Pre-switching the pick-and-roll
Even with only two days to turn things around, the Raptors had done their homework on Milwaukee’s pet plays. It surely helps having played them four times during the regular season, and some assistant coaches were probably tasked with looking ahead as early as the Philadelphia series, just in case. And then there are advanced scouts, the ones who attend games with an eagle eye on coach and point guard hand signals, play calls and key out-of-bounds or after-timeout sets.
It’s that research that can often help a team’s defence look like they know what’s coming. There’s probably a point of information overload, and so for a Game 1 with only two prep days, the Raptors may have only run through, say, five of Milwaukee’s key half-court actions. It’s on the coaching staff or an enterprising player to recognize them in real time, and Nick Nurse (or someone on his staff) did a good job of that Wednesday.
On at least two occasions, the Raptors identified what was coming, Nurse hollered out to his defence, and the Raptors adjusted the way their defence was set in response to what they thought was coming. (This surely happened a lot more than twice, but these two examples have obvious pre-play movement that make them easier to pick up without knowing what the coverages were on a specific play.)
On the first, we get a great camera shot of Mike Budenholzer signalling for the play as well as Nurse in a deep squat calling out directions to his team. Kyle Lowry is initially on Eric Bledsoe and Marc Gasol is on Ersan Ilyaosva, but the Raptors know Bledsoe is about to screen for Giannis Antetokounmpo to get a smaller guard on him. Lowry and Gasol “pre-switch” off the ball, making Gasol the temporary check on Bledsoe so that they can switch the action that’s coming. They trust Siakam on Bledsoe (and aggressively helped off of him to clog the paint all night) and preferred Gasol as a first line of defence over Lowry.
The result isn’t bad, although the switch of Lowry on to Ilyasova results in a fortuitous offensive rebound. The primary reason for the pre-switch — stopping Antetokounmpo — was successful.
They did it again in the third quarter, putting Lowry on to Nikola Mirotic and shifting Green into the Bledsoe pick-and-roll, resulting in a missed Bledsoe three after Antetokounmpo declined to attack.
On this week’s episode, Blake Murphy of The Athletic joins the show to recap Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Raptors and the Bucks.
- Kyle Lowry’s standout performance
- How to get Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam some easier shots
- Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka vs. Brook Lopez
- Defending Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Game 2 predictions
It’s fair to wonder if fatigue is partly to blame for the Raptors’ shooting struggles — they missed a handful of open looks down the stretch after entering the series with far less rest than Milwaukee got. But the Bucks’ No. 1 defense also deserves credit for making life tough on Toronto.
Antetokounmpo said after the game that Milwaukee, which deployed Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon on Leonard, sought to push the Raptors star to his left throughout the night. The numbers bear that out: 11 of Leonard’s 15 drives were to his left on Wednesday (or 73 percent), according to data from Second Spectrum. That’s a pretty substantial shift from what he normally does: 57 percent of his drives were to his right over the course of this season. (The Bucks have made this a regular part of their defensive effort against elite scorers, most notably against lefty James Harden, whom they had success against by forcing him to his right.)
Using other wings on Toronto’s best player, a replication of what the Bucks did during the regular season, allowed Antetokounmpo the freedom and energy to roam and offer help on D. He made a pair of huge plays on that end to stop the fire-breathing Lowry in the fourth quarter, impressively forcing the guard into a double-dribble early in the period before literally swatting away the Raptors’ last-ditch effort in the closing seconds of the ballgame.
It’s worth mentioning that Toronto did plenty right in this game, too. Unlike in Game 7 against Philly, in which a handful of Raptors looked almost afraid to shoot, Lowry and others weren’t hesitant on open looks, even if their shots were off the mark in the second half. And the Raptors’ defensive plan likely would have earned them a victory had it not been for Lopez’s outburst in the last period. Early on, they swarmed Antetokounmpo whenever he entered the lane. The Bucks shot 23 percent (3 for 13) on drives during the first half, down from the 55 percent Milwaukee shot in drive situations in the first two rounds, according to data from ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. Toronto found success when it forced Giannis into half-court scenarios during that span, limiting him to just 3-of-9 shooting from the field with three turnovers. (By contrast, he shot 3 of 4 during the first half when he managed to get out in transition.)
