Maybe they’re just comfortable this way. The Toronto Raptors are once again headed out on the road looking to wrestle home-court advantage back in a playoff series, having squandered the first pair at home to the tune of a 1-1 series tie. Losing a game at home is not a death knell by any means, and the Raptors have shown the ability to fight back from 0-1 deficits, or 10-point deficits, or whatever other obstacles they’ve put in their own way. As discussed here the last few days, though, it renders the margin for error thin, and it ratchets the pressure up for Games 3 and 4 in Milwaukee, the first of which goes down Thursday at the Bradley Center.
“A dog fight,” P.J. Tucker said yesterday at practice. “That’s all we talked about today. They’re gonna come out hard. They won home-court advantage by winning one here, so now we gotta get it back, and they’re gonna do everything not to give us one. This third game is gonna be a game and we gotta come out like we’re going into a fight.”
If there was a consistent message around the Raptors since Game 2 ended, it’s that the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t going to just be willing to concede control back to the Raptors. win Game 3 and the series is back where it should be for Toronto. If the Bucks can take it, though, the pressure ratchets up – the Raptors won each Game 3 a year ago, and a 1-2 hole is a different thing altogether. The Raptors, then, aren’t feeling any less pressure to take their presumed 2-1 edge, and the discourse was about getting even better, not simply repeating what led them to a narrow victory on Tuesday.
“I don’t think so,” Tucker said of easing the pressure with a Game 2 win. “I think it ramps it up a little bit more. For us, we see a little bit of how we can play. 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.”
History still shades slightly to Toronto’s side. Teams with home-court advantage in a series tied 1-1 after two still in 60.3 percent of series. They’re a -225 favorite for the series, per Bettingsports. BPI gives them a 70-percent chance at winning the series and a 41-percent chance of doing so in six games or less. They won in this exact situation twice last year. And there were a lot of small things they did better in the last meeting that, if they continue to build on, should have them in a good place. That starts with moving the ball a lot better and not going away from that like they did in the third quarter Tuesday.
The game tips off at 8 on NBA TV and TSN on TV and on Sportsnet 590 on radio.
I tried to do our usual thing where we’ll send some questions to the other side, but I wasn’t able to drum up responses in this instance. For some of their perspective, here’s what BrewHoop thought of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Game 2 performance and the job the Raptors did on him:
Toronto played off Giannis plenty tonight, daring him to shoot. Rarely was he able to find a modicum of space in the entrenched paint, and it oftentimes took one of those VICIOUS screens or his man getting lost in traffic to free up enough space for the lane. He got a few feeds as the roll man tonight, but for the most part, Toronto was asking him to shoot jumpers, and he obliged until taking it to the post in the final quarter. With Toronto’s considerably better shooting tonight too, there were less opportunities to push off the miss. As such, his game looked a little neutered compared to game one, but the fact he didn’t stop shooting or probing the Raptors’ interior was an encouraging sign.
The Raptors, for their part, think they can do even better, with Tucker in particular saying he thinks as the series winds on and they learn him better, the team can improve limiting his transition game.
Here’s one more note from Adam Paris’ recap, something I found myself thinking about in the fourth quarter, too, after Jason Kidd not only went with Mirza Teletovic early in the fourth, but then stuck with Matthew Dellavedova late over Tony Snell:
Let’s talk briefly about Delly…Now, anyone could’ve missed that shot, but Tony Snell had also been hot from deep all night, bucketing two aforementioned clutch transition threes. Not to mention the fact Snell got subbed in for the final possession for defensive purposes on DeRozan. If you know Snell is “the man” to guard DeRozan, wouldn’t you want him in there in the waning minutes of another potential road win? Perhaps that could’ve helped prevent his go-ahead jumper late? Not to mention the fact wing threes are Snell’s hottest shot locations all year. Delly deserves minutes, but I don’t think the rationale necessarily matched up with the scenario tonight.
Dellavedova helped get a lot going for Milwaukee’s offense as a screener in Game 1, but he was less effective here. The Bucks have played two point guards together more than anticipated, and seeing more of Snell would probably be a negative for the Raptors.
The biggest change head coach Dwane Casey made in Game 2 was to go deeper into his rotation. Jakob Poeltl played four minutes due to Jonas Valanciunas’ foul trouble and Serge Ibaka’s sore ankle, and while that’s probably not a firm part of the gameplan going forward, it’s nice to know he’s there as a reliable option. Delon Wright played nine minutes, and that felt like more of a fundamental rotation expansion to nine men. He responded well and made a case for even more playing time, though Cory Joseph may have already been close to the minimum Casey will play him (they’ve really talked about how much Joseph’s improved shooting has helped with spacing). Casey also mentioned that Norman Powell will have a place in this series at some point. It would be surprising and a stark change for Casey to run with an 11-man rotation, but as expected entering the series, it looks to be “eight with a spark from a young guy here and there,” which is a nice way to make use of the Raptors’ depth.
The other notable change was the heavy use of the Tucker-Patrick Patterson-Serge Ibaka trio, on paper their best bet for defending this Bucks team. They hardly played together in Game 1 but saw ample run Tuesday, and that trio with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan figures to be one of Casey’s primary options closing a tight game out. They’d make for a good starting lineup, too, but it doesn’t seem like a change is coming after the Raptors’ starters played to a positive in the last one. The lack of rebounding edge Toronto’s been able to gain with the respective starting groups continues to perplex, with the Raptors grabbing just 51 percent of rebounds with that fivesome and just 51.2 percent overall. That simply has to be an advantage for Toronto in this series.
With all lineups, it’s important to remember that this group essentially had three regular season games together, and everyone is still figuring things out. That includes Casey, who has had a very quick hook for some lineups that haven’t worked out.
“It’s a challenge because we haven’t had as many games and now they’re intense, meaningful games,” Casey said. “So the communication, the nuances, understanding what certain guys are going to do in certain situations they’re still feeling each other out. So that’s a huge part…As we go along hopefully they get better.”
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carrol, P.J. Tucker
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam
Kidd made a few curious choices with his rotation in Game 2, and there are a few things he’ll probably tweak here. Teletovic has been ineffective, and Spencer Hawes almost single-handedly got Lowry going again. With Thon Maker showing he can handle himself in longer minutes, including the high-leverage closing minutes, Kidd may soon get comfortable working with a two-center rotation rather than three. The option to slide Antetokounmpo there still exists, too, and should scare the Raptors at least a bit. And Kidd’s closing unit night to night remains a question mark (he’s used fewer lineups than the Raptors in general).
PG: Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova, Gary Payton II
SG: Tony Snell, Jason Terry, Rashad Vaughn
SF: Khris Middleton, Michael Beasley
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mirza Teletovic
C: Thon Maker, Greg Monroe, Spencer Hawes, John Henson
OUT: Jabari Parker
Game 1: Raptors -7.5 (Series Raptors -350) (Bucks 97, Raptors 83)
Game 2: Raptors -8 (Series Raptors -165) (Raptors 106, Bucks 100)
Game 3: Bucks -1.5
Series: Raptors -225 (implied probability of 69.2 percent)
The market is factoring in a huge swing for home court in this playoff series, it would appear. The line moving 9.5 points between games without any fundamental shift in team health or identity means that there’s more than the usual three-to-four points swinging for location (going Toronto to Milwaukee could have been expected to move the line seven or eight points, normally). There’s also a chance the market likes the Bucks better now than at the start of the series, a reasonable take, but the Raptors remain strong series favorites nonetheless. The over-under is at 196.5 following totals of 180 and 206.