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Where’s the Ball Movement?

The Raptors aren’t dead yet. If you find yourself pacing the hallway at work this morning, replaying the worst game in franchise history just remember Toronto is down one game. They were embarrassed, humiliated, routed, crushed, overpowered and conquered but even a thesaurus can get tired describing the hurt the Bucks put on last night. Still, there’s a lesson to be learned in any great defeat and Thursday’s Deer-on-Dinosaur violence is no different. Toronto needs to move the ball.

One glance at the team leaders from last night tells you all you need to know about Toronto’s inability to create shots. The Raptors handed out just 11 assists on 24 field goals. Cory Joseph led the team with three assists and was surpassed by the likes of Malcolm Brogdon (9), Khris Middleton (7) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (4). Even Greg Monroe dished out three helpers in the winning effort while Kyle Lowry finished the night with two.

The Raptors were always going to be challenged by the Bucks in this series but everyone’s fears came to full fruition last night when Milwaukee’s length dictated Toronto’s offence. The great advantage in having the ball in your hands should be the ability to conduct the play. The Raptors failed to make the Bucks change anything in their defence last night. The Raptors seemed content to run high-screens and camp out at the three point-line. With zero dribble penetration courtesy of another erratic Kyle Lowry performance and a down-right confused Cory Joseph, the Raps were left to toss up bricks from deep. Toronto finished a dismal 6-22 from beyond the arc and just 24-71 from the field overall thanks to a lack of ball movement.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Just like the “ambush that was expected”, so too were the Raptors’ struggle with moving the ball. During the regular season Toronto finished with an assist ratio of just 14.6 percent. For those keeping track, that’s a .1 percent improvement over the Phoenix Suns, who finished dead last in the same category this season. Perhaps this telling number was overshadowed by Toronto’s 6th ranked offensive rating during the year, or the far-too-leaned on excuse that Kyle Lowry missed a large chunk of the season.

Regardless, Toronto was stuck running the same version of their offence that kept them alive based almost solely on DeMar and Kyle’s ability to hit shots. When those shots didn’t fall thanks to an actual long team employing playoff-level defence, the Raptors panicked. They got stuck watching an iso-play unfold instead of cutting off the ball, creating a second pass to expose the weak side or even taking it hard to the basket. Those seconds of indecision were magnified last night, especially against a team as long as the Bucks. The amount of times Middleton, Antetokounmpo or Brogdon recovered to deny the high-screen will be playing on repeat in the Raptors’ minds leading up to Saturday afternoon.

Toronto’s biggest advantage was supposed to be their experience. It’s clear that the Greek Freak is the most talented player in this series, and any notion of him or the rest of this young team experiencing nerves was quickly wiped away in Game 1. Now the Raptors look like the inexperienced unit. They were overwhelmed repeatedly just trying to set up their offence, let alone execute it. While a large chunk has to fall on Casey the players themselves need to step up and trust each other. At least Casey recognizes what needs to change:

“It’s moving the basketball. The basketball will find the right person, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Casey said. “That’s what (the coaches) have to sell the guys on: You have to move the basketball. You’re not going to dribble around them, you’re not going to outrun them or out-quick them, but the ball can beat speed and quickness. That’s what we did in Game 2, and that’s what we have to get back to. (Doug Smith)

While the theory is nice, we watched the practice explode last night. Toronto was either unable or unwilling to share the rock, or simply unprepared. The most concerning aspect from last night is the lack of time Toronto has to fix it. They need to improve from a team with the second-worst assist ratio percentage in the league to one that is capable of passing around some of the rangiest defenders in the NBA.

The Raptors have the experience to tie this series and make it a three game set with home-court advantage, but can they trust each other?

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