It seems so long ago. Even Powell is barely able to access the memory, or maybe the idea itself just seems so foreign – a bench player helping the Raptors win games?
What? When? How?
“I don’t even remember much about that series,” Powell was saying as the Raptors had a brief media availability at their team hotel in the aftermath of a Game 1 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to Milwaukee. “I didn’t even know about not missing threes and stuff until after the series and people were talking about it. I was just trying to get the win and that’s what I’m trying to do now.”
Unless something strange happens, he probably won’t get that kind of opportunity this series.
After a regular season of juggling rotations and starting spots and preaching flexibility, there’s some irony in where the Raptors have arrived at as their season reaches its apex: over their past two playoff games, 92 per cent of the minutes were distributed to their five starters and Serge Ibaka. The rotation has shrunk and doesn’t look like it will expand.
Fred VanVleet who was a regular in the Raptors’ closing lineups most of last season – a role he parlayed into a Sixth Man Award nomination and a two-year, $18-million contract in the off-season – is primarily being used to provide some relief for Kyle Lowry. Powell who earned a four-year, $40-million contract in part on the strength of his 2017 playoff run is getting what’s left over.
This isn’t a case that Toronto head coach Nick Nurse should expand his rotation and reduce the load on his core six players.
There’s no evidence it would be a winning strategy. Whether Nurse has turned away from his bench because they haven’t performed or they haven’t performed as their roles have shrunk, the Raptors are worse the less starters they have on the floor in the post-season. All the starters and Ibaka have positive net ratings and any lineups with bench players have struggled.
The problem is there are signs that fatigue is catching up to Toronto’s starters, which could be a problem given they have used up their allotted rest days this post-season. The Conference Finals are on an every other day schedule.
The Raptors have grown accustomed to watching Leonard close games this postseason, understanding that their responsibility is simply to keep it close enough for him to take it home. That version of Leonard wasn’t available in the fourth quarter against the Bucks, as he went 0-for-3 and scored just two points from the foul line. The tandem of Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogden harassed Leonard enough but he’s had to work harder to find his shots against other foes.
Lowry was the only Raptor to make a field goal in the final period, when the adrenaline and emotional hangover from Leonard’s Game 7 heroics three nights before wore off. Had Leonard been the Leonard he’s spoiled the Raptors into expecting at the finish, Toronto steals a win. Instead, the non-Lowry Raptors missed 15 straight shots to let the uphill-climbing Bucks eventually hurdle them.
“I mean, it could be,” Leonard said in response to a question about whether fatigue played a role in the Raptors’ fourth quarter silence, “but it’s no excuses.”
Now the situation gets a bit dicey. By going the distance against Philadelphia, the Raptors lost the chance to give Leonard some extra rest before the start of this series and before Game 3. After load managing Leonard in the regular season to have him physically preserved and safely packaged for the postseason, they no longer have time on their side. Games are flooding in every other day and the Raptors will have to find more creative ways to get him rest for the duration of this series. Leonard will also need to summon the mental and physical strength to persevere.
This series has been hyped as a duel between two rising stars vying for the throne LeBron James abdicated for movie making and purple-and-gold record breaking. This is a moment that Leonard has eagerly wanted to get right as the marquee guy for a franchise. He won Finals MVP in 2014 but still had to defer to the established stars in San Antonio. Inexperience tripped him up in 2015 and 2016. Injuries and Zaza Pachulia undercut him in 2017. And his cold war with the Spurs ruined last postseason and led to the opportunity he has now.
This was the night of all nights for the Raptors to steal a game. Milwaukee had already dropped Game 1 to Boston in the East semifinals, and did not get a transcendent Giannis Antetokounmpo game or a great three-point shooting performance. Winning this one on the road would have been huge for the Raptors.
They didn’t, and not only did they lose, they lost despite Lowry having an out-of-body experience given his Game 1 history. Lowry was only averaging 9.6 points on 34 percent shooting from the field and 14 percent shooting from three in 13 Game 1s entering this series. Though he’s had other standout playoff games in his career, this performance was an outlier. And it still wasn’t enough.
