TORONTO • The Toronto Raptors knew they needed to play tougher than they were in losing the first two games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The hosts played tough and they played long as well, needing two overtimes to outlast the visitors 118-112 in Game 3 on Sunday with All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard leading all scorers with 36 points.
To deal with the threat coming off the Bucks' bench, Raptors coach Nick Nurse "changed at least three, if not four, of the match-ups to start the game", even though he went with the same starting line-up in the previous two defeats.
That enabled Leonard to lead the Raptors' defence in smothering Most Valuable Player front runner Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was held to just 12 points before fouling out in the second overtime, which Nurse called "the biggest key of the game".
He said: "We played a lot of different line-ups tonight. Some of those changes were pretty good to us, but again, I thought we just played a lot tougher, man. We were up guarding, we were physical, we were ready to play.
"He (Leonard) made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and breakaways."
Improvement in shots made by Toronto from Games 2 to 3.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer conceded his players had to "shoot a little bit better" to help out Antetokounmpo, adding: "They were double-teaming him a lot, a lot of bodies on him.
"He's sharing the ball. He's making the right read, making the pass. But we've probably got to drive it a little bit better.
"I feel like we gave ourselves several chances. We weren't able to get over the hump. When you have opportunities, you've got to make them and we didn't quite make enough of our good ones. We'll be better in Game 4, Giannis, everybody."
The Bucks shot 37.3 per cent from the field while the Raptors shot 39.2 per cent, and Antetokounmpo felt their improvement from Game 2 on Friday, when Toronto shot only 31 per cent, had to do with Nurse instructing his players to shadow his every movement.
The All-Star forward said: "Obviously, they changed their match-up. I tried not to think about it too much. Every time I tried to make a play, I saw that they were showing bodies, they were sending a second guy in there."
Toronto's supporting cast also stepped up, with forward Pascal Siakam, who had only eight points in Game 2, adding 25 points and 11 rebounds on the night.
Centre Marc Gasol, who admitted his last two-point display had made him "feel sick for 48 hours", also bounced back, coming up with 16 points, 12 boards, seven assists and five blocked shots.
The only scare on the night was the sight of Leonard limping during the game, but he shrugged off his leg injury, insisting "this is play-off basketball".
The Raptors will try to level the series when they host Game 4 today.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS