LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers struck first.
Toronto and Denver came back with strong rebuttals.
So, with that, the leads in a pair of knotted-up conference semifinal series will be a reward to the winners on Monday night. Boston and Toronto will play Game 5 of their Eastern Conference series to open the doubleheader, followed by Game 3 of the Western Conference matchup between the Clippers and Nuggets.
The Raptors lost Games 1 and 2 to the Celtics before winning Games 3 and 4. The Nuggets were blown out in Game 1, then never trailed in Game 2 against the Clippers.
“We’re playing a little better, it feels like,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I think really, as a team and certainly individuals are starting to come back to who we know they are, who they can be.”
The Raptors needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from OG Anunoby to win Game 3 and avoid a 3-0 series deficit, then grinded out a win in Game 4. But Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn’t worried about his team’s capability to bounce back after consecutive losses.
“We’ve got a lot of competitive, tough guys in there,” Stevens said. “We’ll play better.”
The Clippers have that same sort of unshaken resolve. They fell in Game 2 on an off night from Kawhi Leonard, who was held to an uncharacteristically low 13 points on 4-for-17 shooting. It’s reasonable to think he’ll be a lot better in Game 3.
“We will be ready for Game 3,” Clippers forward Paul George said. “There’s no pep talks for it. It’s the playoffs. We have to be ready and we have to be a lot stronger, and we’ll be up for the fight and challenge in Game 3.”
Denver coach Michael Malone said he was pleased with the way his team was tougher in Game 2 but noted more changes must come before Game 3.
“Obviously, one area we have to clean up is the offensive rebounds,” Malone said. “We played great defense, but they were able to grab 19 rebounds for 27 points. So if we can defend at the same level and clean up the glass, then we have a chance to really make some headway in this series.”
A look at Monday’s games:
CELTICS VS. RAPTORS
Series tied 2-2. Game 5, 6:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam all played the entire second half of Game 4 for Toronto, and Lowry has been on the floor for about 90 of the last 96 minutes in the series. The Celtics haven’t dropped three straight since mid-January, but the Raptors — who were 1-5 against Boston this season before Games 3 and 4 — seem to have figured something out.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. They were 6 for 26 from the field in Game 4, 3 for 17 from 3-point range. The Celtics have to believe that they’ll both be better Monday.
— INJURY WATCH: Gordon Hayward (ankle) is quarantining — a required step when someone leaves the bubble — and preparing for a return to the Celtics, but Boston still does not expect him to play in this series.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Still on Toronto. The reigning champions have won two straight to tie the series, but a loss in Game 5 would put them right back on the ropes. Taking a third straight game would put them a game away from a return trip to the conference finals, and Boston would trail a series for the first time in this postseason.
CLIPPERS VS. NUGGETS
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris combined to shoot 13 for 25 from 3-point range, and the Clippers lamented how they let Jokic especially get settled in the opening minutes of Game 2.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Leonard. Not only was he 4 for 17 in the game, he was 1 for 10 in the final three quarters. He was two assists shy of a triple-double, but the Clippers need him to score.
— INJURY WATCH: George said he thought he had a slight knee hyperextension in the second half of Game 2 but was able to play through it and never left the game. Murray hobbled a bit in the early minutes of Game 2, also finding a way to stick it out. But Sunday, the Nuggets added Jokic (sprained right wrist) to the injury list and said he was questionable for Monday.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Clippers. Denver got to set the tone for how everything went in Game 2. The Clippers can’t make that mistake again.
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