Well, that was terrifying.
Full disclosure: I watched the game on a stream at the Raptors 905 final. I was able to pay pretty decent attention for the most part, but I’ll be rewatching the game later tonight before writing the recap. What follows is a little briefer than usual on account of me not having a 100-percent grasp on the collapse just yet. It overlapped with the 905 closing minutes (and the near-fight that ensued). On the bright side, it meant watching the closing minute of the game in the 905 locker room with some of the staff who weren’t ready to party just yet, which, combined with the Toronto Raptors turn out for Game 2 of the D-League Finals, really drives home how tight-knit the whole organization is. (Fred VanVleet was basically getting real-time score updates from me as they received their hats and shirts.)
Anyway, the Raptors are through, winning a playoff series in less than the maximum number of games for the first time in franchise history. They basically did everything in their power not to, though, coughing up a 25-point lead in the second half before settling in and closing it out thanks to an incredible dunk from DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 4-2. Barely. Nothing can ever be easy with this team.
Seriously, though, what the hell was that?
Up 25, the Raptors appear to have looked ahead to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I really can’t think of a better explanation than they thought their work was done, they took their foot off the gas, and it gave the Bucks renewed life. Sure, hard things are hard, but the Raptors have to be breathing a giant sigh of relief that they didn’t do it to themselves again.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “We made it hard on ourselves down the stretch but I thought we showed a lot of resiliency down the stretch. To close out on the road is one of the hardest things to do in the NBA, I don’t care who you are, what team you are, it’s very difficult to do.”
There was an animated timeout late in the game where it seemed to be Cory Joseph leading the discussion. Joseph is among the players on the roster with the most experience, and he’d come through with a big, big shot down the stretch, too. His words seemed to settle the rest of the team, too.
“I’ve seen a lot of playoff games from my previous team and being here last year,” Joseph said. “I’ve been in a lot of situations like that. You just always have to play until that clock is zero, zero, zero, zero, whatever. You could never get too high or you can never get too low…I was just saying during that timeout, because the scene was a little bit intense, guys looked tight on the bench, I was telling them relax, let’s move the ball, let’s run some plays, let’s do the things that got us up that high in the first place and just try to calm them down.”
Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka appeared to be loud voices in the timeout, too, and P.J. Tucker was audible on the broadcast at times with his defensive communication. Whatever combination of voices were heard, it worked, and the Raptors edged away by the skin of their teeth.
Just put it behind them
There’s no choice but to just put the collapse behind them, and most of the talk around the team was on the positive of pulling it out rather than the negative of letting it go in the first place. And you’ve heard this before, but maybe they can take something from it, though it would seem unlikely they’ll find themselves in a similar spot against Cleveland.
“We have to learn from it,” Casey said. “Most of all, understand what got us the lead and not think it’s over.”
“Hopefully we focus more on how we got the lead,” Patrick Patterson added. “Hopefully we focus more on that than what happened during that letdown. Build on that and just carry that into Clevleand.”
That lesson? Same as it’s always been with this team.
“Moving the ball got us the lead; not moving the ball got us in a slump; moving the ball at the end got us a win,” Tucker said.
Shocking. That’ll be a big key once again opposite the Cavaliers, especially since there are holes to poke at defensively.
The Bucks will be back
The Bucks are going to be damn scary in the coming years. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still just 22, in his second ever postseason series, and averaged 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, four assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.7 blocks while shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, 40 percent on threes, and getting to the line nearly eight times per-game. That he’s flanked by other good, young players, and that the team seems to have a sound fundamental foundation for growth from here, is at the same time exciting and terrifying.
“First off all, congratulations,” Casey said. “Those guys did a heckuva job, well-coached team, hard-playing team, that team’s going to be a heckuva team to deal with in the future.”
“They’re a tough team. Hats off to them,” Joseph echoed. “They play extremely hard. J-Kidd had those guys playing great team basketball. It was a tough, tough series.”
Here’s hoping the Raptors avoid the Bucks in round one next season.
Everyone appears to have gotten through the game unscathed. And now they’ve got three days to rest up before they play again. Casey said he still doesn’t think Lowry is 100 percent, but Lowry’s energy and hustle certainly suggest it’s not slowing him down much.
“I’m straight,” Lowry offered.
- There was a lot of weirdness on the Raptors side, because Casey started trying anything and everything to slow the Bucks’ run. The weirdest thing may have been the starters playing to a draw in their 11 minutes, although even an effective Raptors starting group is always going to regress to bad starts, I guess.
- The Lowry-and-bench group that led to some excitement with Valanciunas on the bench didn’t come through, going a -5 in two minutes.
- The DeRozan-and-bench group wasn’t much better, going -5 in four minutes.
- Tucker with the starters, another popular suggestion, also went -5 in four minutes.
- On the bright side, the Raptors were good for a long stretch of the game. That included a potential look for against the Cavs, with Tucker and Valanciunas in with the starters. That group was a +7 in seven minutes.
- A lineup of Joseph, Valanciunas, and the starters also went +7 in three minutes, and that, too, might be an option for more ball-handling up top and switchability on the back line against Cleveland.
- The Bucks starters played to a draw in 13 minutes. It was combo units that really did the damage in their comeback.
- Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Snell joined by Dellavedova and Monroe were a +3 in 11 minutes.
- Antetokounmpo and Middleton joined by Dellavedova, Terry, and Monroe were a +12 in 11 minutes.
- It was all of the other Bucks lineups that gave way to Toronto’s big pull-away early. Outside of those three groups, the Bucks were -18 in 13 minutes
- The Bucks tried a John Henson experiment, which went to the tune of a -8 in nine minutes.
- They only briefly tried Antetokounmpo at center, and it was much ado about nothing: They were a -2 in two minutes.
- Raptors 905 won the D-League Championship tonight with absolutely massive contributions from the Raptors’ assignment players. They’ll all rejoin the team tomorrow, likely with a hangover.
- I’ve been posting some pics and quotes and other things to my Instagram story.
- Watching the end of the Raptors game from the 905 locker room was a pretty interesting experience.
- DeRozan shouted out the 905 after the game.
— NBA D-League (@nbadleague) April 28, 2017
- The second round against Cleveland begins Monday. You can find the schedule here.
- We’ll close with this, from DeRozan: “Just ready for the next one.”