Raptors are onto the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Lori EWING

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors dis­patched the Or­lando Magic in record time, check­ing the first box of what the team hopes is a long play­off run.

Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points as Toronto throt­tled Or­lando 115-96 on Tues­day, win­ning an open­ing-round play­off se­ries in five games for the first time in fran­chise his­tory.

Toronto will face the win­ner of the Philadelph­ia and Brook­lyn se­ries. The Six­ers took a 3-1 lead into Tues­day’s game.

Pascal Si­akam scored 24 points for the Raptors, who led by as many as 37 points in the dy­ing min­utes. Kyle Lowry had 12 of his 14 points in the first quar­ter and doled out nine as­sists, Nor­man Pow­ell chipped in with 11 points and Serge Ibaka fin­ished with 10.

D.J. Au­gustin led Or­lando with 15 points.

Lowry and the Raptors clearly had no in­ter­est in flying back to Or­lando for a Game 6. Com­ing off a pair of vic­to­ries on the Magic’s Amway Cen­ter court, Lowry scored the team’s first nine points and the Raptors pounced on the over­matched Magic from the open­ing tip. The Magic were vir­tual spec­ta­tors as Toronto sprinted to a 24-point lead late in the first quar­ter. The team’s 19 as­sists on 23 made field goals in the first half was a post-sea­son fran­chise record.

Or­lando, which was mak­ing its first post-sea­son ap­pear­ance in seven years, missed its first 11 three-point at­tempts be­fore Evan Fournier fi­nally connected more than four min­utes into the sec­ond quar­ter.

The Raptors led by 31 points in the third and cruised into the fourth up 99-70 in front a sold­out Sco­tia­bank Arena crowd of 19,800 fans that in­cluded Toronto rap­per Drake – putting a dent in the “Drake curse” the­ory.

The crowd ser­e­naded Leonard with chants of “M-V-P!” when the Raptors star was subbed out of the game with just un­der eight min­utes to play.

Coach Nick Nurse went deep into his bench the rest of the way.

Lowry and Fred VanVleet (with 10) com­bined for 19 as­sists, as the Raptors had 34 as­sists to Or­lando’s 20. Toronto also held Or­lando to 26.5 per cent shoot­ing from three­p­oint range.

Nurse said the key to Tues­day’s game was to lock down on the de­fen­sive end from the get-go.

“I think the main em­pha­sis tonight is to try to do it over the course of the 48 min­utes,” he said.

On a big night for Toronto sports, the Maple Leafs were fac­ing Bos­ton in a do-or-die game. The score was pe­ri­od­i­cally flashed on the Jum­botron, and most of the TV screens on the con­course were di­alled into the Leafs game.

With big dreams of reach­ing the NBA Fi­nals, the Raptors now have a pre­cious few days of breath­ing room – and one less trip to Or­lando – un­til the Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals be­gin this week­end. And with a ros­ter rife with in­juries, plus Leonard’s load man­age­ment, in the reg­u­lar-sea­son, they could use it.

In Toronto’s most suc­cess­ful post-sea­son in 2016, the Raptors needed seven games to knock off both In­di­ana and Mi­ami be­fore fac­ing a rested LeBron James and the Cleve­land Cava­liers in the con­fer­ence fi­nal.

Or­lando up­set Toronto to win the opener be­fore the Raptors roared back to cap­ture the next three, in­clud­ing a pair of vic­to­ries at Or­lando’s Amway Cen­ter.

Lowry, who’d taken grief for scor­ing zero points in Game 1, could barely miss in the first quar­ter on Tues­day, shoot­ing an ef­fi­cient 5-for-6 from the field. The Raptors shot 63 per cent from three-point range, while Or­lando missed all seven of their lon­grange at­tempt. Toronto led 35-19 to start the sec­ond.

The Magic made a run against Toronto’s bench to pull to within 11 points early in the sec­ond, but it was short­lived, and the Raptors took a 67-47 ad­van­tage into the half­time break.

Toronto will host Games 1 and 2 of the next round.

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