From here until the end of time, all Toronto Raptors’ curses are vanished. Gone. Non-existent. Kawhi Leonard accomplished that with his four bounce masterpiece to beat the Philadelphia 76ers. Plus, Toronto handily beat the 76ers in game one last round, as Leonard scored 45, Pascal Siakam 29, and the team defense was fierce. So that eliminated that curse, as well. The Raptors won’t be playing against their curses or their traumatic past, but unfortunately, they will be playing against the Milwaukee Bucks. Spoiler: they’re really good. Let’s prep this first game. Because my writing my usual prologue here would just be duplicating efforts, instead of diving into the series I’ll offer the extensive list of series preview work RR has already done.
- Adam wrote a fantastic gameday preview that digs into a lot of the meat of the series.
- A convo between myself and Brian Sampson, aka Bucks Film Room.
- A pod from Talking Raptors.
- A pod from Samson Folk, featuring Andrew Goodman.
- The roundtable featuring words from a host of RR writers.
- Finally, my fat and bloated preview diving into every conceivable number going into the series.
Toronto Injury Updates
OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out. Patrick McCaw is out (personal). Chris Boucher is available. Lowry insists he is fine: “It’s fine, it’s whatever. Just trying to keep some circulation, I’m fine. There you go. I’m good.” Siakam is no longer on the injury report, but both are playing at less than 100 percent.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin
SG: Danny Green, Jodie Meeks
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland
Milwaukee Injury Updates
Donte DiVincenzo (heel) and Pau Gasol (stress fracture) are out. D.J. Wilson is questionable (ankle). Brogdon is no longer on the injury report, but he is working his way back into game shape. Bud says there isn’t a minutes restriction, but there’s “a logical and sensible way” to handle his minutes, per Blake Murphy.
PG: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Tim Frazier
SG: Kris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown
SF: Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova
C: Brook Lopez, DJ Wilson
- We’re really beating this one into the ground, but Toronto’s success has become striated like a Medieval class system.
- The starters are the obvious monarchs. They’ve played the lion’s share of the team’s minutes, at 233, and won those minutes by 94 points. The starters are also the only lineup to appear in every Toronto playoff game. Their +94 is the second-highest of any lineup in the playoffs (Philadelphia’s starters ironically have the highest plus-minus, at 98.) The starters are Toronto’s strongest and most important tool, and if they don’t win their minutes, then the Raptors are in serious trouble.
- Only 12 other non-garbage time lineups have played 10 minutes or more in the playoffs for the Raps. Six of those have positive plus-minues, while six have been outscored while on the court. That goes to show, that a variety of Toronto’s high-minute combinations have actually been very unsuccessful.
- Toronto has really only had two very successful high-minute lineups other than the starters. Here is Toronto’s nobility.
- The starters with Ibaka in Gasol’s place have played 33 minutes across 8 games. They’ve been very successful, outscoring opponents by 30 points in that time. Ibaka will have an even larger role against Milwaukee than he had against Philadelphia, where he matched up poorly as the primary defender of Joel Embiid. There’s nobody big that Ibaka can’t guard on the Bucks, so expect to see plenty of minutes for the starters+Ibaka.
- The backup power forward lineup has actually worked well, even though it has employed three bench players. Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Leonard-Ibaka have outscored opponents by 28 points in 32 minutes (6 games played in the playoffs). Nurse basically holstered this group – only using it in two games – against Philadelphia because it is too small, but it crushed Orlando. This group could perform well against Milwaukee’s bench units, especially when Antetokounmpo is on the bench. Toronto will need to win some minutes with some starters on the bench, and this unit projects to perform quite well. They are excellent shooters (hitting 40 percent from deep as a unit in the playoffs after only playing for 5 minutes together in the regular season.) They force turnovers, get out in transition, and have switchable – if undersized – defenders. I see this as being an important x-factor unit for the series.
- Nick Nurse is optimistic that this lineup, or at least VanVleet and Powell, should have bounceback series: “I think there should be, and again I don’t know exactly who they’re gonna play yet, but there should be some better chances to match up size-wise in this series.”
- There is also a collection of units that have worked in specific scenarios, but aren’t as adaptable as Toronto’s best rotations. Here is Toronto’s merchant class.
- Toronto’s double-big lineup of Lowry-Green-Leonard-Ibaka-Gasol (+9 in 26 playoff minutes) and super-big lineup of Lowry-Leonard-Siakam-Ibaka-Gasol (-3 in 13 playoff minutes) fulfilled important roles against the Sixers. Philadelphia was gigantic, and eating the offensive glass, while Embiid’s size hurt Toronto. Toronto countered by throwing out monstrous lineups that swallowed the paint like it was a spider that accidentally slips in your mouth while you sleep. They worked because Philadelphia’s shooting couldn’t punish Toronto, but that won’t extend to the Bucks. Milwaukee’s shooters are too free, and I would expect that Toronto would holster any Ibaka-Gasol lineups until further notice. Toronto doesn’t want either, let alone both, scampering around the perimeter trying to defend shooters.
- A unit that performed great in the regular season (+27 in 87 minutes) but has been trash in the playoffs (-19 in 16 minutes) is VanVleet replacing Lowry with the starters. They didn’t work against Orlando because VanVleet’s shot seemed to abandon him, as well as his decision-making from the point guard spot. They didn’t work against Philadelphia because VanVleet was too small. But Milwaukee could be a swan song for this group. VanVleet performed well against the Bucks in the regular season, as his off-ball shooting has more room to breath; the Bucks give up a ton of triple attempts. This is a group that should probably see more time than it did against the Sixers.
- There are too many lineups to count that have been ill-fated and ill-conceived. Jodie Meeks shouldn’t play a minute against Milwaukee outside of garbage time. VanVleet and Powell cannot be the team’s entire backcourt. There are a series of other lineups that were never going to work, no matter the circumstances. This is the peasant class. But Toronto won’t be able to survive against the Bucks with only 5-6 viable lineups. There will need to be some upward class mobility, with some lineups improving and winning unexpected stretches. Chaos can be an important playoff agent, and Toronto needs to find some. Siakam-at-center groups can survive against the Bucks, who don’t crash the offensive glass, and don’t have a single dominant post scorer. Who knows where the spark might come from, but Toronto will need sparks from unexpected places going forward.
- Siakam captured both teams well in shootaround this morning: “I mean Giannis is Giannis, like I don’t think there’s anybody like him. Like Kawhi’s Kawhi, there’s nobody like him.”
- Nurse admits pre-game that the Raps will do a lot of switching on defense. No surprises there, as it’s a great way to eliminate open shots, and the Raps have done a lot of it all year.
- The Bucks have a cool concept for game shirts, where they add an extra line with every series. I like the idea. The only problem is that they don’t look great, and the lines they choose aren’t creative or unique. Here are tonight’s shirts.
- Antetokounmpo is quite loveable when he drags the Celtics and praises the Raptors all in one quote:
- “Against Boston, you can go down 1-0 and you’ll still be fine. But against Toronto, it’s hard to be in that spot, to lose the first game in your home.”
- Refs tonight are Zach Zarba, John Goble, and Sean Wright.
- Raps are very much the underdog as the away team here. They’re -6.5, and the over-under is 217.5.