to court and bouncing on one leg. It looked at the same time that his left foot was bothering him – just him, later in the game, catching his right foot after he got off the field and skied for a massive left with a free hand break with 3:13 left overtime.
After the game, however, Raptors downplay each problem. The Toronto coach Nick Nurse said he thought Leonard was "OK" and Leonard himself dismisses any reason to expect him to miss any time in this series.
"I'm good," he said. "I'm just going to fight, I'm going to play."
However, he admitted it took him a high price to play him in high career minutes to drag the Raptors to victory.
"Definitely," he said, when asked whether it felt like he had played so much. "It's 52 minutes, and it's the playoffs, so you definitely feel it, when you play 30 minutes you feel it still.
"Just need not worry about it and get my treatment and move on to the next."
When Lowry fouled halfway through the fourth quarter, it was fair to wonder if there would be any relevant next at all considering the loss was there in the Toronto 3-0 Deadly Series. The referees led almost all the regulation, almost all the time, but did so with almost all their points from five players: Leonard, Pascal Siekam (25), Marc Gasol (19), Norm Powell (19) and Laurie (11).
At the end of the regulation, however, Laurie and Powell were both fouled out, leaving the nurse to scramble and play Fred VanVleet and Danny Green for the overtime – during which each one hit the first, and only shots of the game, both behind the 3-point line.
Laurie, meanwhile, spent at least half the time in his usual seat on the edge of the bench, often doing everything but looking at the field while his teammates tried to keep his season alive without him.
"I was'nt [watching]"Laurie told ESPN," I was just trying to get the ball in. But when you believe in my teammates like me, you just have to support them and do whatever you can.
"It's the only thing, it was a pacifier, but we won, so that's really what matters."
The fact that the Raptors had done so was, as usual, much to Leonard's. While the Nurse did not change his initial lineup, he changed both rounds and defense tasks – including the fact that Leonard spent more time on the NBA's most valuable player, the most important player, Jannis Antactoncompo, than in the first game.
After defending him in only three shots through the first two games, Antetokounmpo went 1 for 9 and scored two points when saved by Leonard in Match 3, according to ESPN's statistics group statistics. When Antetokounmpo against someone else, he was 4-for-7, scored 10 points.
"Listen, I think Cauchy is the best basketball player in the NBA," Laurie told ESPN. "I personally believe that.
"And when you have such a guy, who can do the things he can do defensively, and in offense, you put him on the best player when you need to."
The reptiles needed it, and it worked. Antetokounmpo eventually fouled out the second overtime trying to draw a fee on Siakam, finishing the night with 12 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and eight turnover.
It was also a two-seater Bounceback performance – 25 points, 11 rebounds and three steals – Vegas – 16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks – after both wrestled with the first two games of the series.
It was two of Syakam's free fireworks at the end of the regulation, however, that gave Harris Middleton a chance to tie the game in seconds to the dying and send the overtime competition.
When the game was over, however, and the victory in hand, Leonard was not tired enough to avoid giving his teammate a hard time.
"[I told him] "Damn it, we played an hour of basketball tonight," Leonard said with a smile, "he was like, my bad, Cao, I'll do those two shots next time."
But this night, it was no harm, not bad for Toronto. It was because, for the last time this season, and for the second time a week, Leonard wanted Raptors to win.
Now they will just have to do it again three times in the next four games if they make it to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
"I just want to win," Leonard said. No one wants to go home, we want to go on with that effort, and that's it.
"That's why I'm proud of myself [playing] The two ends of the floor, and that's what happens. "