The one big change from the beginning of the series until now is that Kyle Lowry is no longer looking lost offensively. Lowry looked to be the proverbial fish out of water in Game 1 unable to find any rhythm and struggling to put any kind of imprint on the game. His counterpart, Bucks rookie Malcolm Brogden, looked much more like the veteran player of the two.
Lowry turned the tables on that matchup nicely in Game 2, taking advantage of the young Bucks guard. He was aggressive getting into the paint and then took what was available once there. Often it was a kick out to an open shooter but, as the game went on, Lowry changed it up and finished those drives at the basket.
As good as the Raps feel about their game today collectively, there is still plenty of room for improvement, starting with that a long-held habit of getting a lead only to take their foot off the gas.
It happened twice in Game 2 as the Raptors opened the lead up to 13 and then suddenly fell back on lazy habits. The good ball movement that led to both of those leads was replaced by lazy cross-court passes that were easily picked off, or the ball movement stopped altogether and bad shots were taken resulting in empty possessions.
Casey calls it getting ‘happy on the farm.’ For Raptors fans, it’s a real head-scratcher and nothing they associate with happiness of any kind.
After they were able to even up the series before heading back to Milwaukee, Rod Black, Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins explain why the Raptors need to keep pushing the ball and wearing down the Bucks defence if they want to earn the series edge in Game 3.
To begin, there was Jonas Valanciunas walling off the paint as DeMarre Carroll strove along with Giannis on his drives. That worked for a time — though it’s clear Carroll needs assistance. Antetokounmpo would often find himself swarmed by DeMar DeRozan or Lowry, coming in for steal or block attempts. Antetokounmpo was still often able to attack in the pick-and-roll as the screener or the ball handler, sometimes even switching roles in the same possession. It was evolution in real-time.
Then P.J. Tucker checked in and made things physical, hounding Giannis on the perimeter, enacting smart close-outs, and using his active hands to dislodge the ball. Again, the Bucks’ young star could and would recover, but the Raptors were doing what they could to keep him harried. Coach Dwane Casey said his team would not always go under screens — saying it makes the team “soft” — and while that was not necessarily true — Toronto gave Giannis space — the Raptors squeezed through them when they could to keep the pressure on. For his part, Giannis went 3-of-5 on jumpers just inside the arc anyway. It was like watching the T-1000 reform itself and keep coming.
Later in the game, the Raptors settled on something approaching a workable solution. Put Tucker on Khris Middleton to bottle him up, have Patterson contend with Giannis, and leave Serge Ibaka to roam when necessary — risking attacks from Thon Maker or Greg Monroe (who continues to be an under-the-radar problem in his own right). When Antetokounmpo slipped by Raptor players on the perimeter, or when, god forbid, the Greek Freak was able to get out and run, Ibaka too rose to the challenge.
Again, Delon Wright gets a few minutes, has an impact and his use in brief stints as a disruptive full-court defender and ball-handler was something Casey had planned long before it happened.
“I just thought he and Jakob both, there were times in the second quarter when were making substitutions to give guys a blow that he could come in and create. I thought he did an excellent job of coming in and creating shots, creating opportunities. I thought he did as good a defensive job as you can with Dellavedova and also Brogdon.”
I don’t think Wright’s ready to handle 22 minutes a night of playoff basketball – he still gets a little skittish at times with the ball – but he can have a big impact as a different look for eight or 10 minutes, for sure.
I’m sure you’ll see it every game from here on out, or at least until the Bucks find a way to exploit his inexperience. But since they’re so inexperienced, maybe they won’t.
“We have to be the desperate and aggressive team,” Kidd said. “I think we learned that in the month of March, that there’s never a time to be comfortable.
“It’s not about home court. Things happen. Look at hockey, and in the NBA you have (eighth-seeded) Chicago going to (top-seeded) Boston and winning two games.
“You have to go out there and take it or protect it.”
Yet after hearing all the noise from the energized “We the North” crowd in Canada, it will be nice for the young Bucks team to have a big crowd on its side.
