Basketball / NBA

Raptors crush Sixers to take 3-2 series lead

AP

The Toronto Raptors came up with a new load management plan for Kawhi Leonard. It was to make sure their star forward didn’t have to shoulder the entire offensive burden.

Leonard had 21 points and 13 rebounds, Pascal Siakam scored 25 points and the Raptors used a balanced attack and a huge second quarter to rout the Philadelphia 76ers 125-89 Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Toronto can advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in four seasons with a victory in Game 6 at Philadelphia on Thursday night. The Raptors lost in six games to Cleveland in the East finals in 2016.

If the 76ers can extend the series to a seventh game, it would be played in Toronto on Sunday night.

Leonard, who had scored 33 or more points in each of the first four games of the series, shot 7-for-16 from the field and 7-for-8 at the line before checking out with 7:22 to play and Toronto up 103-73. He had four assists and two steals.

“Tonight was one of those games where we let him rest a little bit, which is important,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He had a big double-double, but he didn’t have to do everything offensively.”

Leonard scored 39 points in Toronto’s Game 4 win on Sunday.

Lowry scored 19 points, while Danny Green shot 5-for-7 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points. Marc Gasol scored 11 points and Serge Ibaka had 10. All five Toronto starters scored in double digits.

“Kawhi still had a great game and the surrounding cast contributed,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

The 36-point margin was the largest in Toronto’s postseason history, and marked Philadelphia’s worst playoff defeat since a 40-point loss to Boston in Game 1 of the 1982 Eastern Conference finals.

“The spirit, I thought, went away a little bit quicker than I’d wished,” Brown said.

Up by one after the first, the Raptors outscored the 76ers 37-17 in the second to take a 21-point lead, 64-43, at halftime.

“The second period is where it got away from us,” Brown said. “I give Toronto credit, we didn’t have the answers for a few of their players and it snowballed.”

Jimmy Butler scored 22 points and Tobias Harris had 15 for the 76ers, who have lost two straight after winning the previous two.

Joel Embiid scored 13 points and had eight turnovers. Embiid started despite missing the morning shoot-around because of flu-like symptoms.

“Offensively there was a rhythm to his game that was clearly out of synch,” Brown said. “He’s been in bed for two days.”

Embiid also battled illness in Games 2 and 4.

“I know I’ve got to do a better job for us to win,” Embiid said.

Sixers guard Ben Simmons shot 3-for-5 and finished with seven points, seven rebounds, and five turnovers.

Nuggets 124, Trail Blazers 98

In Denver, Paul Millsap is showing the young’uns how it’s done.

Millsap scored 19 of his 24 points in the first half, sparking a blowout that put the Nuggets on the verge of their first trip to the Western Conference finals in a decade.

The 34-year-old forward with nearly 100 games of playoff experience has injected some savvy into a series dominated by youth and emerging stars.

“It’s not his first time, you know? He’s been here before,” Jamal Murray said. “He’s showing everybody the ropes. . . . He does all the little things that can help us win games and sets the tone for us.”

Millsap is averaging 19 points and 9.6 boards in the best-of-seven series that Denver leads 3-2 with Game 6 coming up Thursday night in Portland.

Gary Harris called Millsap “that calming factor” for a team making its first playoff appearance in six seasons. “He’s been huge for us this series. He’s been bringing it offensively, defensively and he helped us get off to a great start today.”

After Millsap got the Nuggets going with a dozen first-quarter points, Nikola Jokic took over from there, scoring 25 points and pulling down 19 rebounds, tying a team NBA playoff high. Murray added 18 points to go with nine assists and zero turnovers.

Damian Lillard, who led Portland with 22 points, said it’s exhausting facing the waves of young sharpshooters the Nuggets send at you, starting with the fulcrum of Jokic and Murray running the pick-and-roll.

“And then when all else fails, you’ve got to guard Millsap,” Lillard lamented. “He’s a handful for guys to guard because he’s in the paint, he’s making face-up jumpers, he’s making 3s. In transition, you’ve got to find him, and then he’s a monster on the glass.”

Malone said he hopes his team learned from its Game 6 loss at San Antonio last series and doesn’t have a similar letdown in Portland. Although the Nuggets have contained Lillard, Malone said the Nuggets are well aware that the Blazers’ star could go off for 50 points Thursday night.

Lillard concurred, saying, “I’ve had big games against tough defense in games where I was getting a lot of attention. With our season on the line and knowing we’ve got to have two games in a row, you never know.”