In a game of matchups, the Raptors were able to squeeze just enough from the favourable ones to win. Lineups matter so much in the NBA playoffs, when minutes for stars swell, and talented wings like DeMar DeRozan or Khris Middleton can back down a shorter but otherwise-talented player and shoot over the top in midrange. The Raptors learned just how much a poor lineup can doom a team’s playoff chances while watching Indiana implode in Game 5 last year. In Game 2 this year, the Raps bled just enough juice from their winning Lowry-Patterson lineups to overpower the Bucks.
A key narrative of this game was that the Raptors played much better than the Bucks, but they couldn’t build a sizeable lead and put their opponents in the ground. The Raps are merciful, which is good for people in life, but bad for people in sports.
Despite refusing the finish the job, the Raptors spent most of the game skillfully executing their gameplan, forcing the Bucks into a flurry of awkward-elbowed jumpers. However, Tony Snell hit four 3s. Greg Monroe stroked several midrange jumpers, and Giannis Antetokounmpo hit a number of midrange shots. He even stepped back for a game-tying clutch 3! The Bucks as a team shot almost 50% from 3 and 90% from the line. The Raps can live with that, especially because it statistically shouldn’t happen again.
When Jonas Valanciunas opened the game with a powerful and-1 over and through Thon Maker, it was clear that the Raptors would at least show up emotionally for the game, unlike Saturday evening. When Patterson, Ibaka, and then Tucker airballed wide open 3s, it was clear that the Raptors showed up perhaps a mite too emotional. The Raptors took their previous loss to heart, and it seemed as if they were trying too hard to make up for it. The Raps missed rotations from overhelping and generally seemed over-enthused to start the game. Effort always requires execution as a dance partner.
Dwayne Casey coached an impressive game, and he gifted Lowry an open rhythm 3 with an impressive after timeout play halfway through the first quarter. However, Valanciunas was basically played off the floor when Giannis switched to the roll man in the high pick and roll. The Alphabet scored an ungodly 1.43 points per possession as the roll man during the regular season (shooting almost 70% from the field!), and Valanciunas struggled containing either the ball-handler or the massive frame of Giannis darting towards the rim. With four minutes left in the frame, Casey opted for a more mobile frontcourt to contain Milwaukee’s speed and length, throwing Patrick Patterson and Jackob Poeltl into the frontcourt.
Poeltl only got time because of fouls, but he impressed. He high walls ballhandlers on the high pick and roll so well. He navigated one Dellavedova drive fantastically, keeping his weight back to stop a lob to Monroe, but showing his length to Delly to force an awkward floater. He seamlessly walked the tightrope of guarding two players simultaneously while keeping multiple defensive choices available in his toolbox.
Meanwhile on offence, Toronto started playing well. Lowry played in control, penetrating into the lane effortlessly, but seeming somewhat hesitant to go up against the Bucks’ length. Toronto countered hard doubles against DeRozan with quick skip passes to the outlet followed by laser swings for open corner 3s. Tucker and Carroll both played heady, knowing when to swing a second pass to the corner, when to hit the cutting big, and when to drive against the closeout. Tucker threw an impressive pass to a cutting Poeltl for a deuce.
It’s worth noting that DeRozan’s playmaking was off the charts in the first quarter. He operates somewhat like Steph Curry for Golden State. DeRozan warps the floor in such a way that his team gets open shots on the second or third pass after he gives it up. It doesn’t show up in the boxscore, but Toronto was thriving as a result.
At the same time, Milwaukee shot 4/5 from 3 in the quarter, which kept them in the game.
The second quarter opened with a run that could have broken the Bucks. Cory Joseph hounded Delly full-court, and it seemed to get in Delly’s head. The Bucks offense wasn’t starting until 10 seconds had already lapsed, and Giannis and Middleton were forced into some ugly, off-balanced shots to beat the shot clock. Joseph, Patterson, and Tucker were hitting 3s. But after a timeout, Ibaka airballed a 3 and then missed a rotation, letting the Bucks back into the game. Ibaka’s first half was horrific, accounting in large part for the Raps’ struggle to build any sizeable lead.
Casey turned to Delon Wright midway through the second in a typical Joseph rotation spot, perhaps to offer more length to counter the Bucks. Wright played well, swinging the ball to the corner for another Patterson 3. However, Monroe continued scoring at will for the Bucks. The Raptors found success with a little-used Lowry, DeRozan, Wright, Patterson, Valanciunas lineup. They offered lots of playmaking around Lowry’s shooting. The Bucks played into the Raptors’ hands by throwing Spencer Hawes at the Raptors, who promptly fouled Lowry behind the arc and then conceded a Lowry layup. The Raptors need to run up the score whenever the Bucks play their least mobile players, such as Hawes and Teletovic.
The Raptors ended the half on another down note, conceding some easy layups to Giannis due on his size alone. They just couldn’t put the Bucks away!
The Raps pulled the old ‘pretend to come out flat only to actually run up the score’ trick coming out of half. Tucker subbed in almost immediately, showing Casey’s willingness to quickly go away from a lineup that can’t get the job done. Carroll played with his legs under him, hitting a 3 and offering relatively energetic defense. After a Lowry layup in transition, the crowd was louder than your weird uncle, drunk at Christmas dinner, asking for the cranberry sauce. Of course, then Middleton hit a 3, refusing to go out quietly.
Ibaka owned the third quarter with some timely shooting and two insane blocks on Giannis. He woke up from a bad dream at half. DeRozan made a few plays attacking Monroe on the double team instead of quickly getting rid of the ball, which he was doing earlier. Monroe’s offense had been killing the Raps so far, and they seemed to make an effort to play him out of the game on the other end of the court.
The fourth quarter opened with Teletovic on the court for the Bucks, and the Raps predictably went on a run, powered by an Ibaka 3 and Joseph crossover for a layup. Kidd quickly took Teletovic out, and the Raptors turned the ball over several times, allowing the Bucks to get back into the game. Lowry and Joseph especially were turnover machines.
Casey went to his closing lineup of Lowry, DeRozan, Tucker, Patterson, and Ibaka relatively early in the fourth, but they weren’t getting it done. They ran a simple 1-2 pick and roll, isolating DeRozan against the much-shorter Delly. He missed, but that is a deep well of effective offense the Raps can trust when it’s winning time.
The fourth quarter proved the high-variance nature of the 3-pointer. Giannis hit a massive 3, but statistics balanced out on the next Bucks’ offensive possessions as Malcolm Brogdon and Delly missed wide open 3s. The Raptors got late-game stops more as a result of luck than skill.
In a game in which the Raps played far better than their opponents, but somehow were within a missed jumper of losing the second in a row, the final assassin was a familiar and comforting figure. Lowry hit a dagger with nine seconds left in the game on a patented elbow turnaround jumper. KLOE.