Veteran guard Jason Terry said the Bucks must be smart in the way they approach it.
“Just coming home is not going to get the job done,” Terry said. “We need to have precise execution and really go after it and get this game.”
Rookie Jakob Poeltl got nearly four minutes worth of burn in the early going due to Jonas Valanciunas’ foul trouble in the first quarter, while head coach Dwane Casey looked to sophomore Delon Wright for roughly 8.5 minutes in the second frame as well.
Neither youngster made a huge splash in the box score (two points and a rebound for Poeltl, no points, two rebounds, and three assists for Wright), but both of them performed their jobs admirably when called upon.
Poeltl was a +4 in his limited minutes and his size and defensive presence made it hard for Milwaukee to go small. He contested three shots in 3.7 minutes, for a rate of 0.8 contests per minute. For context, Ibaka contested a monster 14 shots in 35.5 minutes for a rate of only 0.4.
Meanwhile, Wright’s length, mobility, and athleticism challenged the Bucks’ strengths and helped spark an important run in the second quarter. He might not have filled up the traditional box score, but in his 8.5 minutes of action, he managed to record a screen assist, amass three deflections, and contest four shots, according to NBA.com’s hustle stats.
Kyle Lowry was in attack mode all night and was rewarded with 22 points, while Serge Ibaka helped shut down the Bucks down the stretch. Rod Black, Sam Mitchell, Jack Armstong and Leo Rautins look at how these two stepped up.
“Everybody has their own thinking about screens, about physicality,” Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said. “There’s always different referees, they see things differently, their interpretation is different, so for us, we’ve just got to stay focussed on playing basketball and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Raptors were more forceful both fighting through screens and setting them in their 106-100 win Tuesday that tied the best-of-seven series 1-1. Toronto got free offensively to show some impressive ball movement and shooting — they had 24 assists on 34 baskets — and didn’t get caught up on screens defensively. That allowed them to clog the paint and limit the effectiveness of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“They showed me more bodies in the paint,” said Antetokounmpo, who still managed to have 24 points and 15 rebounds. “In the first game they let me go in the paint a lot. In the second game . . . they didn’t let me. When I was driving the ball into the paint, everyone was sacking me.”
Casey has long held that the Raptors need to be more consistently physical and decried the lack of toughness in their Game 1 performance.
“Everything else has to be heightened by our playoff level of play, our physicality,” he said. “That’s something that I thought they out-physicalled us, got into us, rode us off our line, and you can not let that happen at this time of year.”
Word on the visiting side – from Bucks reporters, broadcasters and even their coach Jason Kidd – is that Game 1 was some of the best basketball they have played all season, if not the best. Have we seen Toronto at its best in this series? No, probably not.
That’s not to say Milwaukee won’t continue to rise to the occasion, or that the Raptors will ultimately reach their ceiling, but – with the series evened up – one team seems to have more room for improvement. As Lowry continues to work his way back and get in sync with Tucker and Serge Ibaka, the hope is that their best is yet to come.
“For us, we see a little bit of how we can play,” Tucker said. “We don’t feel like we played a great game. We won and that’s great, but we want to get better. For us, it’s just taking it to another level still.”
The pressure has been and will continue to be on the favoured Raptors while the Bucks look to play spoiler. If nothing else, you can count on Milwaukee putting up a fight and making things interesting. This is still Toronto’s series to lose but now, more than ever, it’s clear: if they’re not careful, it’s far from a lock.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Dwane Casey said. “We’ve got to be ready for war. It’s not going to be easy. The game is not going to be pretty. We don’t want a pretty game. You talk about execution, that’s what the playoffs are about: playing after the execution is not there. Teams are going to take away your first option and probably your second option. After that it’s just about playing basketball. I thought our physicality was better. We’re going to have to take it up to another level to make it a grind-it-out game.
