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Pre-game news & notes: Can the Raptors finally close a series out early?

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So, this is a pretty big day for the Toronto Raptors organization. In Mississauga, Raptors 905 will top of for the deciding Game 3 of the D-League Finals, looking to bring a championship to MLSE for the first time in forever. The parent club Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, will look to close out a first-round playoff series in fewer than the maximum number of games for the first time ever as they visit the Milwaukee Bucks for Game 6.

And yes, that’s correct – the Raptors have never won a series in a non-elimination final game. That’s not necessarily that big a note given the limited playoff success of the franchise in general, but it’s been an arduous way to go about their recent postseason runs, tasking themselves with more games than were maybe necessary. Here, against the Bucks, the Raptors will want to wrap things up early in order to secure two extra days to rest and gameplan for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will host the winner of this series on Monday regardless.

The talk in the days leading up to Thursday has been about treating Game 6 like a Game 7, and then not doing that because of the Raptors’ history in Game 6s. They are putting a great deal of importance on it, of course, but they moved to ditching the cliches during their two days off.

“It’s Game 6. So, we’re gonna play, just play a basketball game,” Kyle Lowry said earlier in the week. “We understand that it’s a chance to close out a series. Last year we said we had to treat it like a Game 7 and we lost. So we have to treat it like a Game 6 but take it like another, separate game. Every game in this series has been completely difference. Game 6 is gonna be a completely different game.”

Okay, so maybe they didn’t ditch all of the cliches. They know this is a big one and what’s at stake. Maybe they’ll respond better than in prior years and give Raptor fans a reprieve from another anxious weekend.

The game tips off at 7 on TNT (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, and Jennifer Hale) and Sportsnet on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Marc Davis, Tony Brothers, and Rodney Mott.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 6, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

Raptors updates
The Raptors have landed on a rotation that works for this matchup as currently constructed. Start small and fast with an extra wing defender and more spacing, switch a lot more on defense, and use Jonas Valanciunas as a bench bruiser opposite Greg Monroe. DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, and Patrick Patterson will split the Antetokounmpo assignment and combine for 60-70 minutes in some split to be determined by game flow. Delon Wright looms if a ninth man is needed, Jakob Poeltl if foul trouble insists on a fourth big being utilized.

So long as Milwaukee continues with a similar rotation to what they’ve used, the Raptors should feel comfortable in their approach – the far bigger issue for Toronto is sticking to a gameplan that involves a lot of ball movement, one that’s been very effective when used but that’s also been fleeting. This one is far more about execution for the Raptors than rotation tweaks. That changes if Milwaukee changes, of course, and the last two days have been spent anticipating potential changes on that side.

Here’s a look at the Raptors most commonly used lineups in the series:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Norman Powell
SF: DeMar DeRozan, P.J. Tucker
PF: DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson
C: Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
OUT: None

Bucks updates
I wrote a lot about potential tweaks the Bucks could make earlier today. One of them would be in the starting lineup, with Greg Monroe starting for Thon Maker or an extra guard (Matthew Dellavedova) or forward (Michael Beasley) entering the mix. Jason Kidd has stuck with this setup for a bit now, and while he’s shown to be fluid with his starting lineups in the past, I’m not sure he’ll see personnel as the issue behind Milwaukee’s struggles the last two games.

That their starters are still a net positive in the series will give him some comfort, even with the Raptors tweaking on the other side, and the big key for Kidd will be finding bench minutes that aren’t a disaster without Giannis Antetokounmpo. He absolutely can’t risk playing Jason Terry, Mirza Teletovic, and Beasley together again, and he’ll probably work to maximize the number of his top seven on the floor when Antetokounmpo sits. Milwaukee just doesn’t have a lot of two-way depth.

It’ll be interesting to see how Kidd, who has drawn some criticism from Bucks fans (shocking, right?) for his rigidity, responds here.

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
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Jabari Parker

Pre-game news and notes

  • Dwane Casey indicated that everyone is available for the Raptors, except, obviously, for the 905ers.
  • Jason Kidd on who needs to step up in an elimination game like this: “I was put in that situation a couple of times in my career. I was able to share that with my teammates and understand the moment. This is about stars showing up. If you look around the league the stars are showing up and this is fun to watch.” So I guess he’s expecting a big Antetokounmpo game.
  • Per Eric Koreen, Khris Middleton is feeling better and will once again play and start. He was feeling under the weather for Game 5 in Toronto and missed practice Wednesday. How he responds to two shaky outings will be a major story in this one.
  • Per beat reporters tweeting from pre-game availability, it doesn’t sound like either side is making a starting lineup change. If they do, it’ll be a last-minute change.

Assorted

  • Jurassic Park viewing party/tailgate has been cancelled on account of weather.
  • As a reminder, tonight is also the deciding Game 3 of the D-League Finals, featuring Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Bruno Caboclo. All three players stayed behind for this one after providing pretty major contributions in Game 2. It’s a tough call for the franchise, particularly with VanVleet, but the chance to play a meaningful role in a championship game surely outweighs the benefit of some garbage time in an NBA Game 6.
    • I’ve been posting some pics/quotes/updates to my Instagram story, since I don’t have Snapchat. You can follow along there, too, if you’d like.
  • P.J. Tucker was dressed, just, insanely sharp before this one. Check the Raps’ IG story for it.
  • I haven’t been able to find anyone tweeting a picture of the shirts the Bucks are giving away tonight. I’ll slide it in here if one comes down.

The line
Game 1: Raptors -7.5 (Series Raptors -350) (Bucks 97, Raptors 83)
Game 2: Raptors -8 (Series Raptors -165) (Raptors 106, Bucks 100)
Game 3: Bucks -1.5 (Series Raptors -225) (Bucks 104, Raptors 77)
Game 4: Bucks -2.5 (Series Raptors +130) (Raptors 87, Bucks 76)
Game 5: Raptors -5.5 (Series Raptors -230) (Raptors 118, Bucks 93)
Game 6: Bucks -1
Series: Raptors -700 (implied probability of 87.5 percent)

In an interesting shift, this is the smallest the Bucks have been favored at home during the season. I say that’s interesting because the Raptors were favored by the smallest they had been in Game 5. Either the market cares less for home-court advantage after each side won a road game, or Game 5 provided some evidence that the Raptors have found a formula to beat Milwaukee’s defense. The Bucks are still slight favorites, though, so this thing could very well be going seven. The over-under is at 195.5, right around where it’s been all series with the teams averaging a total of 188.2

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