LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Toronto Raptors dismantled the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets dominated Portland on Tuesday (May 7) to take commanding leads in their NBA play-off series.
The Raptors overpowered the 76ers 125-89 to take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference second-round series.
With 76ers star centre Joel Embiid ailing, Toronto took full advantage on their home floor and can book a place in the Eastern Conference finals with a victory in Game 6 in Philadelphia on Thursday.
The Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokic’s 25 points and 19 rebounds, defeated the Trail Blazers 124-98 for a 3-2 series lead and will also try to wrap up their Western Conference clash on the road on Thursday.
Six Nuggets players scored in double figures and four scored at least 16 points.
Paul Millsap scored 12 of his 24 in the first quarter as Denver bolted to a 31-25 lead.
Jamal Murray scored 11 of his 18 in the second quarter, helping Denver break open the game with a burst of three straight baskets that pushed the Nuggets’ lead to 61-43 and Denver, who never trailed, were away.
“In this series he’s been phenomenal,” Denver coach Mike Malone said of Murray.
“He’s impacted the game in so many ways: scoring, playmaking and rebounding, and I think he’s playing some pretty good defense as well.”
Damian Lillard scored 22 points for the Trail Blazers, who face an elimination game for the first time in this post-season.
Rodney Hood and Zach Collins scored 14 points each off the bench, but CJ McCollum was the only other Portland starter in double figures with 12 points.
Portland missed 12 straight shots in the third, connecting on just seven of 28 from the floor in the period to head into the fourth quarter trailing 93-65.
They could not get the deficit below 20 points in the final frame.
In a hard-fought series between closely matched teams, Malone said, it was a notable achievement.
“For us to come out here tonight and build a 30-point lead and play the defense that we did for three and a half quarters was remarkable,” he said.
In Toronto’s big win, forward Pascal Siakam scored 25 points to lead six Raptors players in double figures.
Star forward Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and was able to rest the majority of the fourth quarter as the Raptors dominated every phase of the contest.
The outcome was enough to make Philadelphia’s centre Embiid feel even worse than the upper respiratory infection that appeared to hinder him.
Embiid scored 13 points with six rebounds and also coughed up a game-high eight turnovers. With their star struggling, none of his teammates could fill the void.
Toronto led 64-43 by half-time – thanks to a 37-17 second quarter.
The 76ers showed signs of life when they opened the second half on a 10-2 scoring run, but the challenge proved short-lived.
Leonard, who punctuated the second quarter with a massive dunk, delivered another big jam to close out the third and send the Raptors into the final frame up 92-70.
Toronto would stretch the lead to 40 points – 123-83 – on Norman Powell’s dunk with 2min 24sec to play.
“I was certainly not expecting that kind of game tonight,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “Obviously we’re certainly happy with the result. We did a lot of good things.”
Kyle Lowry scored 19 points, Danny Green had 17 and Spanish big man Marc Gasol contributed 11 for the Raptors, who can clinch the series on Thursday in Philadelphia.
Serge Ibaka scored 10 points for Toronto, despite needing stitches after taking an inadvertent elbow to the forehead from Leonard in the first quarter.
Jimmy Butler scored 22 points and handed out seven assists for the 76ers.
Sixers guard Ben Simmons connected on three-of-five shots from the field to finish with seven points and five turnovers.
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