Raptors thump Bucks to level series

Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard dribbles the ball around Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. (USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 23 May 2019
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Raptors thump Bucks to level series

  • They knotted the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with Game 5 in Milwaukee on Thursday

LOS ANGELES : The Toronto Raptors closed ranks around hurting star Kawhi Leonard, turning in a total team effort in a 120-102 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday to level the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 25 points and Toronto’s bench outscored Milwaukee’s 48-23 as the Raptors followed up their double-overtime triumph in Game 3 with a second straight home win.

They knotted the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with Game 5 in Milwaukee on Thursday.

The winner of the series will take on two-time defending champions Golden State, who completed a Western Conference finals sweep of Portland to reach their fifth straight NBA Finals.

Leonard, who downplayed suggestions he was injured after the gritty game-three victory, looked hobbled at times — wincing noticeably after dunking on Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo in the third quarter.

Leonard grabbed a pass from Spanish big man Marc Gasol and drove for the basket, Antetokounmpo’s move to stop him coming too late.

Leonard landed hard and held his left leg —  although he would play on.

“I think he’s fine,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s logged a lot of minutes. He’s certainly tired, like a lot of guys in this series are.”

“He looks OK to me. I think there’s a lot of guys out there that aren’t 100 percent — on both sides of the ball.”

But Lowry said Raptors “understood” that Leonard was not going to be 100 percent and knew going into the contest that “everybody has to step up and stay focused on the game plan.”

Lowry scored 18 points in the first half as the Raptors came back from an early seven-point deficit to lead 32-31 after one quarter — pushing the lead to 65-55 at halftime.

Norman Powell added 18 points off the bench. Serge Ibaka and Gasol scored 17 apiece, Ibaka also pulling down 13 rebounds. Fred VanVleet chipped in 13 points. VanVleet, who missed 16 of 20 shot attempts in the first three games of the series, connected on five of six from the field, draining all three of his three-point attempts.

“I think the first two games they really brought the intensity to us. They came out and were more physical were more active,” Powell said. “We wanted to change that narrative and protect home court. We wanted to come out with a lot of juice, be more aggressive, be more physical and take the game to them. I think we really did that.”

Toronto extended their lead to as many as 16 points in the third period and led by 13 going into the final frame.

Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 30 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Milwaukee’s Most Valuable Player finalist Antetokounmpo added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Nikola Mirotic scored 11.

But the Bucks lost their second straight game, something they did just once during the regular season.

Two home wins gave the Raptors some breathing room as they head back to Milwaukee, but Lowry said they’d done nothing more than hold serve.

“They did what they did at home and we did what we’re supposed to do at home,” he said.

“Our back’s against the wall still,” Lowry added. “We’re going into a hostile environment. They’re going to be ready to go.”

Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, said there was no feeling of panic among the Bucks.

“The feeling is not any different,” he said. “We’ve still got to get better, stick with our game plan. (We’ve) just got to play with more energy, execute better, but our feeling is the same.

“They did their job, they protected home, we’ve got to do our job now.”


Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

Updated 18 June 2019
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Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

  • The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay
  • Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time

SAO PAULO: Chile’s experienced Copa America team proved too good for Japan’s young squad.

The two-time defending champions opened their Copa America campaign with a 4-0 win over the Asian guests on Monday, with Eduardo Vargas scoring a pair of goals to become Chile’s all-time leading scorer in the South American competition.

Erick Pulgar and Alexis Sanchez also scored for the titleholders, which are trying to become the first nation to win three straight Copa titles since Argentina in the late 1940s. Vargas scored twice in the second half to reach 12 goals with Chile in the tournament, two more than Enrique Hormazabal.

The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay, which opened with a 4-0 win over Ecuador on Sunday.

“Chile has players who are very experienced, who know each other very well,” Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “The challenge today was to avoid a bad debut. We were humble and entered with our feet on the ground. We were playing against a team that was very competitive in all sectors.”

Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time, brought to Brazil a young squad focused on the Olympic tournament at home next year. The Japanese youngsters struggled against the veteran Chilean squad which was in control from the start at the Morumbi Stadium.

Chile won the last two editions of the Copa America, beating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the final both in 2015 and 2016. Argentina is the only team to have won three consecutive South American titles, from 1945-47.

Boosted by most of the 23,253 fans at the Morumbi, Chile created most of the significant chances.

After Pulgar headed in a corner-kick cross by Charles Aranguiz in the 41st minute, Vargas added to the lead with a shot from outside the area in the 54th after a pass by Mauricio Isla.

Sanchez found the net with a header in the 82nd, and Vargas closed the scoring about a minute later with a long lob shot over goalkeeper Keisuke Osako as he charged from his net.

It was a good opening match for Sanchez after a difficult season with Manchester United.

“I was coming off a difficult month-and-a-half,” said the 30-year-old Sanchez, who injured his ankle late in the season. “I struggled in the first 45 minutes, I felt tired, but I improved in the second half.”

Rueda, debuting with Chile in an official tournament, has been gradually revamping the squad since he took over in 2018. Among the veterans back from the team’s recent triumphs were Vargas, Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, who also had a good opener.

Japan last played in the Copa America in 1999, when it was eliminated in the group stage. Among the youngsters in Brazil was Takefusa Kubo, the 18-year-old who has joined Real Madrid’s “B” team for next season. He played from the start and was a threat for Japan in attack. He got an ovation from the crowd at the Morumbi after getting past a defender with a ball through his legs about 10 minutes into the match. He nearly scored after a nifty move past a defender inside the area in the 65th, but his shot hit the outside of the net. Japan had a few good chances to get on the board toward the end of the game but could not capitalize on them.