That 7-game series felt like an eternity, but it was worth it after Kawhi Leonard’s shot. Heck, the entire Raptors’ existence has been worth it for that shot. But no rest for the weary, and we’re onto another series. Lots more coverage for the Bucks series to come, and that’s already been written. But in this one we’ll hear from RR’s extensive roster of talent.
1) Let’s talk Kawhi before anything else. Do you have anything to add that hasn’t been said?
Something that hasn’t been said? I don’t know, on Twitter I pointed out that Marc Gasol’s first interaction after the shot was with The Raptor, so that’s something. Something that has been said before? Kawhi Leonard is the King in the North, that was an incredible shot, and I love my job.
If I had to guess Kawhi’s greatest quality is that he treats events as discrete. He doesn’t let the outcome of one event affect another. He will learn from the previous events and apply those learnings in future events, but the positive or negative outcome of one event will not hamper or help future events. He’s able to create a mental wall which limits residual effects, especially negative ones.
I don’t think there’s much left to say at this point. This is why, if you have the opportunity to trade for a known superstar, you always, always do it. No regrets.
Nothing intelligible. I can’t get over the bounces. Before that, him going so wide and being aware of four-ish seconds to plant, spring up, get even a slightly good look and then let it go. Him getting mobbed once it fell, the pile-on that made this huge guy look smaller and smaller under all the bodies rushing at him. Four seconds and four bounces from one guy, all of it now woven into the legacy of this team.
I got nothing. He’s a work of art and I live in adoration. The best defender and best scorer the Raptors have ever had. He has finesse and he has power. The moment The Shot left his hand I said out loud that it was missing. I repeated it after the first bounce (with one or two colourful words). Even on replay I still have a hard time believing, and yet the truth remains. We just witnessed the best shot in Raptors history because Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor.
I’m not even sure I know where to start. Watching him rewrite Raptors history has been an absolutely incredible experience this postseason, and I’m just excited to be a witness to this as it continues. He has been the best player in the league thus far in the postseason, and that was against two matchups that were supposed to be tough for him. Philadelphia did a good job defending him, too. It just didn’t matter. It’s what LeBron did to the Raptors for three straight seasons, except getting to see it from the other side, and it’s been unbelievable. That shot will be forever etched into my memory.
Philly was trying to run set plays down the stretch but Toronto’s defence forced them deep into the shot clock and achieved one violation and one near-violation. Meanwhile, Toronto put the ball in the hands of their best player and let him make a play and he made one of the most impressive shots in NBA history. There are days when I’m as frustrated as anyone over late-game isolation offence, but that final minute was a reason coaches still go to it.
Nothing to add on the shot really (what else can you possibly say). But what I will say is that if there’s one thing that continues to impress me every single time I’ve watched him play this postseason – it’s his unrelenting will to win. For someone with such a quiet and unassuming demeanour, the dude imposes his will on a game in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s persistent, it never dies, and it’s scary as hell. After suspect shooting at best through 3 quarters, the determination and fight he showed in that 4th quarter shooting display was simply spectacular.
Just that friend called Kawhi “Jordan with braids” and I think that’s perfect.
Kawhi is the definition of a superstar. I find it really interesting that a host of pundits consider Leonard is more likely to resign with each round the Raptors advance, and yet it’s Kawhi himself who is making these shots (Games 7 and 4 especially) late to make sure we advance. So Kawhi is paradoxically fighting tooth and nail to keep himself in Toronto. I don’t mind.
Man, I don’t even know. The only way I’ll be satisfied with the Game of Thrones ending is if Kawhi is sitting on the iron throne.
He’s incredible, but we already knew that. He’s the reason the Raptors won this series, tallied the 3rd– highest point total ever in a playoff series, and hit the first G7 game winner and biggest shot in Raptors franchise history. But as happy as that all made you, did it surprise you?
The most important thing here, besides winning a championship, is Kawhi re-signing. With every bounce that ball took on the rim, the place for Kawhi in the heart’s of Raps fans grew enormously. But when that ball fell through the hoop, Leonard’s connection to Toronto became a lot more real. That play took Kawhi’s Toronto house, and made it feel a lot more like home. That’s going to matter on July 1st.
Virtually everything has been said, and yet Kawhi is the one creating new moments with each passing round. The Bucks are listed as overwhelming favorites to win the ECF with the likely MVP of the season. Based on his comments about his rare show of emotion I wonder how much the outside narrative is reaching him. If it is, I wonder if his next statement will be proving his standing comparative to Giannis.
Kawhi is just so likeable. He thinks before everything he says, and he’s so earnest sometimes that it hurts. To see him do what he’s done, and to show a little emotion, has been profound. I will be a fan forever no matter what.
2) That Sixers series – thrilling though it was – was closer than it should have been. How did Toronto’s performance affect your expectations of the Raps in this Bucks’ series?
It swayed me by a large degree, actually. After the Magic series I was pretty convinced that the Raptors newfound dominance on defense would be the thing that could take them to the Finals. Of course that was with the assumption that the Raptors offense – specifically the shooting – wouldn’t choke and die. The lack of shot-making on the Raptors, and the return of Malcolm Brogdon has changed my original prediction, which will come later.
It didn’t change anything. Those are two different teams with two different styles – one is post-up heavy and likes operating in the half-court, then there’s the Bucks who are the opposite and three-happy. I think we came out stronger out of the Magic series and were better served playing a tough second round series than what the Bucks faced against the fraudulent Celtics and the Pistons. I think the resilience we showed in those series will give us an edge here.
I suppose it made me more concerned going forward than I would’ve been had they handled their business in five or six games. Yet, looking at this from an optimistic perspective, Toronto put itself through the ringer against a really good Philly team, and managed to come out the other side all the same. Milwaukee has yet to encounter such a challenge in these playoffs (sorry, Boston) and maybe the edge the Raptors have gained from their last series carries over into the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Bucks will be the best so far that Toronto’s been up against, and their energy is relentless. Toronto, we know and saw throughout the Sixers series, can flip the switch but will occasionally stall. That’s what worries me. My expectations are high but realistic, it’s going to be very apparent very fast how this series will shake out.
I don’t know how much blame should be on the Raptors and how much credit is owed to the Sixers. They have an elite starting unit but miserable depth (feels familiar), and with their defensive ceiling they are tough to beat if shots fall. The Sixers are also better than the Celtics, something that the regular season showed us and the playoffs confirmed. Toronto will need to shoot far better moving forward than they have so far but I don’t think the gap is as big as the second round seemingly indicates.
I don’t think it did, to be honest. Philadelphia was a very good, physical team and I think we underrated what they were going to be able to do against Toronto. Even still, the Raptors had an extreme outlier bad shooting series on wide open shots, to a somewhat ridiculous degree, and had their second best scoring threat limited by injury for the back half of the series, and they still survived. That’s a tough thing to do, and I think that’s to the Raptors’ credit to some extent. Every series has to be separated from the next to some degree, and while the Bucks present some very real, and very tough, challenges, they’ll be different from the Sixers’ series and I’m more than comfortable leaving this one behind and looking forward, and the reasons to be optimistic about the Raptors in this matchup at the outset of the playoffs still hold true for me.
I don’t know that it was all that much closer than it should have been (Philly is a real team with actually talented players), but I would concede that Toronto played below their capabilities a little too often. Much ink has been spilled over the reluctance of non-Leonard players to shoot their shots in the series, and that became comically apparent in games 6 and 7 when even Pascal Siakam was added to the list of reluctant shooters. To beat the Bucks, a team that will offer very few open looks, the Raptors have to make use of good looks when they appear. They can’t force the ball to go in, but there is a much better chance of it going in when you actually shoot it.
Not much, actually. This series was clearly a talent/match-up nightmare, since the Raps had deal with 4 very potent offensive weapons, a larger than normal lineup, and they had to do all of this without any semblance of size coming off the bench. The Bucks, while still long and athletic, in my view, don’t possess the one-on-one scoring talent that the Sixers have. The flip side though is that Milwaukee has a deeper supporting cast and will employ a more cohesive gameplan on both ends. But I think our supporting cast can play a bigger role in this series against Milwaukee’s bench (and quite honestly, they’re due).
Personally, I was more impressed with the Sixers than disappointed in the Raptors. The Raptors defense, especially in game 7 when it mattered most, was really impressive. If they can continue to play that smart, hard-working defense they will have a shot against the Bucks. It is an anomaly, though, how poorly the supporting cast has been shooting. It definitely worries me how much better the Bucks supporting players have been than the Raptors, but if some of the shots that have been falling all season start to fall, the Raptors will have a real shot.
Also, winning game 7 in that fashion against a team as good and respected as the Sixers should be a huge confidence boost for the Raptors. The Raps have strong momentum, let’s see if they can catch the Bucks off guard.
Toronto’s second round performance served to lower expectations in the upcoming battle against the wire-to-wire best team in the NBA thus far. The Raps won’t be able to squeak by with minimal bench production and woeful shooting against the Bucks, pure and simple. But the lowered expectations may actually serve the Raptors well. Starting the series on the road gives them two games to find their footing, shooting stroke and confidence.
I certainly don’t feel the same confidence that I had entering the Philly series. On one hand, the Raptors have now tested themselves against a hugely talented team and prevailed, while Milwaukee cruised past a self-imploding Celtics team. On the other, that Sixers series was mentally and physically taxing, and the Bucks are locked and loaded with a returning Malcolm Brogdon.
It plummeted them. The Bucks were already the slight favourite to come out of the East given their consistency all season and the fact that they hold home court in the ECF. Toronto demonstrating that they only had 1.5 players who can show up every game in the Sixers series, didn’t do wonders for my confidence that they can turn it around against a far superior Bucks team. Philly’s mercurial style of play allowed the Raptor’s shaky offense to catch a few lucky breaks last series. Milwaukee will not be nearly as forgiving.
It didn’t, primarily because each series is its own entity. For as much as the Raptors offense struggled they also faced a 76ers squad who ranked third offensively after round one and held Philly under 100 points in five of the seven games. Moreover, the 76ers and Magic both ranked top 10 in perimeter efficiency entering the playoffs but the Raptors handled them and enter this series as the best remaining perimeter defense (3rd overall). For what it’s worth the Bucks ranked 15th in 3-point efficiency in season (35.3%) and are shooting virtually the same in the playoffs (35.4%).
The Philadelphia series definitely changed my expectations. Before the series, I thought Toronto was the favourite over Milwaukee. Now I just don’t trust Toronto’s offense will have enough consistency.
3) Lots of surprising negatives so far in the playoffs. Fred has struggled. The shooting has cratered. Danny Green has gone missing. Which of the negatives so far (feel free to add your own to my three listed) is most likely for Toronto to turn around and solve against the Bucks?
Danny Green seems the most likely to return to form. He had the record for most 3-pointers made in Finals history for a time, and I fully expect his cold spell to come to an end. I am looking forward to it.
I lost a lot of faith in Danny Green, not because he struggled with his shot but because I felt he didn’t want the ball in key situations and played a little scared. If he’s supposed to be the experience that we’re relying on he came up significantly short. Defensively he was average while being an offensive write-off. I would imagine this could be something he can turn around, especially if OG’s return (one can pray) means he doesn’t have to guard big wings.
I’ll stick with the easy one: The shooting. It’s not as though Toronto has had a particularly difficult time creating good looks in the playoffs, and they’ve played against two strong defences now in Orlando and Philly. True, Milwaukee is on a different level defensively, and getting efficient shots off against them will be that much harder in general, but the Raptors’ scoring woes (especially at the three-point line) have often come down to simply missing a plethora of quality looks.
Per NBA.com, the Raps have made 36.4 per cent of their wide-open shots (defender is six or more feet away) during these playoffs, and just 25.6 per cent on their open shots (defender is within 4–6 feet). One has to imagine these will start falling sooner or later for the team that was the best three-point shooting club (41 per cent) in the league post-Gasol trade, right? … Right?!
I don’t mind the struggles so long as they’re resolved, because it speaks to growth of the team in real time. Playoffs can’t be autopilot, adjustments need to be constant and good recalibration. That said the Raptors need everyone who struggled last series for this one, but of those negatives, VanVleet seems to be back and lord did I miss him.
Danny hasn’t been right. I’ve been shocked not just by his shooting percentages (shooting 9 percent worse from 3 during the playoffs when compared to regular season), but by his unwillingness at times to even take a look towards the rim. Part of this is the length that he’s seen in both rounds as Orlando (Isaac, Gordon, etc.) and Philadelphia in particular (Embiid, Butler, Simmons, Harris) have long and mobile help defenders to run at shooters. The Bucks play a little more conservatively and traditional on defence which should open opportunities. Hopefully the willingness is there though. He was shook by the end of round 2.
I think the Bucks matchup is a good one for both Fred and Danny Green, for starters. Both of them should get to guard guys more their own size more frequently in this series, and they’ll likely benefit from the defensive attention being paid to Kawhi and Pascal. That should give them the space to be a little more into their game. They’ll both be needed, and that somewhat bleeds into the other problem, which is the shooting.
There are two separate issues here and I think the chances of them being fixed are entirely different. The first one was that a few of the Raptors’ shooters at times got goaded into taking bad shots, or turned down good shots, from long distance in the Sixers series with some frequency. That likely won’t change, because that speaks to the players on the Raptors roster and their tendencies, which probably aren’t fixable within the confines of a playoff run. However, the other part here, which was that the Raptors simply missed an egregious number of wide open, good quality looks, should probably correct. Will it correct within the next round is a different question, but the shooters on the Raptors are just too good to not, at some point, hit these shots. The Raptors have to keep going to those looks, and have to keep shooting them, because there really is no other option.
They have to take (and make) threes. When Gasol arrived in Toronto, the Raptors became a potent three-point shooting club, but as the series against Philly went on, the Raptors became hesitant and that killed their rhythm and momentum. Kawhi can’t simply be a battering ram against Milwaukee. Guys are going to have to open up the floor for him or else this series will be effectively over before Game of Thrones is.
It’s got to be Danny Green. While Fred is obviously a steady backup in the regular season, the playoff game against bigger opponents seems to marginalize his game at times. Danny, on the other hand, has a wealth of championship experience to draw from, and I feel as though his struggles were more temporary.
Fortunately, most of the negatives revolve around offense. The Raptors defense has been good and should continue to improve. And I believe most of the negatives are interrelated because shooting is contagious, and with a new defense guarding them comes a fresh start for the support players like Green, VanVleet, and Powell, who were clearly uncomfortable with the size of the Sixers, to start knocking down shots. So I guess the open three-point shooting is most likely to turn around for the Raptors against the Bucks.
The biggest negative from the Sixers series, though, was the Raptors inconsistency. They simply did not show up in two games that series and got blown out in both of them. Even when they were in the game, certain veterans like Gasol, Lowry, Ibaka, and Green made stupid mistakes, often personal fouls, that just shouldn’t happen at this point in the postseason. The one advantage the Raptors have over the Bucks is their experience: in order to leverage that, they have to play smart and avoid mistakes.
Danny Green is bound to have a better series, but the team needs to work a little harder on putting him in positions to shoot. He needs to take at least 5 open/lightly contested triples per game to get him in rhythm, and even more if he manages to hit a couple of those (only had 1 triple attempt in game 7). The Bucks’ defensive focus is on tempting their opponent’s worst three point shooters with open looks while locking down their better ones. If Ibaka’s resurgence from beyond the arc in game 7 is any indicator, he may have a few very high scoring games in the ECF.
My hope is that Siakam has recovered somewhat from his calf/hamstring injury and can reemerge as a consistent secondary option to Kawhi. The Sixers decision to place Embiid on Spicy P really stunted his offensive game. The Bucks may attempt to adopt a similar approach with Giannis, however I’m not sure they have enough defenders with the requisite size to trouble Leonard so he may be assigned onto that matchup moreso. If Siakam has Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, or Brogdon on him he MUST be aggressive in looking for his shot.
The Raptors did a great job of creating open shots for themselves vs Philly, they just couldn’t buy one. These have been shots that they’ve had and made all season long, but for whatever reason they weren’t falling last series. With the caliber of shooing on this Raptor’s roster, it’s hard to believe that shooting percentages aren’t going to rise.
I think this just boils down to math. A group of players who excelled at hitting their open looks during the regular season, are very unlikely to struggle so mightily two series in a row. However, if the law of averages fails to kick in, and FVV, Green and Lowry can’t hit their open looks, the high Raptors nation is riding off the Game 7 victory, might be very short-lived.
Certainly, the decline of the Raptors offense is disconcerting, especially Danny Green who I expected to be more of a factor given his playoff experience. That said, although the Bucks have length, overall it isn’t comparable to the 76ers.
Other than Redick (6’4”) the shortest 76ers player with consistent minutes was Butler (6’8”) and Ennis (6’7”). The Bucks starting five aside from Bledsoe (6’1”) are also a lengthy crew but the reserves who’ll play are 6’3” to 6’6”. It’s often said confidence plays a big factor in performance and with that in mind for players like Green, VanVleet, and Powell knowing they’ll face guys who don’t tower over them hopefully leads to a renewed confidence in their shot.
Marc Gasol’s offensive performance has been the most disappointing to me. His screen-setting and passing were enough in the regular series and first round. He was an offensive monster for a while, and I thought that would hold up to increased defensive pressure. But his inability to capitalize when Tobias Harris guarded him was frustrating, and his refusal to shoot open looks was even worse. He is still a lynchpin defensively, and I’m not trying to re-litigate anything, but I thought his intelligence could overcome some offensive weaknesses. All that to say, he has plenty of room to improve, and he’s about as sure thing as there is in the lineup. His veteran poise rivals Kawhi Leonard’s, and I have no doubts that Gasol will be better.
4) Giannis could be as terrifying as any NBA player in history. How does Toronto defend him, and do you think they’ll have any success?
