The good, the bad, and the Game of Thrones–overlapping overtime periods of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Winner: Kawhi Leonard With a Limp
No team could take advantage of Game of Thrones’ ubiquity this season quite like Toronto, one of the northernmost franchises in the NBA. (The puns—Kawhi Leonard as the King in the North—were practically copy-and-paste, or about the same level of effort the show writers put into the final seas—nevermind.) So it was fitting that Game 3, the series’ first in Toronto, overlapped with the Thrones finale Sunday. And it really overlapped, as you, my multifaceted, HBO- and TNT-subscribing friends, are well aware, crossing into two overtimes. No rush to just, you know, wrap it all up.
Leonard won Game 3. He out-defended Giannis (more on that later); out-shot Giannis, finishing with 36 points on 11-for-25 shooting from the field; and outlasted Giannis too. The latter fouled out within a minute of the second overtime, while Kawhi played until the end, logging a game-high and career-high 52 minutes in the 118-112 win despite an uncomfortable landing in the first quarter that caused him to hobble throughout the remainder of the game, which kept the Raptors in the series, with Milwaukee now leading 2-1.
There were moments when it seemed like Kawhi would have to be pulled from the game. His usual explosiveness was gone on most drives; once, his burst dropped off altogether chasing a Malcolm Brogdon breakaway in the third quarter. But limping Kawhi was better than the alternative, especially once Kyle Lowry fouled out with more than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Even injured, Kawhi dropped eight points in the second overtime to finally seal the game, including this scoop:
Health has been a repeated concern with Kawhi all season. The Raptors regularly sat him on the second night of back-to-backs as a precaution. Now that the prevention stage has passed, head coach Nick Nurse will have to adjust for the unadjustable. Toronto has already proved it can’t hang on while Kawhi sits, and a game where its bench scores 27 points is hardly the norm (shout-out to Norman Powell and his 19 points, which was still trumped by Bucks reserves George Hill and Brogdon, who combined for 44.)
Loser: Giannis Antetokounmpo
With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, Giannis had as many turnovers as he did points: six. Toronto, fully pushing the Thrones branding, set up a highly effectively wall of defenders to stop him. There were often three men trapping Giannis, not accounting for the fact that his primary defender, Kawhi, counts for 1.5 defenders. Giannis couldn’t penetrate with his usual ease, replacing strides to the rim with sloppiness. And so the Bucks’ best scorer stopped shooting. From the 6:54 mark in the second all the way to 8:52 remaining in the fourth, Giannis didn’t score. He took just one shot during that span, a missed 3 a couple of minutes into the third quarter.
To finally get his superstar going in the fourth, head coach Mike Budenholzer reacclimated Giannis off-ball. On three consecutive plays, he was fed the ball in the paint and went to work while the wall was deconstructed. It was too late; Giannis racked up only 12 points before fouling out in the second overtime. But that the Bucks held tight in a game while their leading scorer was shut down is encouraging, and is also kudos to, who else, Giannis: He gave the Raptors’ defensive effort right back to them, grabbing a career-high 23 rebounds and finishing with four blocks, one steal, and seven assists. If there’s any silver lining to Giannis’s being shut down, it’s that he was shut down in Budenholzer’s system rimmed with shooters.
Loser: Many Choking Moments
When: With 2:48 left in overtime, Bucks down 99-96
What: Giannis misses both free throws
Why it wasn’t the worst choke in a game of chokes: I’m sorry, you were expecting Giannis, career 66.4 percent postseason free throw shooter, to make these? Fred VanVleet fouled Giannis hard here, in the paint, because he knew there was a high probability—say, 33.6 percent—that Giannis would miss each free throw, especially weighed next to the probability of the field goal he would have otherwise gotten up in the restricted area. This play alone made VanVleet’s presence worth it, as he filled the rest of his 31 minutes off the bench with six assists, 11 shots, 10 misses, three points, three turnovers, and five fouls.
3. Pascal Siakam
When: With 7.4 left in the fourth quarter, Raptors up 96-94
What: Siakam misses both free throws
Why it wasn’t the worst choke in a game of chokes: Toronto won, for starters, which tends to smudge some of the more egregious choke jobs so history remembers them only if they turn into habit. (See: Chris Paul’s Basketball-Reference page.) Siakam also redeemed himself later, sinking both free throws with 16.8 seconds left in the second overtime, and he had an all-around game worthy of Leonard’s second-in-command, with 25 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, one assist, and one block.
2. Fred VanVleet
When: The 2019 NBA playoffs in their entirety
What: What, just one? Let’s go with VanVleet missing a 3-pointer with 1:16 left in the second OT, Raptors up 112-110
Why it wasn’t the worst choke in a game of chokes: VanVleet’s aforementioned foul on Giannis is the only thing outside of the Raptors’ winning saving him from the top choke spot. He kicked off the fourth quarter with back-to-back turnovers and missed four shots, then filled in valiantly for Lowry after he fouled out, missing two 3s in the second overtime and fouling twice.
1. Eric Bledsoe
When: The fourth quarter on
What: Bledsoe misses any (every?) shot
Why it was the worst choke in a game of chokes: Here’s how the fourth quarter and both overtimes went for the Bucks: Bledsoe would do something, often multiple things, wrong, and Budenholzer would send in George Hill. It was very Let The Grownups Talk, Honey. Bledsoe started the fourth quarter, and after nearly four minutes featuring two misses, getting blocked, fouling once, and two assists, Hill entered. With nearly two minutes left in regulation, Bledsoe was sent back in, chucked up a 3, made and missed a free throw, and was sent back to the bench. The first overtime, Bud sent Hill to the scorer’s table the first time Bledsoe shot, barely a minute in; the second overtime, Bledsoe lasted a tad longer, or at least long enough to miss a floater and another shot, and turn the ball over.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece described the Toronto Raptors as the northernmost franchise in the NBA. That distinction belongs to the Portland Trail Blazers.