Kawhi Leonard wants the Toronto Raptors to prove their championship calibre by responding to back-to-back defeats against the Milwaukee Bucks with a win in Game 3.
The Bucks took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 125-103 blowout of the Raptors at Fiserv Forum on Friday, MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo contributing 30 points, 17 rebounds and five assists.
Milwaukee began the game with a 9-0 run and took a 28-point lead early in the third quarter, though Toronto reduced the deficit to 13 later in the period.
However, the Raptors were unable to stop Mike Budenholzer’s team surging back to seal a resounding triumph and Leonard is keen to see a response in Toronto on Sunday.
“If we want to do anything, if we want to be a championship team, we’ve got to play through adversity. It’s a challenge now to come home in Game 3 and try to get a win,” said Leonard, who scored 31 points.
Asked how the Raptors let the game get away from them so early, he responded: “A couple of turnovers, missing wide open shots, they got out in transition. We started the game and Giannis got an offensive rebound putback and those are one of our key emphases to try to limit them, and they came out with a 9-0 run.
“It’s very tough [to stop], especially on the road. When you get down in a hole, down 15 points in the first quarter, when you’re on the road it’s tough to come back in that game.
“They’ve got adrenaline running, they’re feeling confident, just got to try to lock in and chip it down point by point and see what happens.”
Game 1 proved a much closer affair as the Bucks triumphed 108-100, and Raptors coach Nick Nurse wants a repeat of the effort displayed in the series opener.
“We didn’t play very well tonight, and we did play pretty well in Game 1,” said Nurse.
“They’ve done what they’re supposed to do and protect their home court, and we’ve got to go now and do the same and get ourselves back in the series.
“But it’s got to be more of an effort like Game 1 than tonight because, again, we were just uphill for almost three quarters tonight.
“We’ve got to continue to work the offense for shots. And again, I sound like a broken record up here, but we had our share of wide-open shots that could have at least stymied a little bit of the breakout in the score. But we’ve got to make sure we continue to work for them.
“We just weren’t quite physical enough. We weren’t getting our screens set good enough. We weren’t getting them off their screens good enough as well.
“We’re going to have to be better or they’re just going to look bigger and stronger than we are, and I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. We’ve got to play a little tougher.”
Point guard Kyle Lowry, who scored 15 points off four-of-13 shooting, emphasised the need for Toronto to improve on the glass after they were out-rebounded 53-40.
“They got 17 points after second-chance shots. That definitely will hurt you. It’s not a back-breaker; we’ve just got to be a little bit more physical rebounding the ball,” said Lowry.
“We know that they’re going to crash a little bit more. But when we get out-rebounded, we don’t get to play the way we need to play. We’ve got to do a better job of rebounding the basketball. They had 11 offensive rebounds – way too many. Those are things we can clean up.
“Now we’ve got a chance to go home and protect home court and do what we’re supposed to do.”