By Arnie Leshin
The defending champion Toronto Raptors survived again and the Los Angeles Clippers moved to within a game of the Western Conference final in the National Basketball Association playoffs.
Both played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Wednesday night, with Toronto’s final push getting it past the 3rd-seeded Boston Celtics, 125-122, in two overtimes and forcing a Eastern Conference game seven to be contested Friday.
And in the Western Conference, Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and brought down 16 rebounds, both team highs, to power the 2nd-seeded Clippers over the 3rd-seeded Denver Nuggets to go up 3-1 in the conference semifinals.
In the other semis, the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers face the 4th-seeded Houston Rockets tonight with a 2-1 lead in the series. With Milwaukee ousted, the LeBron James, Anthony Davis Lakers now own the overall No. 1 seed.
As for Toronto, it hung in there once again after being behind 25-21 after one quarter, and 52-48, at halftime, but took a 81-71 lead into the fourth quarter. At the end of regulation time, it was 92-92. After the first overtime, it was 100-100 and into yet another OT.
There, it was nip-and-tuck with the Raptors holding the active 3-point Celtics from late baskets from outside, although they did make good on 19-of-46 to only, yet Boston did have a 58-48 advantage on rebounding. So it came down to the final minute, Jayson Brown scored back-to-back short jumpers for Boston, while Toronto was led by guard Kyle Lowry, who came up with a pair of threes and turned them into buckets.
As the clock ticked down, Norman Powell, who tallied 23 Raptor points, hit a turn-around jumper from the baseline to break a 122-122 deadlock, and the clock ran out on the Celtics’ bid to eliminate Toronto. So it’s down to the deciding game, with the survivor playing the Miami Heat in the conference finals. The Heat ousted the overall No.1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in seven games.
Lowry wound up with the game-high 33 points, took down eight rebounds and dished out six assists. Teammate OG Anunoby, who tossed in the buzzer-beater to win game 3, had 13 points and the same number of boards. Then there was Fred VanVleef adding 21 points and the team-high seven assists. Powell was the fourth of six Raptors scoring in double figures.
For Boston, it was Brown paving the way with the team-highs of 31 points and 16 rebounds and Marcus Smart added 23 points. 11 boards and a team-best 10 assists, Four Celtics played from 50-52 minutes, while Lowry topped them all by playing 53 minutes.
In the other contest, the Clippers were led by Leonard’s all-around game. He played 39 minutes, turned in 11 opening-quarter points that brought a 26-12 lead that was 48-40 at the intermission. The Nuggets still hung around, trailing 72-63 after three quarters, but the Clippers maintained their advantage as Leonard excelled.
LA was 8-for-25 from the 3, had 41 rebounds, three less than Denver. As for the Nuggets, they were 9-for-27 in 3-pointers, Nikola Jokic hit for team highs of 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Jamal Murray, who had been averaging 28 points in the playoffs, was held to 18 and had the team-high seven assists.