NBA: Sixers down Raptors to level series, sluggish Nuggets beat Blazers in opener

Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler (right) controls the ball as Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam defends in the fourth quarter in game two of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on April 29, 2019.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler (right) controls the ball as Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam defends in the fourth quarter in game two of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on April 29, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Jimmy Butler scored 30 points as the Philadelphia 76ers turned the tables on the Raptors in Toronto on Monday (April 29) with a 94-89 victory to tie their National Basketball Association play-off series at one game each.

The 76ers, beaten 108-95 in the Eastern Conference semi-final series opener, thwarted the Raptors' second-half comeback bid, notching their first win in Toronto since November 2012 to head home for Game 3 on Thursday all square.

Butler added 11 rebounds and handed out five assists for the Sixers, who led 51-38 at half-time despite 13 first-half turnovers.

The Raptors, who trailed by as many as 19 in the first half, closed the deficit to 61-60 late in the third quarter. But they missed six of their first seven shots in the final period and the 76ers held on for the win.

Butler scored 12 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. That included a three-pointer off an assist from centre Joel Embiid that put the Sixers up 88-81 with 2min 14sec to play.

"My team had a lot of faith in me tonight," said Butler, who scored just 10 points in Game 1. "I told them I had to come out and redeem myself."

"More than anything we got back, we guarded," Butler added, saying defence would be key in the series.

"When we let our defence dictate our offence, we're such a great team," he said. "We can't let it be the other way around."

Sixers coach Brett Brown praised Butler as the team's "rock".

"That was James Butler," Brown said. "That was the adult in the gym."

Toronto's Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 35 points. Pascal Siakam added 21 and Kyle Lowry scored 20.

But the five total points for Toronto's reserves were dwarfed by the production of Philadelphia's bench - 13 points from James Ennis, 10 from Greg Monroe and three from Jonah Bolden.

In Denver, the Nuggets, two days after their Game 7 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, opened their Western Conference semi-final series with a 121-113 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Serbian centre Nikola Jokic scored 37 points, pulled down nine rebounds, handed out six assists and blocked two shots.

Portland were led by 39 points from All-Star guard Damian Lillard.

Both Jokic and coach Mike Malone said Denver had plenty of room for improvement before they host Game 2 on Wednesday.

"We kind of went into the game a little sloppy, slow, we didn't play a lot of defence," Jokic said.

Malone also felt the Nuggets were lacking defensively, especially in the early going.

"We got the win, and when you know you haven't played your best basketball that's a good feeling," Malone said.