Jimmy Butler scored 30 points as the Philadelphia 76ers turned the tables on the Raptors in Toronto on Monday with a 94-89 victory that knotted their NBA playoff series at one game each.
The 76ers, beaten 108-95 in the Eastern Conference second-round series opener, thwarted the Raptors’ second-half comeback bid, notching their first win in Toronto since November 2012 to head home for game three on Thursday all square.
Butler added 11 rebounds and handed out five assists for the Sixers, who led 51-38 at halftime despite 13 first-half turnovers.
The Raptors, who trailed by as many as 19 in the first half, closed the deficit to 61-60 late in the third quarter.
But they missed six of their first seven shots in the final period and the 76ers held on for the win.
Butler scored 12 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. That included a three-pointer off an assist from center Joel Embiid that put the Sixers up 88-81 with 2:14 to play.
“My team had a lot of faith in me tonight,” said Butler, who scored just 10 points in game one. “I told them I had to come out and redeem myself.
“More than anything we got back, we guarded,” Butler added, saying defense would be key going forward in the series.
“When we let our defense dictate our offense we’re such a great team,” he said. “We can’t let it be the other way around.”
Sixers coach Brett Brown praised Butler as the team’s “rock.”
“That was James Butler,” Brown said. “That was the adult in the gym.”
Embiid, battling a stomach ailment as well as the nagging knee pain that troubled him in the first round, scored just two baskets. The second couldn’t have been better timed as he drove to bank in a shot that put the 76ers up 92-89 with 24.3 seconds remaining.
Toronto’s Danny Green then missed a potential game-tying three-pointer and Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris grabbed the rebound.
Harris was fouled and sealed the win with two free throws.
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 35 points. Pascal Siakam added 21 and Kyle Lowry scored 20.
But the five total points for Toronto’s reserves were dwarfed by the production of Philadelphia’s bench: 13 points from James Ennis, 10 from Greg Monroe and three from Jonah Bolden.
– Jokic leads Nuggets –
The Denver Nuggets, two days removed from their first-round, game-seven victory over the San Antonio Spurs, opened their Western Conference second-round series with a 121-113 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Serbian center Nikola Jokic scored 37 points, pulled down nine rebounds, handed out six assists and blocked two shots.
Both teams came out firing, the Trail Blazers connecting on 63.6 percent of their first-quarter shots and Denver making 61.9 percent of their shots as the first period ended tied 32-32.
Denver, up 58-55 at halftime, pulled away after the break, taking a 93-84 lead into the final period.
Portland, led by 39 points from All-Star guard Damian Lillard, trimmed a 12-point deficit to 101-96 with 8:02 left in the game.
Denver responded with an 8-0 scoring run, ignited by Mason Plumlee’s dunk.
Portland’s CJ McCollum was then whistled for a flagrant foul when he caught a driving Jokic in the face, and the Serbian made both free throws.
Plumlee then slammed home a miss by teammate Malik Beasley and Beasley rebounded another miss and made a layup as the Nuggets seized a 109-96 lead with 6:11 left to play.
Denver were in control from there, although Jokic and coach Mike Malone said they had plenty of room for improvement before they host game two on Wednesday.
“We kind of went into the game a little sloppy, slow, we didn’t play a lot of defense,” Jokic said.
Malone also felt the Nuggets were lacking defensively, especially in the early going.
“We got the win, and when you know you haven’t played your best basketball that’s a good feeling,” Malone said.
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