This is absolutely nuts. The overwhelming fear in guarding this freak of nature is as real as advertised. After the hysteria began to wear off and Toronto fans/writers gradually came to their senses, I immediately began seeing different methods pop up of how exactly to defend Giannis. You can’t throw Kawhi on him, as that will exert far too much energy defensively for Toronto’s best offensive player. Siakam is always a top option for high-level wings. I came across a particularly interesting one — what about Marc Gasol? I mean, Toronto will likely sag off anyways and if there’s one thing that can slow down (impossible to stop) this freight train — it’s a long, insanely smart, physical defender. That option gives Siakam and/or Kawhi the added energy boost they’ll need offensively.
I think they’ll have some success, but Giannis Antetokounmpo, like Thanos, is inevitable. He’s going to do some things that break the game and bend and snap the Raptors defense at times. Lost in the shuffle of Ben Simmons masterful defense on Kawhi, was the fact that the Raptors group of Green-Siakam-Leonard locked up two All-NBA level players in Jimmy Butler and Simmons. The Raptors are uniquely equipped to hang with Antetokounmpo, but he’s going to get his, and the attention they divert to him will make Brogdon (50-40-90 club) Bledsoe (relentless attacker and creator) and Middleton (Terrific player all around and an All-Star) all the more dangerous.
We’re as suited to guard him as any team. Leonard, Siakam and Ibaka can throw different types of looks, which should force him to make decisions. One of those decisions should be whether to shoot from the perimeter, which should be the Raptors default strategy. Stopping dribble penetration at the point of attack will be key, and though you expect perhaps one of their quicker guys to get it on occasion, it can’t be Giannis consistently or we’re dead in the water.
I would avoid doubling as much as possible because that plays into the hands of Milwaukee who use a stretched defense to stretch it even more. Giannis is a good enough passer to hurt us, especially given the shooting they have. We need Ibaka to be the Biyombo in this series.
The Raptors will send multiple defenders at Antetokounmpo on account of their switching, and certainly Leonard will spend some extended stretches on him, but it would seem most likely that Siakam gets primary duty here. During the regular season, he guarded Antetokounmpo on 93 total possessions (sixth-most in the league) over three games, and the Bucks’ star managed to shoot 55.6 per cent against him in those situations.
Still, Siakam is perhaps the only Raptor that can keep up with Antetokounmpo on a full-time basis in terms of pure speed and quickness, and having a player that can run with him to slow or ideally halt transition opportunities will be invaluable in this series.
To be Gian-nist (sorry) I don’t know. I think you need to do the best you can to contain him and then match offensively. You can’t be doubling up on him with so many other shooters at Milwaukee’s disposal. Try to jam him up, try to slow him down, keep him way out of range as much as possible.
Raptors likely try and have the trio of Green, Siakam, and Kawhi defending Giannis, Middleton, and Bledsoe, which should allow them to switch on screens between the Bucks best weapons. The challenge will be Gasol. The Bucks will likely stretch him out to the three point line using either Lopez or Mirotic, and taking him away from the basket is a big loss. We should see more Ibaka in this round due to better agility and rim protection, but slowing down Giannis will need to be a complete team effort.
You can’t really stop him. Maybe you can slow him down for a game here or there, but Giannis is going to get his, and overcompensating to try to take his offense away is what the Bucks really want, and why they surrounded him with the shooters they did. The best chance of the Raptors here might be to just give him single coverage as much as they can get away with, try to limit his transition opportunities, and take away the shooters to try to limit the damage done everywhere else. That’s not a great plan, because the shooters the Bucks have are still dangerous in that scheme and Giannis will probably score a lot, but it’s the best one the Raptors likely have. That probably means Siakam gets the assignment to start, Kawhi sees some time on Giannis as well, and Ibaka and Gasol(and OG, if he becomes available) see some time there as well, depending on what the situation calls for. This is a good opportunity to be creative with the scheme, but it’s important to keep those shooters limited too, because that’s where the Bucks really kill you.
They have multiple long defenders that they can throw at him — especially if OG Anunoby makes it back this series — but really this series may come down to the old pre-Miami LeBron defence: make Giannis a volume scorer and try to choke off all of the other avenues to points. It’s more likely that the team will employ a similar active, scrambling defence to the one they threw at Philadelphia, but upsetting the rhythm of a team that has seen no interruption in their rhythm this spring is the ultimate goal, regardless of how the Raptors attempt to achieve it.
Honestly, no. You can’t really stop a guy like that, and even if you hone in on trying to stop him, you’d be collapsing on shooters like Middleton, Bledsoe, Brogdon, Mirotic, etc. who will make you pay. Kawhi’s is the obvious option to guard Giannis, but the Greek Freak’s length and strength could still pose some problems for Kawhi, especially when going downhill. The game plan should obviously be to lay off him as much as possible and protect the paint, but equally important will be decisions like: When do you collapse on those shooters? Who would you guard outside no matter what, and who might you be willing to shade off of? If you double Giannis, where do you want to do it, and who will be the second defender? If Nick Nurse can find the answers to those questions, he can at least try to contain Giannis.
