LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Anyone not giving the Toronto Raptors much of a chance to repeat as NBA champions without Kawhi Leonard might want to reconsider.
The Raptors have played mostly under the radar this season, yet earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They are the only No. 1 or 2 seed not to get upset in the first two games of the first round of the postseason.
Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have the Raptors with a 2-0 lead over the Brooklyn Nets entering Game 3 Friday.
Their battle-tested playoff experience was on display Wednesday when the Raptors trailed for most of the game but rallied to take a lead in the fourth quarter and then held on to beat the Nets 104-99.
“There is no situation we haven’t been in before,” VanVleet said.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse called it a “gut it out” win on a night when the Raptors struggled with the Nets continuously switching on defense.
In the end, the Raptors found a way to win as they have all season, going with a smaller lineup that including Siakam at center.
“We have guys that have experience, guys that have been in big playoff games before and I think we understand what it takes,” Siakam said. “We just try to continue to play our game and find a way to win.”
The Raptors improved to 18-8 in the playoffs under Nurse, now in his second season.
“The team just learned from last year and even early in the season with games where there was adversity or momentum shifts,” OG Anunoby said. “We just keep the faith and just continuing to do what we do. (We are) not getting down if a team goes on a run or is making shots, Just continue playing our game and our pace and continue to have confidence in each other.”
A look at Friday’s games:
NETS VS. RAPTORS
Raptors lead 2-0. Game 3, 1:30 p.m. EDT, NBA TV
— NEED TO KNOW: The Raptors are still waiting for Pascal Siakam to catch fire, but Norman Powell is providing a big spark off the bench.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Fred VanVleet. The Raptors point guard has been one of the best players since the NBA restart and does so many things for his team from distributing the ball to scoring to playing defense. He had 24 points and 10 assists in the Raptors’ Game 2 win with some huge baskets to help Toronto rally from a double-digit deficit.
— INJURY WATCH: Help isn’t coming for the shorthanded Nets, who will continue to play on without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nicolas Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Nets guards. They struggled in Game 2 with turnovers, which proved critical in the loss. Brooklyn had 17 turnovers; Toronto had eight. That’s too many wasted possessions. It was a big turnover in the final seconds that prevented the Nets from getting off a potential game-tying 3 and sending the game into overtime.
JAZZ VS. NUGGETS
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 4 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has scored 87 points in his first two games. The Jazz wasted his 57-point explosion in Game 1, but the third-year guard posted 30 points and eight assists as Utah rolled to a 124-105 victory in Game 2.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Mike Conley. The Utah guard could be back for the next game. He returned to the NBA bubble Monday night after leaving for the birth of his son and is going through a four-day quarantine.
— INJURY WATCH: Denver’s Gary Harris (right hip) and Will Barton III (right knee) sat out Game 2. Rookie center Bol Bol got some playing time late in the fourth with Utah well in control.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Nuggets defense. The Jazz shot 51.7% overall and drained a franchise playoff-record 20 shots from beyond the arc, converting 45.5% of their deep attempts in Game 2. Denver has to do a better job of getting out on shooters and contesting shots.
76ERS VS. CELTICS
Boston leads 2-0. Game 2, 6:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: The Celtics are firmly in control of the series after routing the 76ers 128-101 in Game 2. Boston shot 51% from the field while holding the 76ers to 41% shooting. The Celtics bench outscored the 76ers’ reserves 41-20 in the last game.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jayson Tatum. The 76ers had no answer for Tatum, who was 8 of 12 from 3-point range and finished with 33 points on Wednesday.
— INJURY WATCH: Gordon Hayward is expected to miss about four weeks after spraining his right ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 1. The injury to Ben Simmons may be too much for the 76ers to overcome.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Tobias Harris. Joel Embiid is doing his part, scoring 34 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the loss but he’s not getting enough help. Harris needs to step up after shooting just 4 of 15 in Game 2.
MAVERICKS VS. CLIPPERS
Series tied 1-1. Game 2, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: After scoring 42 points in a first game loss, 21-year-old Luka Doncic battled through foul trouble and scored 28 points and had eight rebounds in Game 2 to secure his first career playoff win, 127-114. The Dallas bench helped bail out Doncic on Wednesday, but keeping him on the floor is key moving forward.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavericks big man played despite a knee injury and had 23 points. He’s been taking his game to a new level in the NBA bubble, scoring on pick and rolls and on top-of-the-key 3s
— INJURY WATCH: The Clippers played Game 2 without starting guard Patrick Beverley and his status for Friday remains unclear. He was scratched during pre-game warmups because of tightness in his calf.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Paul George. He finishing 4-for-17 from the field in Game 2 and scored just 14 points. Kawhi Leonard, who had 35 points, needs more help than that on the offensive end.
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