The Bucks are as tough a team as there is in this league. They made the Detroit Pistons look like a G-League team, then sent a loaded Boston squad back to the drawing board after dispatching them in five games. The Raptors are talented, but they need all the help they can get dealing with Antetokounmpo. When his help is on fire, like Brook Lopez was in Game 1, Milwaukee is an incredibly difficult team to stop.
Toronto had that help in Game 1, but it was wasted. Other Raptors not named Lowry shot 31.1 percent from the field, and Lowry and Leonard alone combined for 61 of Toronto’s 100 points. The supporting cast might improve in future games, but we might not get another standout performance like this from the Raptors’ guard.
It’s just sad it happened to be in a losing effort.
The Raptors have sports science and many therapies and a very fancy hotel. Kawhi Leonard only played 60 games and Lowry only played 65 and Pascal Siakam can run for days, weeks, years maybe. Danny Green might sometimes look old, and Marc Gasol too, but their minutes were limited this season, as were Serge Ibaka’s. Toronto played the long game to a fault this season, so everyone would be fresh when it mattered.
The only problem is we have now listed all six players the Raptors are currently using with any regularity. In their eight games since the start of the second round, Kawhi has averaged 40 minutes per game, Lowry 38.9, Siakam 35.6, the 34-year-old Gasol 35.3, and Green 33.3. Ibaka is at a mere 21.4. That is all but 36 of the minutes available per game, and those 36 minutes have been filled by the battered confidence of Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell. They combined for 23 minutes in Game 1. And in this series, the games are every other day.
Those have been hard minutes, too, built on a defence that has to carry Toronto when the offence falters, which means working at a very high level of effort, which means … well, maybe that’s a part of why Toronto is missing so many open shots. Which, as coach Nick Nurse keeps saying, causes problems for the defence. Oh.
It’s not everything. Honestly, Siakam is a number two option who went from dealing with the insurmountable Godzilla defence of Joel Embiid to the world-encircling Hydra defence of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and until he hits open corner threes he’s dealing with two of the greatest, most athletic defenders in the game.
But fatigue is something. Three Raptors scored in the second half, and the only non-Kawhi or Kyle field goal after halftime was Siakam’s pull-up three at the end of the third quarter. Non-Kyle Raptors went 0-for-15 in the fourth quarter. There are questions of ball movement, of confidence, of scheme, of their top two scorers not being natural creators and their two most unselfish players sometimes not wanting to shoot.
And they still nearly won, until fragmenting at the end. The Raptors were good. There just weren’t enough of them.
“I mean, (the minute load) wears on you, but we are a young team,” said the 31-year-old Green of a team with a 34-year-old centre, a 33-year-old point guard and a small forward whose regular-season minutes were watched as carefully as a baby bird. “This is the Eastern Conference finals. You have to get after it.”
That is why Siakam’s spot within this team has been so fascinating. The Raptors knew that this year, because of the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and the departure of LeBron James to Los Angeles, might represent their best shot to get to the NBA Finals, and maybe their only shot in the short-term future, depending on Leonard’s decision in free agency. When the Raptors thought about what the playoffs might hold in the preseason, the notion that they would have to find ways to get Pascal Siakam, previously just a high-motor energy guy, going within the offence probably seemed absurd, if they thought about it at all. That this is a priority is pretty amazing when you take a step back from the series’ intricacies.
As the season progressed and Siakam grew, it became a legitimate concern. To use Draymond Green’s vernacular, the Raptors had become reliant on Siakam, and now he had to prove he could be a 16-game player in addition to being an 82-game player. Without the track record of being a high-level playoff performer, and with some obvious weaknesses as a mid-range shooter and a playmaker on the move, teams were always going to test him to do more. Accordingly, Philadelphia gave Siakam plenty of Embiid, who is maybe not as quick as his countryman, but is spry enough to keep up with him and big enough to cut down on his angles at the rim. Milwaukee started the series with Antetokounmpo on him, one of the few players that is just as shifty as Siakam. Antetokounmpo is also three inches taller than Siakam, so there’s that.
To Siakam’s credit, he has not demurred from the attention. He has higher usage against those two players than his normal rate, to an almost extreme degree. However, he is shooting just 35.9 percent from the floor against them, and only 25 percent on 28 3-point attempts.