Stackhouse came in and preached defense and shared minutes across the roster, which is often a tough sell in the D-League. Many players in the D-League are hoping to play big minutes to get attention from the NBA. Stackhouse had his guys playing in the 20-25 minute range, but buying into his system. As a result, the 905 won; and as Stackhouse has said, teams like winners.
It’s not hard to believe that NBA teams will soon be calling Stackhouse about an NBA assistant coach deal or even a head coaching spot in the future. It feels like more a matter of when than if. And Stackhouse deserves it.
The Raptors 905 hosted the Maine Red Claws at Mississauga’s Hershey Centre on Wednesday night, leading the best-of-three Eastern Conference final 1-0, needing just one win to have a chance at championship in just the second year of the team’s existence.
But more than that, Stackhouse helped develop players not only to the help the parent organization but also to help players get better, higher-paying jobs.
Casey lauds Stackhouse for the work he did with Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl and Bruno Caboclo in keeping them sharp and getting them ready to help the NBA team.
“He did a great job with that team, growing that team, developing that team,” Casey said Wednesday.
But Stackhouse and his staff did more than just develop players in the Toronto system.
Edy Tavares was the D-League’s defensive player of the after a season in Mississauga and Axel Toupane was one of the team’s most versatile players.
Both parlayed their D-League season into NBA contracts, Tavares with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toupane with the New Orleans Pelicans.
There’s only so much you can do to prevent an insanely athletic seven-footer with a 7’4 wingspan from getting his. But the Raptors still need to do more.
“I thought our physicality was better,” Casey said. “But we’re going to have to take it up to another level. To make it a grind-it-out type of game. That’s what it’s going to come to.”
The Raptors were at least able to better constrict Antetokounmpo’s room to breathe in Game 2. Much of that improvement can be chalked up to simply hustling back on defence, something the Raptors were sluggish to do in Game 1. You can see it on the stat sheet—the Bucks had 18 dunks or layups in Game 1, and only 11 in Game 2.
Casey says his team also made adjustments to its guarding schemes in certain situations—he doesn’t particularly want to discuss them publicly—that he feels helped keep Antetokounmpo relatively in check.
“You’re not going to stop a superstar at this time of year. We want to slow him down. It’s not one guy. It’s a team effort. We want to continue to take his numbers down as much as we can,” Casey said. “We’ll probably guard him a different way tomorrow night.”
Valanciunas vs. Maker
The Raptors could use a breakout offensive game from centre Jonas Valanciunas, who enjoys a substantial bulk advantage in the matchup with Thon Maker, the 20-year-old Orangeville product. Valanciunas has been doing a good job chasing Maker out near the three-point line, but managed just nine points in Game 1 and 10 in Game 2.
The Raptors are the better team and should win this series, but the way the Bucks kept coming at them despite it being a must win game for Toronto has to be a bit concerning. The Bucks aren’t simply satisfied to be in the playoffs; they’re here to win this series. They could’ve let up, content with stealing home court advantage, but they battled until the very end. When it comes down to it though, the Raptors are simply better. Their frontcourt is better. Their bench is better. Their stars, Lowry and DeRozan are better at being aggressive and attacking the paint. The Raptors will settle down, begin to impose their will on the Bucks, and pull out the Game 3 win. It will be close, but Toronto will come out with a 2-1 lead.
A big aspect of the bounce back performance by the Raptors as a whole was their three-point shooting coming to life. Led by Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph the Raptors hit a franchise playoff record 14 three-pointers on 48% shooting from long range.
Moving forward, the Raptors will need to bring more toughness and more consistency to their game. It will be important for them to of course stay loose, but defensively it will be just as important for them to make things uncomfortable for Giannis Antetokounmpo. ‘The Greek Freak’ has had far too much room with which to operate and the to be frank, the Raptors have played him too soft to this point. The Raptors must deliver the metaphorical first punch when they come out on the road. By that, they must play more physically and make Giannis feel uncomfortable. When competing against a player as great as Antetokounmpo, sometimes making him feel uncomfortable is the best form of defense.
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