Kawhi has to be gassed after the Sixers series, so I would start with Siakam guarding Giannis. His job should be to stay in front of him and let Giannis take outside shots. If that doesn’t work, make Kawhi guard him and hope he has the energy to be effective on both ends.
The most important factor in stopping Giannis is limiting turnovers and getting back quickly on defense. He is not nearly as scary in the half court. If the Raptors can do that, they have enough big bodies to throw at him in the half court. Speaking of big bodies, hopefully OG Anunoby can come this series as he would be a big help off the bench.
Here will be yet another test of Kawhi’s durability. Obviously he is the rare player that can match up with and stifle Giannis as much as anyone, but how many minutes will he get that assignment for? Guarding Giannis seems like the most exhausting task a defender can ask for, and the Raptors absolutely need Kawhi to remain a monster on offense. So if he can only guard the Greek Freak for a few stretches per game, Siakam and hopefully OG if he’s back will get the rest. Ibaka may see a bit of time on him as well, especially now that the 2-big lineup proved it can work. It will take a combined team effort, but the Raptors have the personnel to succeed.
In the regular season Philly had a bit of success putting Embiid on Giannis in a similar way to how he guarded Siakam in this series. Toronto doesn’t have a shot-blocker of Embiid’s caliber, however it may be catch the Bucks off-guard throwing Gasol on Giannis occasionally and daring him to shoot. Granted, Giannis can eat up that space and drive to the rim better than any player in the league, but I’d rather have Gasol drop back and have a defender help off of Brook Lopez (who is shooting 27.8% from 3 in the playoffs) in pick-and-roll actions.
And he can’t even shoot. How scary is that?? Nurse is going to have his hands full with this one. I think you’ve got to show multiple guys on Giannis and double him when you can afford to. Gasol, Siakam, Leonard will be the acting as primary defenders on Antetokounmpo, with Green and Lowry sliding over in help situations.
The key to ensuring Giannis doesn’t manhandle you, is focusing on limiting his opportunities in transition. When he’s got a step on you in the open court, he’s nearly impossible to stop. I think it will be the Raptors shot selection combined with how many guys they send to crash the offensive glass, that will dictate whether they even have time to set up in a half court defense. If they can get that recipe right, they’ve got a good chance to be successful.
The Raptors defense has been stellar through two rounds but Giannis is a different beast altogether and expecting Toronto to shut him down to the degree they did with Vucevic and Embiid is unrealistic. That said, I think it behooves Toronto to stick to single coverage and throw different looks at him via Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka, and it sure would be nice to learn OG Anunoby is available for this series.
I think the Raptors have to do their best to limit Antetokounmpo but not buy into the trap of double teaming him. The first priority is to try to force him into being a jump shooter, clog his passing lanes as much as possible and and try to shut down the other Bucks.
The more I watch the tape and look at the numbers, the more confident I am that Kawhi Leonard could spend real minutes on Antetokounmpo and defend him in single coverage for the most part. Toronto has shown that they can nail the rotations on the back side, and Leonard should be strong enough to slow Antetokounmpo’s assaults on the rim. Siakam should still see more time, but I’m confident that Toronto has an option who can thrive in low, but important, minutes.
5) How would you evaluate Nick Nurse’s playoffs so far?
Let’s stay with the facts again. This was Nurse’s first-ever real playoff test. It’s easy to say he bombed it, but again the result of this series lined up with my expectations pretty damn well. From a micro point of view, he could’ve done much better in his game-to-game preparation as it seemed like he just wasn’t sticking to what worked from game to game and was either stubborn, or too keen on giving Brett Brown new looks (drop FVV from rotation, just match the Gasol/Embiid minutes every time, please!). If I’m giving him a grade, I’d stick with a B. They totally dominated the Magic (which we can’t forget), but made some crucial mistakes versus a talented Sixers team.
It’s not news to anyone that the lionshare of the RR staff was clamouring for Nurse to make some specific changes, changes he did end up making in the all-important Game 7: Matching Gasol-Embiid to the second (45:11 played for both) and less time on ball for Fred VanVleet. I’m saving my judgement for the series against the Bucks, the first time his coaching will give us an opportunity to take out a more talented team.