“I don’t think those are going to get much cleaner,” Nurse said. “Yeah, and he’s got to take those.”
Where did it all go wrong?
The Raptors lead, which grew as large as 13 points during one of the best first halves they’ve played in 2019, was down to seven entering the fourth quarter. The Bucks had already started to chip away at their deficit. With five seconds remaining in the third, Brook Lopez tipped in a Khris Middleton miss to cut it to four points before Pascal Siakam drained a pull-up three-pointer at the buzzer.
Hoping to buy Kawhi Leonard a few minutes of much-needed rest, head coach Nick Nurse opened the fourth with the maligned bench-heavy lineup of VanVleet, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Siakam.
Heading into the Conference Finals, Toronto had been outscored by six points in 36 post-season minutes with that five-man unit on the floor. They were a minus-12 points in 11 minutes during the second-round series against Philadelphia and they didn’t fare much better on Wednesday.
The Bucks started the frame on an 8-0 run to take their first lead since the opening minutes, forcing Nurse to go back to a couple of his starters, Green and Marc Gasol.
As Nurse pointed out on Thursday, that group didn’t have the best luck in their short two-minute stint. A Powell layup, which would have stretched the lead to nine points on Toronto’s first possession, popped out. Then a charge they thought they had taken didn’t get called and VanVleet missed a wide-open three moments later. Still, running that unit out there – with all three underperforming reserves together – was an ambitious call to begin with.
By the time Leonard checked back in 30 seconds later Milwaukee had found its groove. Lopez continued to punish the Raptors, draining an open three at the top of the arc and then crashing the offensive glass for another tip-in – both reoccurring problems for Toronto. The Bucks centre scored 13 of his 29 points and hit three of his four three-pointers in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed four of his team’s 15 offensive boards on the night.
All of the things the Raptors did so well in the first half had disappeared. They were a step slow on their defensive rotations, they weren’t getting back in transition, the ball stopped moving on offence and – perhaps most alarmingly – they couldn’t find any secondary scoring.
In an ironic turn of events, Lowry, the one guy that everybody seemed worried about going into the series, was the only Raptors player that could hit a shot.
16. For all the attention that will rightfully go to how Lopez broke the game open with his fourth quarter bombs, he was a force inside throughout the game, finishing with more points in the paint (16) than anyone on either team, and that includes Giannis (14). The Raptors as a team only had 26 points in the paint.
“I told myself after the loss, ‘I have to play better,’ ” Ibaka said. “Being under pressure is good pressure … I lacked energy. My energy level wasn’t there. I didn’t bring it last night.”
Ibaka is a unique Raptor. His role changes often. He started a lot of the season at centre before the Raptors traded for Marc Gasol. Now he sometimes backs up Gasol, sometimes plays alongside him, is always counted on — but this piece of playoff statistic is prominent in Toronto’s run to the Eastern Conference final.
When Ibaka scores in double-figures, the Raptors win. Six-and-oh, to date. An average of 12 points a game. He has, often, been the X-factor nobody talks much about when we’re all fawning over Kawhi.
When the Raptors lose — they have lost five playoff games to date — Ibaka scores fewer than six points a game.
“I know,” said Ibaka. “I have to be better.”
The Raptors, aside from Lowry, have to be better. Everybody does. Kawhi wasn’t his comfortable self in Game 1, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was struggling to find his game as well. Milwaukee got a monster game from Lopez. The Raptors played superb defence against Giannis, not-so-superb against Lopez.
That adjustment will have to be made for Game 2.
Now, let’s get this right: We’re not talking about the greatest player to ever wear a Toronto uniform. Peak Leonard, who arrived in town last fall and laid down an MVP-worthy season if not for the 22 games off for precautionary rest, is hard to beat; his Game 7 buzzer-beater is the greatest single act in franchise history by a mile. And peak Vinsanity, wherein Carter put up the second-best Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA behind Shaquille O’Neal in 2000-01, was awfully impressive, too. Bosh was a five-time all-star as a Raptor, but he never won a playoff series before he bolted for Miami.
But as for compiling a career body of work while based in Toronto — if Lowry winds up in an NBA final, it’ll be difficult to make a case his isn’t the heftiest on record.
