TORONTO • Kawhi Leonard carried the Toronto Raptors through most of the National Basketball Association (NBA) post-season.
However, after the forward played 52 minutes in the double-overtime win on Sunday and was noticeably favouring his left leg, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said teammates knew Leonard was limited on Tuesday night and that the rest of them had to step up.
The Raptors did, especially Lowry, who scored 18 points in the first half to set the tone and finished with 25 points as they defeated the visiting Milwaukee Bucks 120-102 to even the Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece.
Game 5 takes place today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) in Milwaukee. The winner of the best-of-seven series will advance to meet the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
"We have had to rely on (Leonard) so much, and when everybody steps up, it takes the load off him," Lowry said.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse added of Leonard's condition: "We were concerned. I think (Leonard) is fine (after his leg injury in Game 3). He's certainly tired, like a lot of guys in this series are.
"There's a number of guys out there that aren't 100 per cent on both sides of the ball. But, again, he's got tremendous will.
The Raptors reserves outscored their Bucks opponents (48-23) in defending their home court en route to levelling the East finals 2-2.
He's got tremendous desire, and there's one time I was trying to give him an extended rest there, and he didn't really want it. So he must be okay."
Leonard contributed 19 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes.
Norman Powell added 18 points off the bench for the Raptors. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol each scored 17 points, and Fred VanVleet had 13 points. Ibaka also grabbed 13 rebounds.
Powell, Ibaka and VanVleet led a strong showing by Toronto's bench (they out-scored Milwaukee's 48-23) that made the difference.
Khris Middleton amassed 30 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Nikola Mirotic contributed 11 points.
"I think defensively, just tonight didn't feel like where we need to be defensively, as good as we need to be," Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. "They got to good spots. They shared the ball. They passed it. They made open shots.
"They made some high-degree difficulty shots, so that's a bad combination. They're making open looks, and then they're making tough ones too."
The Bucks have lost their second straight game in this series, something they did just once during the regular season when they topped the league (60-22).
Two home wins gave the Raptors some breathing room as they head back to Milwaukee, but Lowry said they had done nothing more than hold serve.
"They did what they did at home and we did what we're supposed to do at home," he said.
"Our back's against the wall still. We're going into a hostile environment. They're going to be ready to go."
NBA Most Valuable Player finalist Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, said there was no feeling of panic among the Bucks.
"The feeling is not any different," the 24-year-old "Greek freak" said. "We've still got to get better, stick with our game plan. We've just got to play with more energy, execute better.
"They did their job, they protected home, we've got to do our job now."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE