Powell lifts Raptors 118-93 over Bucks

Raptors 118 Bucks 93

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors are within one win of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Norman Powell scored 25 points, his career high in the post-season, to lead the Raptors to a thrilling 118-93 victory over the Bucks on Monday, sending Toronto back to Milwaukee with a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series.

Six Raptors scored in double figures. Serge Ibaka finished with 19 points, DeMar DeRozan added 18, and Kyle Lowry battled through a sore back to finish with 16 points and 10 assists. The team’s medical staff had worked on Lowry’s back before the morning shootaround, then sent him home to rest. It clearly bothered him during the game — when he wasn’t on the court, he was lying on his back in front of the bench.

DeMarre Carroll chipped in with 12 points, while Cory Joseph had 10. Toronto’s 28 assists were a franchise record for the post-season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 30 points and nine rebounds.

A victory in Thursday’s Game 6 in Milwaukee would send the Raptors to the Eastern Conference semis against familiar foe Cleveland. The Cavaliers, who ousted Toronto in the conference final last season, swept their series against Indiana.

The victory was Toronto’s most decisive of these playoffs. The Bucks never led by more than two points while the Raptors — humming on offence and decent on defence — built a 19-point first-half lead and roared into the fourth quarter with a 90-73 advantage.

The Bucks would come no closer than 14 points in a fourth quarter that belonged to Toronto, and with 4:42 to play, Powell muscled around Antetokounmpo and over Thon Maker for an empathic dunk, the punctuation mark on a dominant night for Toronto.

When Raptors coach Dwane Casey emptied his bench in the final two minutes, the Air Canada Centre crowd broke into a chant of “Raps in six!”

The Raptors shot a sizzling 58 per cent on the night, and 44 per cent from three-point range.

Two nights after it worked so well in Milwaukee, Casey started Powell over Jonas Valanciunas, and the athletic Powell made his presence known from the outset. Early in the first quarter, he stole the ball off Antetokounmpo, was wrapped up by Malcolm Brogdon but managed to get the shot off for a three-point play. His three-pointer capped a 17-0 run that gave the Raptors a 15-point lead. Toronto took a 31-20 advantage into the second quarter.

Bucks coach Jason Kidd had talked pre-game about the threat that Powell posed.

“He’s not just a guy who can play defence but he can also put the ball in the basket,” Kidd said. ”So we’ve got to make sure we’re aware of where he’s at on the floor. But I thought he was positive when he was on the floor for them.”

A jump shot from Patrick Patterson put Toronto up by 19 points midway through the second, but the Bucks — shooting 67 per cent in the quarter — clawed their way to within seven. The Raptors went into the halftime break with a 57-48 lead.

Powell drilled a three — and glared at the Bucks bench — four minutes into the third quarter that gave the Raptors a 15-point lead.

The game got heated in the third when Greg Monroe took offence after he flew over Valanciunas’s hip. Monroe tried to get at Valanciunas at the other end. The scuffle, which saw two slapped with technical fouls, had Valanciunas flexing his biceps and fired up the ACC crowd.

The Raptors and Bucks split the first two games in Toronto, then split their two games in Milwaukee.

A Game 7, if necessary, would be back in Toronto on Saturday.

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