Shootaround news & notes: Lowry has stiff back, Joseph and Middleton under the weather

Everyone is supposed to play, but woof.

It wouldn’t be a Toronto Raptors playoff series without some injury drama. And it wouldn’t be a Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks matchup without the threat of important pieces missing time (the two sides didn’t play at full health in any of their four regular-season meetings).

Kyle Lowry missed shootaround on Monday due to back stiffness. The point guard showed up, got some treatment, and left, and while he’s still expected to play in Game 5 later this evening, this obviously isn’t the best news for Toronto.

The three-time All-Star has continued to be up-and-down in the postseason, but he’s shot the ball fairly well since Game 1 and turned in a very strong second half in a pivotal Game 4 victory. For the series, he’s averaging 14.3 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 40 percent from the floor and 25 percent on threes, hardly up to his usual level of performance. Still, the Raptors have been 8.8 points per-100 possessions better with him on the court than off, and they really have no choice but to hope he edges closer and closer to full KLOE mode as the series wears on.

Now, they’re just left hoping he’ll be able to play at all, and play at something resembling a level of workable comfort. A Lowry absence would be a massive hit to Toronto’s chances of taking a 3-2 series lead, as the margins for error and slippage have proven minuscule in this series.

What’s more, the succession plan to Lowry is also at less than 100 percent. Cory Joseph sounded like all hell at shootaround, and while he insisted he’ll be fine, he, too, might be at something less than 100 percent. Considering how he’s played at times during the series, Monday could wind up being another big Delon Wright game, either in place of someone on the depth chart or just soaking up more minutes.

Joining Joseph in feeling under the weather is Khris Middleton, who is likewise ill but expected to play tonight. Middleton’s been a real problem for the Raptors in this series, averaging 15 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. The Raptors did a much better job on him Saturday thanks in part to the efforts of Norman Powell, but Middleton can be expected to respond with adjustments of his own, assuming he feels well enough.

I thought it was a team thing, there’s no Norm against Middleton or so-and-so against anybody, it’s a team defense,” Dwane Casey said Monday. “Any time you say it’s so-and-so against so-and-so, it’s disingenuous, it’s more our team concepts more so than an individual one-on-one thing. But Norm did his job, did what he’s supposed to but again I think it’s multiple people, multiple bodies.”

This being Game 5 of the first round, there are very few teams around the NBA at 100 percent, and so it’s difficult to feel too bad for either side here. Guys are going to play at less than full health from here on out, and you just have to hope the ones on your side work around the injuries or illnesses a little better than those on the other side.

Both teams willing to ride 3-point variance to take away something else

The story coming into this series beyond the arc was that neither team was likely to shoot a ton from there, but both teams could hit at a fairly decent clip when they did. That’s what their individual regular season numbers suggested, at least. Through four games, variance at the 3-point line has played a big factor. On Saturday, both teams were woeful from long-range, with only Lowry, Powell, and Tony Snell hitting threes.

From Toronto’s perspective, that’s more tolerable. The Raptors are selling out to cut off the paint, where Milwaukee was the league’s most prolific team over the last two years. That aspect of the strategy is working fairly well – the Raptors are the No. 1 team at defending the pick-and-roll ball-handler so far in the postseason and No. 3 against isolations, and the Bucks have dropped from 48.6 points in the paint per-game in the regular season to 36 in this series.

“Our thing is take away the paint,” Casey said. “They’re a get-it-into-the-paint team, your philosophy defensively is first take away the paint, you have to take away the highest percentage shot. Then make sure we execute our rotations out. In first three games we didn’t do a good job of getting out to the shooters.”

That focus has expectedly left the 3-point line open some, with the Raptors uneven in their effectiveness scrambling back out onto shooters. On Saturday, the Bucks were 1-of-9 on open threes, but they’ve been much better over the course of the series on an ungodly number of clean attempts – they’re 8-of-29 on threes with a defender within 4-to-6 feet and 25-of-48 on threes with no defender within six feet. Despite the glacial pace of this series and Milwaukee’s middling regular-season rate of attempts, only Boston has averaged more wide open threes per-game so far this postseason.

“We’re getting great looks around the 3-point line and we’ve got to continue to take them,” head coach Jason Kidd said Monday. “It’s just out of character just firing them up — you know, the ball’s got to touch the paint, and guys have to make plays for one another, and hopefully we can do that tonight.”

Toronto can’t adjust too far to run the Bucks off the line, because they’d rather live with the variance there than risk ceding the paint back.

“Their whole team, pretty much, can shoot threes. I think for us, it’s guarding the 3-point line,” P.J. Tucker said. “But when you guard the 3-point line, you don’t want to give up straight line drives, because you’ve got a lot of long guys that can finish at the rim. Closing out isn’t enough, it’s being able to contain, too, is one of the biggest things we need to work on.”

The Raptors missed some good looks, too, though, and while they aren’t as strong a shooting team player-for-player, Serge Ibaka probably won’t go 4-of-16 again, and at some point, DeMarre Carroll or Patrick Patterson are going to hit a couple threes. Toronto is shooting a reasonable 42.9 percent on wide open threes but a terrible 30.6 percent on the 4-to-6 foot coverage (possibly a nod to Milwaukee’s length, depending on exactly how defender proximity is calculated). They’re also barely shooting 50 percent within five feet, and while some of that is a hat-tip to who the Bucks are, the Raptors haven’t been doing themselves favors.

“We left some layups on the table, finishes at the rim,” Casey said. “I think Cory missed a couple of bunnies he had at the basket, some open shots we missed. We left points on the table, opportunities to attack the basket, run the floor.”

Other Notes

  • Casey made it seem as if they’ll stick with the same starting lineup here unless the Bucks change theirs.
  • Bruno Caboclo and Pascal Siakam were recalled from Raptors 905 of the D-League. They’ll be in street clothes for this one assuming Lowry and Joseph can go, and then they’ll return to the 905 for Game 2 of the D-League Finals tomorrow.
  • Tucker did NOT appreciate me teasing about him and Patterson wearing the exact same outfit in Game 4. “I knew that was coming.”
  • A reminder from Kidd that situations like this game, however stressful, are also awesome: “Yeah, this is a great challenge. This is what basketball is about this time of the year, the swing games. Games 3 and 5 are always important games for momentum, and whoever wins this game controls the series.”
  • Here’s Casey on the Maple Leafs losing in 6: “I was really proud of the Leafs, I thought they did a great job. Coach Babcock did a great job leading that young team. They’re fighting one of the top teams in the NHL. Where the Leafs are playing, the Blue Jays, we have to have a single mindset of going into the game tonight. It really doesn’t effect how we approach the game either way.”
  • Here are tonight’s shirts:

  • I’ve been posting some pics/quotes/updates to my Instagram story, since I don’r have Snapchat. You can follow along there, too, if you’d like.
  • Continued shouts out to the Open Gym crew for the excellent work and lightning quick turnaround on videos like this one, from Game 4:

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