Norman Powell, Toronto supporting cast propel Raptors to 3-2 lead over Bucks

Norman Powell’s breakout game helped Toronto to a 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee. (Getty)
Norman Powell’s breakout game helped Toronto to a 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee. (Getty)

Through four games of the 2017 NBA playoffs, the Toronto Raptors had gone as their dynamic duo went. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are their catalysts; when they weren’t performing as such, Toronto struggled.

In Game 1, Lowry had just four points, and the Raptors fell at home. In Game 3, DeRozan didn’t make a field goal, and Toronto went down 2-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks. In Game 4, the two combined for 51, and the third-seeded Raptors responded to even the series.

In Game 5, the narrative diverged. Up stepped Norman Powell and Toronto’s supporting cast.

Neither DeRozan nor Lowry played poorly, but the story of Monday’s 118-93 victory over the Bucks was how much production the Raptors got from the other guys, the role players who hadn’t done enough earlier in the series to overcome underwhelming performances from the stars. Powell scored a career-high 25 points. Serge Ibaka had 19 and turned back three Milwaukee shots at the rim. DeMarre Carroll chipped in 12 and propelled a first-quarter run that gave Toronto a lead it would never relinquish.

The Raptors took their first lead in the series, 3-2, with their best overall offensive performance of the series. After their isolation-heavy offense was for the most part stymied in Games 1 through 4 by a freakishly long Bucks team, the Raptors got the ball moving in Game 5. They ranked last in the NBA in assist rate during the regular season, with under 50 percent of their made field goals coming off passes, but they assisted on 28 of their 41 made field goals Monday.

Toronto coach Dwayne Casey also made the crucial decision to insert Powell into the starting lineup in place of Jonas Valanciunas in Game 4. He used the same starting five in Game 5, matching the Bucks’ athleticism rather than their size, and Powell’s play made Casey look like a genius.

Toronto jumped out to its early lead with a 17-0 run in a span of only 3 1/2 minutes in the first. The run was spurred not by Lowry and DeRozan, but by the Raptors’ other three starters, Carroll, Ibaka and Powell. Carroll had seven of the 17, but it was Ibaka who supplied the highlights — a rejection of Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim, and a dunk on him at the other end.

The Raptors led by as many as 19 in the first half — 51-32 with six minutes remaining — but Antetokounmpo brought the Bucks back into the game, scoring or assisting on 10 points during a quick 12-2 spurt. Milwaukee went into halftime down nine, which, all things considered, had to be considered a win for the road team.

But the Raptors took charge to start the third. They pushed the lead to double digits with 8:53 left in the period, and never looked back. The Bucks never got back to within 10. Whereas Toronto gave its stars help, Antetokounmpo didn’t get much for Milwaukee. He had 30 points on 12-for-19 shooting, and rookie point guard Malcolm Brogdon broke out of his slump to support him with 19, but no other Buck had more than 11.

Toronto, on the other hand, had six players in double figures. DeRozan had 18. Lowry had 16. Cory Joseph had 10. Valanciunas also had a strong eight and seven rebounds off the bench.

Powell punctuated the victory and his breakout performance with a tough baseline drive and an emphatic slam over Milwaukee rookie Thon Maker in the fourth quarter:

The Raptors will look to close out the series Thursday in Game 6 in Milwaukee.