I find myself looking at this game much the same way I looked at Game 1. The Toronto Raptors should be ready to take this step, right?
Going into Game 1, the assumption was that this core had been through enough Game 1s to be comfortable in their own skin and beat a young, inexperienced team. Well, we know how that went. Tonight, it’s another test to see if the Raptors can take a different step forward.
After losing Game 6s in Indiana and Miami, they should be prepared to defeat this Bucks squad and close out the series. After competing for the first half in Indiana and carrying a four-point lead into the break, they were crushed 61-39 in the second half. In Miami, they were within six points with under eight minutes remaining, before Dragic and Wade pulled the Heat away.
The Raptors are 3-6 all-time in series closeout opportunities, and 1-5 when presented with the opportunity to do so on the road. Last year, the Raptors played 14 games before facing the Cavaliers and had virtually no time to prepare for Game 1. A win tonight would give them three days of rest before the Conference Semifinals begin. Toronto would be wise to set the tone early and control the tempo, as inexperience could lead to the Bucks feeling additional pressure in trying to climb uphill.
I was thinking about what Jason Kidd could do to counter Dwane Casey’s counter of starting Norman Powell, and there are a few options.
He could start Greg Monroe (the most anticipated move) for a bit more size and scoring in the low post, and though Serge Ibaka hasn’t had fared well against him thus far, I can’t imagine the Raptors feeling the need to change their lineup to adapt. Thon Maker could then come off the bench and go back to dragging Jonas Valanciunas out to the perimeter, easing things for their bench unit and perhaps freeing up the offence. That’s something they’ll be keen to do after struggling in the half-court over the past two games.
The other option for Kidd is to ask Giannis Antetokounmpo to pull a Magic Johnson and start at centre. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and having the Greek Freak at centre would allow room for a more respectable scoring threat than Maker. The question then would be whether to opt for Mirza Teletovic’s outside stroke, or Michael Beasley’s more rounded offensive game. Both offer very little in defensive resistance, and would likely assume the DeMarre Carroll assignment on that end. Rebounding could be an issue if they do take this unchartered route, but it can’t be much worse than their last game where they were outrebounded 40-23 and didn’t even have a single second-chance point.
The next problem the Bucks have to resolve is the ineffectiveness of Khris Middleton against Powell. Middleton has had a tough time coping with Powell’s 6’11” wingspan that has negated the length advantage that the Bucks swingman usually has over his defenders. Gone are the post-ups he was abusing Cory Joseph on, and if Kidd can’t find ways to free up the Texas A&M alum, the team will continue their offensive struggles.
This night has the makings of a special occasion for the franchise, with the Raptors having the opportunity to clinch the series, and the 905 in with a chance to win the D-League championship at the Hershey Centre. The only downside, and a big one at that, is that both games start at the same time.
The Raptors tip-off is scheduled for 7:00pm EST, will be televised on Sportsnet One and TNT, and hit the radio airwaves on TSN 1050. If you want to keep tabs on the 905, they will be available on Facebook Live and ESPNU.
The Raptors have found a winning formula, and should maintain the status quo for Game 6. The tactical change to insert Norman Powell in the starting lineup has worked wonders, allowing them to win a grind-it-out, muck-it-up type game like they did in Game 4, or a high paced offensive game like they did in Game 5.
Dwane Casey stated his preference for an offensively inclined game prior to Game 5, and that probably had more to do with the Bucks not having as many options to keep up in that type of contest. It worked out well at home, but that might be a dangerous path to take outside of the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre.
Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Bruno Caboclo have all remained with the Raptors 905 to try and win the D-League championship, so while it changes the depth chart a bit, those guys have yet to alter rotation patterns anyway.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, P.J. Tucker
PF: DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson
C: Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet
At this point, there’s nothing to suggest a change in the Bucks starting lineup, so they’ll have to just execute better in the half-court, create transition opportunities off their traps, and let the energy of the home crowd do as much damage as it did in Game 3. The Raptors players and Casey praised the passion Milwaukee’s fans brought to the BMO Harris Bradley Center, but also warned that they’ll be ready for what’s coming this time around.
PG: Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova, Gary Payton II
SG: Tony Snell, Jason Terry, Rashad Vaughn
SF: Khris Middleton, Michael Beasley
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mirza Teletovic
C: Thon Maker, Greg Monroe, Spencer Hawes, John Henson
OUT: Jabari Parker
Game 1: Raptors -7.5 (Bucks 97, Raptors 83)
Game 2: Raptors -8 (Raptors 106, Bucks 100)
Game 3: Bucks -1.5 (ERASED FROM MEMORY)
Game 4: Bucks -2 (Raptors 87, Bucks 76)
Game 5: Raptors -7 (Raptors 118, Bucks 93)
Game 6: Bucks -1.5
The Bucks are 1.5-point favourites, the same line from Game 3, so take that for what it’s worth. Going into that game, Milwaukee’s players genuinely believed they had let one slip in Game 2 and were charged up to get the next one. Now, they’re coming off a blowout defeat and are searching for answers. Can this young team that showed tremendous poise through the first three games get it together to force a Game 7? Will the Raptors maintain the play that actually makes them look like the more experienced team? We’ll find out the answer to each of those questions soon enough.