For the third time in the last two years, the Toronto Raptors won a Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead. The pattern has been a little different this time around, though, and with back-to-back wins now heading into Thursday’s Game 6 in Milwaukee, the Raptors feel very much in control of the series. Teams with a 3-2 series lead and the cushion of Game 7 at home are 168-15 throughout NBA history, and the Raptors went 2-0 in that situation last year, although they ultimately required that extra game in each instance.
Head coach Dwane Casey will downplay the idea of momentum or having solved the Bucks. The Bucks will look deep at potential rotation changes or ways to counteract the Raptors actually, you know, passing. But for tonight – until midnight, to hear DeMarre Carroll tell it – the Raptors can feel good about their most emphatic win of not just this series, but perhaps the entire postseason history of this core.
Norman Powell Podium Game
I wrote about Norman Powell’s big Game 4 here and have to write about it again for Vice tonight, so let me be brief: Norman Powell was so good in this game he made Tony Snell see God.
this dunk pic.twitter.com/WixMNtUWvv
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 25, 2017
He also replaced Bismack Biyombo as Lucas Nogueira’s father.
Bebe jokes that he asked Powell to adopt him after Norm gets paid the summer after next. (At least I think he was joking)
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 25, 2017
In our series preview roundtable, I picked Powell as my X-factor for this series, thinking his ability to slow Khris Middleton and work as a weak-side attacker would be a great fit against the Bucks, if he could find his way into minutes. I didn’t expect him to suddenly make Steph Curry look like Blake Murphy from beyond the arc and start raining hell-fire from long-range, and I don’t think even Powell would have expected to make this big an impact across two games.
To call Casey’s starting lineup change a success would be a vast understatement. Even if you think Powell should have been playing earlier – he played exactly zero minutes over the series’ first three games with the score within single-digits and just 20 overall – better late than never is the attitude to take from here. Powell’s starting, and he’s making an obscene impact. On Monday, that was to the tune of a team-high 25 points on just 11 field-goal attempts, with four rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a plus-23 rating to accompany.
“He’s a spark-plug. He’s the X-factor,” Casey said. “So many times you’re so concerned about DeMar and Kyle, rightfully so, that that next spark-plug, that next guy, the next instigator is the guy. Is this series, he’s been the X-factor. Next series, next game it might be a different story but he’s done an excellent job of playing off those two and taking what the game’s giving him, whether it’s the three-point shot or attack to the basket.”
A lot to be positive about
Pick your angle, and there’s something to be optimistic about. DeMar DeRozan turned in a downright masterful performance, Dwane Casey coached a strong game, Jonas Valanciunas thrived in his bench role, Serge Ibaka was incredibly early, DeMarre Carroll gave really good minutes.
The most sustainable aspect of the performance, though, may have been the ball movement. The Raptors have only occasionally embraced what was plainly a key to the series against Milwaukee’s defense, but Monday was the best they’ve looked not only in the series, but ever. That’s not hyperbole – the Raptors 28 assists were the fifth-most in franchise history for a postseason game, and it resulted in a franchise-best 57.7-percent mark from the floor. (They also had eight secondary assists and two free-throw assists, the former really speaking to the ball pinging around the floor.) The hope from here is that unlike after Game 2, this success will pick up steam moving forward.
“It’s gotta be a confidence builder in the fact that now guys, they know when they give the ball up that that player has an opportunity to score or has a good rhythm going,” Casey said. “And that made those 28 assists a lot easier, when that ball’s zinging around and you’re not afraid to give it up, is he gonna catch it, what’s he gonna do with it. I thought guys make excellent decisions out of the double team, out of the trap, and everybody that caught it was ready to play, ready to either drive it, pass it, or shoot it.”
The Raptors hit 12-of-27 on threes, which helps matters. They may not shoot 44.4 percent every night out, and this was a bit of regression from a pretty shaky mark on good looks earlier in the series. Even if they don’t shoot quite that well, though, the decisiveness and willingness to make the right reads – not just for threes but for the dive men – should continue to produce decent looks. Nobody was better contributing to that end than DeRozan, who, with only 18 points, had one of the best games of his playoff career. DeRozan played solid defense, dished six dimes, and added three secondary assists (plus a free-throw assists)
“I understand every game is going to be different. I knew tonight they were going to come out, try to get the ball out of my hands early, blitz me, double team me, wherever I caught the ball, just me being conscious of that and taking advantage of it early.”
