TORONTO — In a hectic 24 hours, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet had a baby boy and found his shot.
The combination explained the love he was getting from his teammates on the bench Tuesday night as Toronto thumped the Milwaukee Bucks 120-102 to even their Eastern Conference final at two games apiece.
"Guys know I've been struggling," said VanVleet, who hit 5-of-6 shots, including three three-pointers for a welcome 13-point night. "It's not rocket science. I don't run from it, I don't hide from it. Like I know I have to play better. I'm accountable and I try to take it on the chest.
"And my teammates are there for me. They want to see me win, they want to see me play well. That's just that genuine love you saw there. Everybody could feel that it was a better game.
"And more than that — I wasn't going to tell you guys, but just having my son yesterday, I think that was more of the hugs that I was getting. Guys were kind of showing me some love for that. Obviously the last 24 hours that I've had were pretty special."
VanVleet was 4-for-20 in the first four games, including 1-for-11 in Game 3, for a combined 10 points. Rubbing salt into the wound, he needed stitches after taking an elbow under the eye in Game 3.
But he came out gangbusters in the fourth quarter Tuesday with a stretch that read steal, driving finger-roll layup, 25-foot three-pointer, finger-roll layup and an assist on a Norm Powell reverse layup as the Raptors went on a 10-3 run to extend their lead to 104-84.
"I think he needed it," said starting point guard Kyle Lowry. "Welcome little Freddy Jr. to the building. I think those type of things kind of relaxed him.
Helped by VanVleet, the Raptors won the battle of the bench. VanVleet (six assists), Powell (18 points and Serge Ibaka (17 points, 13 rebounds) outscored the Milwaukee reserves 48-23.
Ibaka threw his weight around to start the second quarter with five rebounds and four buckets including two dunks, helping Toronto stretch a one-point lead into an 11-point advantage.
Powell was a plus-29 on the night while VanVleet was plus-25 and Ibaka plus-24.
"It was big-time ... Just everyone contributed tonight, knocking down shots, playing great defence," said Raptors star Kawhi Leonard, who contributed 19 points.
"I think it was incredible, man," added forward Pascal Siakam. "Those guys, they came in, they brought energy, rebounded the basketball, ran. Just the way they played, man, definitely inspiring. We always knew, we have a really deep team."
"Big kudos to them," said centre Marc Gasol.
Game 5 is Thursday in Milwaukee.
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