His call of playing Ibaka over Green won us Game 7. It was an in-game adjustment that we used to beg Dwane Casey to make and Nurse made it. Credit needs to be given there. The offense leaned heavily too heavily on Leonard for too long, and Nurse has to rectify that because it takes a toll on Leonard, and makes the Raptors very easy to plan for. He needs to be given credit for upping our game defensively as well – those three empty Philly possessions down the stretch in Game 7 were huge.
We tend to give coaches more blame than credit, and though Nurse had issues with overplaying Fred, he ended up learning his lesson and hopefully coming out wiser.
Up and down. Maybe that’s what should be expected of a rookie NBA head coach and, again, it’s been difficult to judge him because of all he had to deal with in the regular season, so this is really the first time, albeit in a small sample size, that his efforts can be cleanly evaluated.
It took him longer than one might like to adjust to Brett Brown’s moves in the Sixers series, but nevertheless, he did eventually get there (better late than never!). Even so, that sluggish reaction time combined with a somewhat surprising lack of offensive creativity (couldn’t Redick have been put in more actions?) led to what was, on paper, a superior team making things far harder on themselves than need be, a fact that some may rightfully find unsettling.
Clarifying in the last half of the Sixers series with some missteps. His flexibility and relative freshness is going to make what I hope will be a GOOD deal of difference against Budenholzer.
Overall I’d give him a B+. He’s made some clear adaptations in the Orlando series to prevent penetration from Augustine, and in round two we saw him match Gasol to Embiid’s minutes (albeit slowly) and move Kawhi onto Butler. A few times in the Sixers series I think he could have called timeouts quicker to help slow some runs, but overall his management has been a plus. Now for the biggest test.
Mixed bag, for me. I’m really happy he got to where he did in the Sixers series, and I thought he did a lot of good things in closing the Magic out in five. He just took too long to get there on some of the adjustments, and game 6 against the Sixers was a lot of missed opportunities, I think. Tethering Gasol and Embiid’s minutes, as the Raptors did in game 7, was a good adjustment, but one that should’ve come earlier in the series and might’ve helped the Raptors require less games to get there, and the big lineup with Gasol and Ibaka also took a long time to be used. Nurse makes the correct adjustment eventually, at least so far in the playoffs, but the time allowable to get to that adjustment becomes a slimmer margin as the playoffs progress, and he might have to be willing to react a little quicker going forward. Still, for a rookie head coach, once he makes adjustments they do seem to work.
For his first NBA Playoffs, I’d say very well. The team’s defensive preparation has been masterful, and has only broken down when the players get frustrated at their lack of shot-making and stop trying. He made the crucial decision in the Philly series to play Gasol and Ibaka together (sometimes with Siakam slotted in there, too) and it turned the series around for the Raptors. The bench was on a short leash, they got open shots (even if they weren’t making them), and they won the series. You can ask for more if you want, I’m very impressed.
I would grade him an A minus, or A. The guy’s had to work with a shuffling roster in the regular season that’s had minimal time to gel together, and has managed to cobble together two playoff round wins. And his adjustments in managing Gasol’s minutes in Game 7 (to match Embiid’s minutes), his decision to go with Kawhi on Jimmy Butler, and the decision to stick to the Serge/Gasol front court, were all great coaching moves. It’s not like he hasn’t made mistakes in the playoffs, but none of them have been catastrophic (and often times, with a talented roster, that’s all you need).
At the end of the day, the Raptors beat a really good Sixers team. Nurse made some minor mistakes in that series, but defeating the Sixers rights all wrongs for me. He has the Raptors playing really good defense that limited Embiid throughout that series. The Raptors have also been moving the ball well and creating open shots (game 7 is the exception) and if guys like Lowry and Gasol start taking open threes, and shooters like Powell, VanVleet, and Green start knocking down theirs, the Raptors offense will start to look a lot better. It’s not Nurse’s fault they have been so bad from behind the arc: it is literally their jobs to be ready to come into the game at any point and contribute on both ends.
Nurse has been slow to adjust, and then fast to ditch his successful adjustments in Game 6, which I really didn’t get. But he was on full alert in game 7, trimming the rotation and tethering Gasol to Embiid for every minute the Philadelphia big man was on the floor. His end of game plays (though successful and memorable thanks to Kawhi’s heroics) leave a bit to be desired. I’ll give him a B for now, and the jury is still out.
We can obviously nitpick here and there, but I think Nurse has made enough correct maneuvers to warrant a lot of credit in getting Toronto this far. The lack of consistency outside of Leonard has forced Nurse to be incredibly fluid with the lineups that he rides with in any given game, and he has more often than not picked the right guys. I would’ve pulled the plug on FVV way earlier, yet Nurse’s trust in him paid off in game 7 with some great defensive plays. I wouldn’t have dared to play Ibaka/Gasol lineups, yet the super-sized lineup reinvigorated the team. In short, Nurse knows basketball better than me.
