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Toronto Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard, right, looks looks for a shot as he is defended by Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon during the first half in Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Friday, April 19, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
He was their MVP on Friday night.
And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.
Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”
Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.
“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.
Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.
“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”
Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.
“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”
The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.
That being said, they went down swinging.
Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.
Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.
“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.
Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.
Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.
The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.
And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.
“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”
Raptors: Toronto had lost four consecutive Game 3s. … Patrick McCaw (sprained right thumb) was active, but did not play. … The Raptors are 6-1 in their last seven road games this season. … Siakam has 73 points and 30 rebounds in the series.
Magic: Among the former Orlando players in the building were Tracy McGrady, Jameer Nelson and Horace Grant. … Orlando missed three shots at the rim in one third-quarter possession. Vucevic missed at the rim, and Aaron Gordon couldn’t convert on two putback tries. … Attendance was 19,367, the second-most in the Amway Center’s nine-season history.
Friday was historic for Toronto. It marked only the second time that the NBA’s Raptors and NHL’s Maple Leafs won a playoff game on the same day; the Leafs won in Boston. The only other time that happened was April 26, 2001 — the day when the Raptors got their first postseason victory.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s first lady Casey DeSantis were in attendance and received Magic “46” jerseys — a nod to his being the 46th governor of the Sunshine State. The governor and Magic CEO Alex Martins spoke pregame about the hope for Orlando to get another All-Star Game soon, though all through 2022 has already been awarded to other Eastern Conference cities — and Milwaukee, another East city, has expressed interest in 2023.
Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.
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