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The ‘Change is Good’ game

Dwane Casey and Norman Powell must have an interesting relationship. Powell was nowhere to be season for any stretches of important basketball during the first three games yet Casey tapped him on the shoulder in a start that surprised everyone for Game 4 in what felt like a must-win situation. He also started in place of Jonas Valanciunas as Casey opted to go small and inject a little more athleticism on both sides of the ball to counter the cyborgs the Bucks had morphed into.

The change worked, but only after Powell settled down and eased into his responsibilities as a starter. His first three plays of the game were a foul, missed dunk and another foul and it wasn’t until he drilled a three that you could see the lightbulb turn on. He finished the game with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists in an overall very effective start. He also knocked down all three of his attempts from deep and on a night the Raptors shot just five of 21 from beyond the arc.

Still, Powell’s effect on the offensive end wasn’t nearly enough to gloss over the fact that the Raps and Bucks were locked at 19-19 after the first quarter. The turnovers were ugly, the rim seemed half a size too small and if it weren’t for some jumpers from DeRozan and Middleton both teams would have barely touched the double-digit mark.

The second quarter didn’t offer anything more in terms of effective offence and it looked like the Raptors were on the verge of throwing away a strong defensive effort. From 10:57 left in the second quarter to 8:57 the Raptors failed to hit a field goal. A summary of their plays during that span goes like this:

Valanciunas turnover, Wright turnover, Lowry miss, DeRozan miss, Lowry miss, Ibaka Foul.

The ball movement was stagnant again and if it weren’t for DeRozan playing a brand of hero ball that he all but guaranteed before the start of the game the Raptors would still be trying to hit a field goal. Deebo was massive for the Raps after a brutal performance in Game 3 and finished the half with 21 points and 33 for the game. Casey tried to give Lowry some rest during the second quarter but it resulted in a turnover party form Joseph and Wright and another ugly quarter of offence. Luckily for the Raptors the Bucks were no better and both teams headed to the locker room tied at 41.

The dreaded third quarter was actually where Toronto finally pulled ahead thanks to their two all-stars who finally played like two all-stars. A DeRozan pull-up bank shot and dunk sandwiched a lay-up and three from Lowry and the two were feeding off the energy of one another and it was downright beautiful to see after a long absence. DeRozan was still losing his man on defence but Tucker, Ibaka and Powell did enough to make up for it. They took turns getting up on Giannis, and the Greek Freak finished a lowly six of 19 from the field for 14 points and seven turnovers. The defensive effort was enough to give Toronto the lead despite shooting with their eyes closed.

The 4th quarter was honestly no different than the rest of the game and if you sat there and cheered on the clock to tick down when the Raptors had the ball you weren’t alone. There was one encouraging sign though: JV spent meaningful minutes on the court in the 4th quarter. No, that was not a typo. Used almost exclusively in matchups against Greg Monroe, Valanciunas used his hook shot to the tune of three of his five made baskets (he was a perfect 5/5 from the field) and Casey actually kept him on the floor. Monroe was arguably the Bucks’ best player and made easy work of JV on numerous occasions but the trust Casey showed in him and his offensive touch are hopefully a positive sign of things to come.

The Raptors held it down on defence long enough to escape with the win and now it’s a best out of three with two games at home. Bring it on.

5 Big Takeaways

DeMarre Carroll should come off the bench, or not at all. With everyone assuming Tucker may start in place of Carroll, it was actually Carroll who took the court at tip and promptly picked up where he left off. He couldn’t keep anyone in front of him or hit a shot and finished one of six from the field with two points, six rebounds and two steals in 19 minutes. It’s not working.

Patrick Patterson is a ghost. Either Casey forgot he has Patterson on his roster or his toe injury from Game 2 is bothering him more than he’s letting on. Seven minutes? He played 30 during that Game 2 win and the lack of playing time is head-scratching.

Cory Joseph can’t hang with the Bucks. His lack of dribble penetration is killer against the Bucks. Their length instantly overwhelm him and it’s like watching your best friend getting bullied while you’re held back. He played seven minutes and his only stats were three missed shots and two turnovers.

Casey’s gamble paid off.
Everyone wanted his head after Game 3 and he responded with an all-in move. Starting Powell took a lot of guts, especially when he started off with two fouls but Casey kept with him and the move paid off.

Tony Snell is a killer.
The ex-Bull (no surprise there) was huge for the Bucks again. He was seven of 12 from deep and five of 10 from beyond the arc. He’s now 13 of 26 from deep but if Tony Snell is going to beat you then I guess that’s that.

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