Seeing that again Thursday could mean the end of the series. A detraction from it like the Raptors saw in Game 3 likely means a Game 7 back in Toronto on Saturday.
Injury Updates – Kyle Lowry guts it out
Early in the game, it looked as if Kyle Lowry might be set to labor through the game thanks to the back stiffness that held him out of shootaround and rendered him a game-time decision. He looked a little mechanical, didn’t have a ton of lift, and even missed a clean early look at the rim. Either it was a decoy, or Lowry’s back loosened up as the game went along, because the three-time All-Star gutted out a terrific performance.
“That’s what he’s about. That’s what he does,” P.J. Tucker said. “He goes out and sacrifices himself for the team to get the win. He’s done what he has to do for us to get the win. That’s Kyle Lowry.”
Lowry finished with 16 points on just nine field-goal attempts, grabbed three rebounds and three steals, and dished 10 assists. The Raptors were an obscene plus-29 in his 36 minutes, which speaks to a performance that far outstripped his stat line, and easily the best he’s turned in during this series. Getting into passing lanes, drawing ridiculous charges from much bigger players, and just generally doing Lowry things at both ends of the floor, it was great to see Lowry look comfortable not just physically but within the context of the series itself.
“I’m alright. This is the playoffs,” Lowry said. “The opportunity to play, enjoy my teammates, and a great game, be out there with my guys. There’s nothing like that. For me, I’m going to take the bumps and bruises to be able to go on the floor and be with our guys, especially with the way Norm played tonight, it made it way more worth it.”
It wasn’t without issue. Lowry was laying on the floor for most of his time off the court, getting worked on a la Steve Nash. He even wrapped Anteotkounmpo at one point to briefly check out of the game. That the Raptors have two days off before Game 6 is a nice break.
- Toronto’s starters were a +17 in 18 minutes, an incredible turnaround from the rest of the series (yes, even Game 4, when they were a -1). Shout out to DeMarre Carroll having a really nice impact at the start of each half.
- The Kyle Lowry-and-bench unit was Lowry-Joseph-Tucker-Patterson-Valanciunas, and they were a +7 in 11 minutes. They shot 11-of-16!
- Rather than a DeMar DeRozan-and-bench unit, Casey opted to keep Norman Powell with that group (in place of Patterson). They, too, were excellent, going +10 in four minutes.
- Every lineup looks good in a game like this, but Lowry-less groups other than that one really struggled, playing to a collective -11 in a little under eight minutes.
- Milwaukee’s starters were strangely a +1 opposite Toronto’s starters in 16 minutes, because they came back together as a unit at another point and made a run. Their second-most used lineup was also a +3 in five minutes.
- Everything else, though, was a disaster, and Kidd has some bench issues to iron out before Thursday. Outside of those two groups, the Bucks were a -29 in 27 minutes.
- DeMarre Carroll made reference to a very heated post-Game 3 video session the team had. Asked about that session, Kyle Lowry offered his best Russell Westbrook: “We don’t remember that. Next question.”
- You’re not going to believe this, but the Raptors are saying they’re going to treat Thursday’s game like a Game 7. It’s my favorite part of the postseason – a two-day break where everyone will talk it up like a Game 7. The Raptors went 2-3 in games they treated like a Game 7 last year despite going 2-0 in actual Game 7s.
- Here’s Carroll: “Like we said when we came in the locker room. We can’t get too high. Enjoy it until midnight. Approach it like it’s a Game 7 and come out and throw the first punch. Hopefully we’ve learned from last year.”
- And DeRozan: “We’ve got to treat it like Game 7, period. Nothing else to it. Treat it like a Game 7. We can’t be happy with these last two games, we’ve just got to treat this next game like it’s Game 7.”
- And Tucker; “Treat it like a Game 7. We want to have effort. I think that’s the main thing with our team. If we come out and play hard, we have good results.”
- Jonas Valanciunas offered a hilarious take on his scuffle with Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton that resulted in the two centers getting matching technicals: “They were pushing each other. I don’t know.”
- I’ve been posting some pics and quotes and other things to my Instagram story. This is the goodness:
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 25, 2017
- Game 6 goes Thursday at 7 or 8 in Milwaukee, depending on what happens with OKC-Houston. The Raptors will want to close it out there for some extra rest, because Game 1 of the next round starts Monday regardless.