I think he’s been solid. He’s made several key game-to-game adjustments that shifted the outcome of last series. Chief among them: matching Gasol’s minutes to Embiid’s, going with a 6 man rotation, and playing Ibaka with Gasol, (a duo that saw just 31 regular season minutes together).
He’s run into some issues when it comes to making adjustments in games, failing to stunt the momentum of his team’s opponents when they get off to quick starts. If he can’t figure out how to flip the momentum against Giannis and Co., things could go south in a hurry.
Nick Nurse was expected to bring more versatility to the Raptors offense but his success with the defense is what resonates with me. At times he’s been slow to adapt, but following years of Dwane Casey seemingly never adapting it’s a welcome change. One thing which stands out is how the team responds following timeouts. Invariably each timeout is followed by a Raptors momentum swing which tells me he has the players respect and is able to motivate them.
I would say he’s been good but not great. I’ve been critical of Nurse at times, but also complementary of him as well. He’s won two series that he was supposed to win. He offered some very clever defensive coverages in both series, and I will say that he has seemed like a better defensive innovator than offensive, but that’s not a bad thing. He was probably outcoached by Brett Brown on the whole, but he adapted brilliantly towards the end of the series.
6) Call it.
This is a tad bit cowardly, but I’m going to make two predictions. If the Raptors shoot near their regular season level from 3-point land, they’ll win in 7. If they shoot like they have been, they lose in 5 or 6. If I had to guess which happens, it would be Bucks in 6, sorry everyone.
Mind: Bucks in 7.
Heart: Raptors in 6.
Let’s go with the heart.
Ah, heck, I’ll go for it despite not feeling good at all about it: Raptors in seven.
After that shot, with a thrilling dose of confidence, Raptors in 7.
My brain says Bucks in 6. My heart says Raptors in 6. And since I’ve never been that smart I’ll go with my heart. We’re going to the Finals.
This was a really tough one for me. The easy answer is Bucks in 6. Milwaukee has been the best team in the league for most of the season, they’re mostly healthy(aside from Pau Gasol, who likely didn’t figure much into the series), they have a great home court advantage, and Giannis is incredible. The path for the Bucks is easy to see, and they’ve dominated in the playoffs. Yet, I can’t quite just land on that answer, because I see the path for the Raptors. Kawhi has been the best player in the playoffs thus far, and the Bucks are probably a better matchup for Toronto. The Raptors shooting should come around, and the season series was full of games that are hard to consider that meaningful for different reasons. The Raptors are also coming out of a dogfight of a series, and being on the other side of that can be freeing, and can let a team really find their game going forward. All of those reasons are real, too, and Toronto winning this series would be an upset, but not a shocking one. My head is still saying to go with the Bucks, and I could see them winning it in a quick series or a drawn out one, because they really have been that good.
But I still can’t quite get there, and I believe in this Raptors team finding another gear yet again. Believe in Kawhi’s talent and Lowry’s leadership and the veteran presences across the roster. Raptors in six it is.
Bucks in 6.
Raps in 7
Bucks in 7 🙁
Bucks in 7.
I’ll do the head versus heart hedge here. I obviously would love to see the Raptors compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy, but they have slogged through two tough series. The Bucks found their rhythm against Boston and cranked it up a couple of notches. Their defence is the best in the league and could potentially give Toronto the same fits that they endured against Philly. For that reason, I will say Bucks in 6.
I think the best version of the Raptors beats the best version of the Bucks. But the question is whether that version of Toronto is going to show up 4 out of 7 times? Based on the inconsistency I’ve seen from them during this postseason, I just won’t believe it until I see it.
Bucks in 7.
I was living and dying off every shot taken in Game 4 and 7 against the 76ers. The reason I bring this up is while the Sixers series proved closer than I anticipated it also provided the Raptors with something the Bucks have yet to face this postseason – adversity.
From an experience standpoint, the Bucks also don’t have anything comparable to the Raptors players (other than George Hill). The question is how will the Bucks deal with facing adversity coupled with a lack of experience. Part of me (my heart) says for the Raptors to win it has to happen in six games because the Bucks hold home court. Then I picture that meme of Kawhi laughing and think hmmm maybe he has another moment to place in the Raptors history book of playoff success. So, I’m going with Kawhi and my heart – Raptors in six if everyone shows up (or seven with Kawhi delivering another gem).
I have Bucks in six. I have a far, far, far longer explanation here.