FULL-COURT STRESS: Raptors Buck-le Under Game 3 Pressure

Raptors 77, Bucks 104 | Boxscore | Quick Reaction | Post-Game News & Notes | Reaction Podcast

Just, wow. Where to even begin…

For starters, I’m going to assume some of you can relate to my own experience. The setting: immediately after the first quarter buzzer.

As I stepped out onto my 6th floor balcony to decompress and attempt to figure out whether or not what I just witnessed actually took place, I noticed an elaborate setup across the street (a mobile media crew of sorts) that was projecting the game onto the facade of an old storage warehouse. Now, normally I would have enjoyed such a genius idea, but when you add an onslaught of pouring rain and howling winds to the equation, reliving the first quarter highlights (even though I could hardly make out which player was which from my vantage point) came with an otherworldly type of vibe. I got chills for the wrong reasons; perhaps the Basketball Gods were trying to tell me something.

Which got me thinking: (Note: I’ll be rehashing/venting about the actual game shortly.

If there’s one thing this entire fan base can agree on (though brainstorming such a topic doesn’t exactly amount in a long list to choose from), it would be the fact that there’s never a dull moment being a part of it, at least as far as the last four years are concerned.

Still, much like the Raps’ failure to show up for work yesterday, an outright debacle (or should I say: an example of how a team’s effort level can give the middle-finger to its fans) tends to transpire every once in a while. And considering the action coming into Game 3 set the stage for must-see basketball theatre, it’s a damn shame we didn’t get our money’s worth ended up getting robbed. In case your fandom is extremely casual, take your pick of the most visible:

(A) Kyle Lowry having to respond to his critics, and doing so emphatically. (B) Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker reminding everyone why each of them represented a perfect fit in the first place. (C) The fear of Giannis Antetokounmpo becoming all too real. (D) The Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of this squad rearing its ugly (though at times prosperous) quarter-to-quarter head.

Hold up, though, before we break Game 3 open, it’s only right to also include a few aspects that were flying under the radar:

(A) Despite this matchup offering the biggest regular season rebounding edge among all possible playoff opponents, the Raps only held a minuscule 87-83 advantage over the first two games.

(B) Remember how the Bucks were thrown under the bus on draft night after “reaching” for Thon Maker at 10th overall? His defensive presence alone has people scrambling to cover up their previous assessment — including plenty of Raptors fans. As you all know, Jakob Poeltl went a pick before Maker, and even his though his future is bright, I can’t be alone when wishing the year was 3017 and time travel was a viable option.

(C) Nobody wants to bring it up cause the storyline will only gain steam if the Raps (knock on wood) make an early exit, but it’s interesting nonetheless. With Jerry Stackhouse taking home the D-League’s Coach of the year honors this week, his profile only heightens that much more. Which at the same time, means he’ll be getting plenty of interest around the league for either a top assistant job or quite possibly even the keys to a team regardless if he’s truly ready.

Food for thought, though: Has Masai’s master plan always included Stackhouse eventually taking over as T.O.’s bench boss? Well, let’s just say the spotlight under Dwane Casey and Jason Kidd’s intriguing rotation battle might just have more meaning than meets the eye. Post-Game Update: Feel free to bump this up the pecking order of storylines.

But even with the aforementioned backdrop in place, there’s too many rotation/adjustment unknowns to pinpoint how a playoff matchup will unfold. However, that doesn’t mean Game 1 can’t be summed up by saying the Raps simply tried to erase a deficit too quickly by hoisting up three after three and then running out of time before getting the chance to rectify their mistake. In the same but opposite breath, you could also say that the three-ball was their Game 2 savior. Can it be all so simple? It can be when the power of it is so apparent. But it also speaks to how one-dimensional they can become in any given game regardless of the outcome.

As for what directly caused last night’s abysmal performance: Well, did the Bucks’ length and athleticism combination in nearly every player on the roster finally morph into an unstoppable force? Was Milwaukee’s defence that stifling? Or, was it a prime example of how things can go haywire at a moment’s notice? I mean, the Raps seemed so intimated by the Bucks’ transition game that they were leaving opportunities for offensive rebounds on the table just to get back quicker.

I’ll take door number three but for an added reason, as it just translates into a lack of preparation and the look of a disinterested demeanor.

The first quarter created an undisciplined monster that continued throughout the game and could never catch up. The defense was scrambling like the month was November, communication (at either end) was essentially nonexistent, and the Bucks’ faithful let every outsider know that they shouldn’t underestimate how much of an impact a hungry crowd can make.

In the moment, the Raps became a discombobulated mess. In the big picture, the Bucks looked eerily similar to what the Raps once were. Wait a minute… would that mean the Raps have become the 2017 version of the 2013 Brooklyn Nets? Yes, bad joke.

A few stats from that 1st quarter:

Raps: 22.2 FG%, 3 assists, 4 boards, 0 threes, 0 bench points.

Bucks: 66.0 FG%, 11 assists, 13 boards, 4 threes.

Now, Milwaukee also managed to put up such an opening eruption without getting to the line. Which does bode well for history not repeating itself on Saturday afternoon. Not to mention the fact that the odds of Giannis hitting from downtown with the same regularity are also slim. Fingers crossed anyway, cause if that element of his game is now going to surface with consistency, Raptors fans discussing draft prospects in a week’s time is just an inevitability.

Somehow, however, Toronto managed to register more fast break points (19-6), more rebounds (40-36), and 11 more free-throw attempts. I’m still undecided if that miraculous fact actually makes this game that much more depressing, but at least there’s something on paper to counter the Raps’ 27.3 FG% (FOR THE GAME!), the Bucks 29-11 back-breaking edge in assists, and the troubling way DeMar DeRozan lethargically put up a goose egg in the field-goal column.

This game goes beyond stats, though, and a conversation between Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong during the broadcast illustrated a great point.

First, Devlin recited a Casey quote:

“We have to come to play with our identity and meet their intensity, which we know will be there early.”

Jack then responded with his own two cents:

“Not only meet their intensity, exceed their intensity. You’re the hunter tonight, you’re on the road.”

Armstrong summed up what I can only imagine an entire country was thinking. As for that Casey quote, what’s more telling than a team falling embarrassingly flat when they supposedly “knew” what they were in for.

In some ways, T.O. could stand to channel some of that Brooklyn team’s physicality, cause that department needs to improve in a hurry. The Refs are letting these two teams duke it out, and that’s a good thing in the grand scheme — if only the regular season was the same way. Problem is, so far this is a one-sided fight and there’s minimal signs that the Raps will all of a sudden start throwing the first punch.

In the end, this was the kind of game that made one contemplate whether or not we’re blinded by past success. And to that point, just how much can a previous season that featured an Eastern Conference Finals appearance carry over to the next.

On the flip side, there’s still time to get their act together. Lowry will once again have to quiet the negative noise, but we should all be used to K-Low and the rest of this squad excelling after they get taken down a notch. With that said, let’s not abort the mission just yet. Especially when the mainstream has their sights set on #KingVsFreak in round two.

The Grizzlies don’t play until 8pm on Saturday night. Perhaps David Fizdale is available for a pre-game motivational speech.

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