MILWAUKEE — In the two days between an unfathomable loss and a decisive victory, DeMar DeRozan was the picture of calm.
After going without a field goal in Game 3, the Raptors' leading scorer simply vowed to be better, and Kyle Lowry & Co. never doubted him.
On Saturday, DeRozan made good on his promise, scoring 33 points to lift the Raptors to an 87-76 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks to send the best-of-seven series back to Toronto all tied up at two wins apiece.
In the moments after the defensive slug-fest, DeRozan talked about how he and Lowry have become better at "collecting our thoughts."
"The time will come when we will get back out on there on the court but in the meantime try not to go crazy in two days of waiting," DeRozan said. "Just being patient and being mature with the process and trying to keep him (Lowry) calm. It's still a challenge but we figure it out."
DeRozan shot 12 of 22 and hit all nine free throws. Lowry added 18 points while Norman Powell and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 apiece, and Serge Ibaka finished with 10.
Tony Snell had 19 points to top Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 14 points and nine boards.
Seated side by side at the post-game press conference, Lowry credited DeRozan for helping him get past their humiliating 104-77 loss two nights earlier.
"My guy is always going to keep me calm. He is an unbelieveable friend. . . I always think about what should have happened or what could have happened. Sometimes it gets to me. I don't sleep well. But he's always the guy who says 'Look, everything happens for a reason.'
"We have been through some bad games before, bad times before, great times before, and he is always that guy who stays on that same level and you appreciate that."
DeRozan made history in Game 3, becoming the first 25-point scorer in history to go 0-for-3 or worse in a playoff game in the same season.
"I keep a level head and I understand bad things are going to come, and I accept it, just like I accept the great times," DeRozan said of his ability to bounce back. "I knew lightning don't strike twice in the same place."
"You know that's not true," Lowry snorted. "It's not a factual fact."
"But it sounds good," DeMar said, with a grin.
DeRozan, Lowry and Powell set an aggressive pace that saw the Raptors play with more poise than at any moment during Game 3. After digging themselves a 31-point deficit in Game 3, coach Dwane Casey went small and athletic, inserting Powell into the starting lineup for Valanciunas and moving Ibaka to centre.
The Raptors built themselves a nine-point lead before taking a 64-58 advantage into the fourth quarter in front of a loud crowd of 18,717 towel-waving fans at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
A free throw by Antetokounmpo with five-and-a-half minutes left pulled the Bucks to within five points, but the Raptors, who led the league in comeback victories this season, refused to get frazzled. When Powell drilled a three-pointer with four minutes left, it gave Toronto a 10-point lead and prompted a "Let's go Raptors!" cheer from one section of the arena.
"I've always said we play better with our backs against the wall," Casey said. "It's a tough way to live but I love our team's resilient personality. I wish we wouldn't have a stinker before we play that way, but if we can consistently get everybody at their level, their potential level, I think we'll be in good shape."
Consecutive baskets from Lowry and Valanciunas with 2:13 to play put Toronto up by 11 points and it was all but game over to the delight of the Raptors fans in attendance, including one carrying a sign that read: "The Buck Stops Here."
Milwaukee fans, carrying signs such as "Canadian bacon = ham," and "Lowry whines more than happy hour" left the arena still optimistic, chanting "Bucks in six!"
The Raptors shot 41 per cent on the night, while holding the Bucks to 37 per cent. Each team made just five three-pointers for a paltry 10 of 43 combined.
Toronto raced out to an early five-point lead before a mini Bucks run tied the game 19-19 to end the first quarter.
A couple of terrible Toronto turnovers prompted a Bucks' run that gave Milwaukee a seven-point lead with 5:33 left in the first half. The Raptors hit back with a 15-8 run to send the teams into the halftime break tied at 41-41.
The Raptors opened up a seven-point lead when Lowry drilled a three from in front of the Bucks bench — snarling in their direction after the ball dropped through the net — with 3:28 to play in the third quarter.
The Bucks captured the series opener 97-83. The Raptors fought back to take Game 2 106-100.
Game 6 is back at the Bradley Center on Thursday.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press