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Room For Optimism as Raptors Lose Game 1

I wrote a piece back in December called “Finding Good Things, in a Sea of Good Things”. I talked about Delon Wright’s 3-point shot, Pascal Siakam’s unparalleled dominance when defending corner threes, and Kawhi Leonard’s forays into the paint. Now, like that time in Raptorland, there’s a lot of things to like from the team. Even though the Raptors just lost Game 1 to the Bucks there’s a lot of things to like coming away from this game and I’m gonna talk about them.

KLOE – Kyle Lowry Over Everything

There are a couple things that fall in line with this mode of Lowry’s and they stick out during games. They’re almost always momentum swinging (in the Raptors favor) or backbreaking for the other team.

The Steal Above the Break

Think back to Lowry stepping into Joel Embiid’s space, swiping the ball and sending Siakam up the floor for a layup to make it 89-85 in Game 7. Think about when Lowry picked Marcus Smart’s pocket and dropped it off to DeMar DeRozan, who then dunked on Kelly Olynyk for a game-winning dunk.

The PU3IT (Pull-up 3 In Transition)

A defining feature of his game for the entire peak of his career. Before Lowry was a Raptor I watched with wide eyes as Lowry let it fly when he was with Houston, putting up triple-doubles early on in the season and feuding with Kevin McHale later.

Lowry’s game has never been dependent on one thing – he’s a terrific all-around player and everyone benefits with his presence on the floor – but the ‘PU3IT’ might be THE biggest indicator of where his scoring or jump-shot is at. If this is at all indicative of things to come in the series for Lowry, the Raptors have another top-15 player on their team alongside Leonard.

Changing Passing Angles

Did the Milwaukee Bucks miss a few open threes? Yes, they did. Did the Raptors also miss a few open threes? Yes, they did. It’s worth mentioning that the Raptors played significantly better defense on the three-point line than the Bucks did. The same way the 76ers length crowded the Raptors and changed passing angles to the corner and above the break shooters, the Raptors made the Bucks collect the ball before shooting, instead of receiving it. It might seem like a small difference, but the Raptors hyperactive defense and intelligent awareness of their spacing allowed them to make the Bucks shooters uncomfortable.

Lopez hit from downtown, but in 3 out of 4 shots he was three feet off the line. Bledsoe – who shot 27-percent from the corners this year – was often times the person left open in the corners. This has the potential to backfire on me, but I’m drawing a line in the sand and suggesting that the Raptors will hold the Bucks to this type of percentage (or close to) for the duration of the series if they keep playing this type of defense. You might see people suggesting that the Bucks simply won’t shoot like that again, and they can point to easy missed shots. Having watched the game twice, the Raptors defense was good and their close-outs were sharp, disciplined and mindful of where they were pressing the attack into.

Most of the truly great looks the Bucks generated from deep were from Giannis Antetokounmpo making some terrific passes. There’s no game-plan for when Antetokounmpo pulls those out of his bag of tricks, but the Raptors held the side-top-side actions of the Bucks offense to a limited amount of success, and I think it’s replicable. The Raptors will continue to hang their hat on their defense.

Gasol, Siakam, and Green can Solve this Defense

I have no idea what’s happening with Danny Green. He’s been a historically great shooter over his time in the league, and he’s done it at the highest possible level in the Finals. The Bucks are doing a decent job of crowding him, but he’s in a funk, definitively. The exclamation point was the missed free throw at the very end of the game, my guy is in a funk. There was a point in time this season when Green was as much a closer as Leonard, simply because he’d hit the shots that came his way down the stretch. That hasn’t been the case in the playoffs at all, but hope springs eternal, and I think the champion can turn it around.

Marc Gasol’s defense in the paint, specifically when Antetokounmpo marched in there, was inspired. However, the days of him eviscerating teams as the conduit for the Raptors 5-out offense have come and gone. He has been identified as the weak link in the Raptors proverbial chain on offense, and defenses are playing him as if he can’t hurt them. If he doesn’t stop passing up his great opportunities for teammates to get decent opportunities, he’ll continue to hurt the flow of the Raptors offense, and the already massive amount of attention on Siakam and Leonard’s shoulders will continue to mount. Gasol is a good shooter and it’s up to him, because he’s open, to step forward with a mind-frame that allows him to take his shots in rhythm. His hyper awareness that was previously shredding defenses by finding the open man has been a hindrance of late, because he’s the open man. When Gasol surveys the court he’s only giving the Bucks what they want. Shoot it, mate.

If Gasol and Green can do a small part of their job on offense, things will get much easier for Leonard and Siakam. I’ve generally liked how Siakam has responded after bad games all year. His talent level allows him to adapt and change quite a bit, and there’s a lot of roles he can play in an offense. With that being said, when he watches this game back, he’ll likely see passes that he could have made. In the first half he was shooting the gaps of the Bucks defense and finding success in post-ups, which is great. In the second half, the spacing dried up and he was left to try and grind through the paint a few too many times. He’ll always have to keep taking the corner threes that come his way, and hopefully more of them drop, but if he’s having a tough time there’s plenty of utility in being an active DHO threat, working with Lowry and Leonard. He can be dangerous on the roll now that Embiid isn’t guarding him.

The Bucks are (really) Good

Top-10 offense and defense, best record in the league, and a transcendent star who’s hitting his prime. The Bucks are a monstrous collection of size and talent. Lopez, who torched the Raptors for 29, came to the Bucks on a cost-efficient deal because he wanted to play next to the aforementioned star. Malcolm Brogdon has returned healthy, and looks great (+18, game high in Game 1).

The Bucks leave very little margin for error if you want to beat them. The Raptors shot 1-23 outside of Leonard and Lowry in the second half and that shut the door on them. The defense didn’t fail them, the effort didn’t fail them, the Bucks picked up steam and the Raptors lost a little. The good news is that the Raptors still have a chance to steal home court in Game 2, and they have Kawhi Leonard, who by all means can actually play better than he did in Game 1. The Bucks are tough, but the Raptors certainly didn’t play bad in Game 1, which is both encouraging and terrifying.

Have a blessed day.

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