NBA playoffs: Raptors, Hawks get huge wins

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the favorites in the Eastern Conference, and rightfully so. Still, there are other hopefuls in the gaggle, including the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, who have some of the biggest names in basketball on their respective rosters.

On Monday night, the Hawks were able to pull even in their quarterfinal series against the Washington Wizards. After being beat soundly in the nation’s capital over the first two games, they responded in fine fashion. A blowout win in Game 3 led to momentum in Game 4 for Atlanta, which toppled the Wizards, 111-101. The Hawks were led by a balanced attack, which saw all five starters score in double figures.

Dwight Howard was a beast in the paint, notching 16 points and 15 rebounds. Paul Millsap was also excellent on the block, totaling 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. It was a tough win for the Hawks, who went into a must-win fourth quarter tied at 77 apiece.

Now, the series shifts back to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. The final result may very well rest on the shoulders of Washington point guard John Wall, who had 22 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in a losing effort on Monday. Wall is the best player on the court in this series, and needs to have a massive game on Wednesday to get his team jump-started. Perhaps scoring 30+ points is in order, fair or not.

Meanwhile, the Raptors were able to take the Milwaukee Bucks to the brink of elimination in Game 5 of their series. Toronto, which looked to be in serious trouble throughout the first three games of the squabble, has come to life. The Raptors cruised in the Air Canada Centre with a 118-93 over the Bucks, who suddenly appear overwhelmed and disjointed.

Giannis Antetokounmpo still scored 30 points for Milwaukee, but wasn’t surrounded by nearly enough help to get the job done. The Raptors were able to outflank and ultimately sink the Greek Freak with a team effort that included an unlikely hero in Nate Powell, who came from virtually nowhere to score 25 points (seriously, Powell could walk through downtown Toronto and nobody would have any clue who he is).

There were also the usual suspects helping the Raptors get one step closer to a date with Cleveland. Kyle Lowry only scored 16 points but added 10 assists for a double-double, while DeMar DeRozan scored 19 points on 50 percent shooting from the field.

If Toronto can play the way it did on Monday night for 48 more minutes, it will be headed to the semifinals to take on LeBron James and Co. Last year, the Raptors pushed the Cavaliers to six games in the conference finals. Can they take them to the seventh game this time around?

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