Wednesday’s heroics certainly bolstered the case. His 30 points came on 7-for-9 shooting from three-point range and a mere 15 shots all told. He played 40 minutes at age 33 and suddenly looked like a younger version of himself. Sadly for the club, he was the only player on the visiting roster to score a field goal in Toronto’s dim fourth quarter.
Now the question is this: After Lowry’s teammates squandered his incredible effort — Raptors not named Lowry combined to shoot a pathetic 8-for-33 from three-point range — what are the odds the Raptors find a way to get past the Bucks? Milwaukee didn’t exactly bring its A game, either, on Wednesday; they shot just 25 per cent from three-point range, well below average for a team that bases its offence on the three-ball.
And it’s become apparent that there are plenty of key pieces in Raptorland who, like Lowry, no longer possess the gift of young legs.
“The season’s a gruelling season,” Lowry told reporters in Milwaukee on Thursday. “We get paid a lot of money to do this, we get paid to prepare ourselves for these types of moments and we get paid to prepare to be ready and to play the best we can no matter what. But that being said, there are a lot of minutes out there that we’re playing. There is some fatigue.”
All was good in the first quarter, when the Raptors scored 34 points on 27 possessions. But things went downhill from there. They scored fewer points (and less efficiently) with each ensuing quarter. In the second half, the only Raptors bucket not scored by Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Leonard was Pascal Siakam’s buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the third quarter.
Some of the struggles were just missed open shots. Siakam was 0-for-7 on corner 3s on Wednesday. Marc Gasol was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc in the second half. Both Danny Green and Norman Powell missed uncontested reverse layups.
But Nurse believes his team has to be sharper offensively, not just with their shooting, but with the player and ball movement that leads to the shots they get. The Raptors were able to create advantages by drawing extra defenders to the ball. The Bucks’ defense was No. 1 in the regular season in both preventing restricted-area shots (their opponents took a league-low 27 percent of their shots from the restricted area) and defending them (their opponents shot a league-low 58.0 percent in the restricted area).
In Game 1, the Raptors attempted just 17 shots in the restricted area, their lowest total in the playoffs. In the regular season, they had only four games in which they got fewer than 17 restricted-area attempts. One of those was Jan. 5 in Milwaukee.
To protect the rim, the Bucks will not hesitate to meet a drive with three or four defenders. and with the collapsing defense, there should be Raptors open. The goal of every offense is to draw multiple defenders to the ball and then get the defense in rotation. The ball should be able to move faster than the rotating defense and eventually find an open shooter with a path back to the basket.
But the Raptors just weren’t good enough in the second half on Wednesday. Leonard probably forced too much, having his shot blocked five times. Look at the crowd he tried to score through here in the third quarter…
It doesn’t say much about the team’s coaching when Leonard sits on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter with the Raptors leading by seven.
When he re-emerged, the Raptors were leading by two points.
It doesn’t say much about Pascal Siakam and his timidness in the fourth quarter, a fear factor Siakam and most of the Raptors showed in their series against the Sixers.
At the end of the third quarter, Siakam shot the ball freely from deep distance as the clock expired.
Siakam needs to play freely and be much more aggressive by taking his man off the dribble and attacking the rim.
What the Raptors did in Game 1 was shrink, much like they shrank against Philly.
Luck will not vault the Raptors to the franchise’s first NBA finals appearance, but better coaching in terms of managing minutes better and stepping up in crunch time by not playing scared will prove to be the catalyst.
There was no reason why Marc Gasol should have been on the floor for 40 minutes.
That’s on Nurse and speaks to his lack of confidence in his bench.
There’s no reason why Leonard was limited to only three shots in the final quarter, an oh-fer period that would see him score two points.
It doesn’t matter how open looks were presented when none dropped because the prudent move was to pull the ball out and run a play with the ball in Leonard’s hands.
Danny Green, who is disappearing right in front of everyone’s eyes, can’t make shots, a troublesome trend not limited to Wednesday’s Game 1.
More than anything, the Raptors don’t have enough scoring options to complement Leonard.
So who’s culpable for Toronto’s Game 1 struggles? There is plenty of blame to go around, though the most troubling performance came from Marc Gasol. Big Spain scored just six points on 2-11 shooting, failing to make a two-point field goal or register a free-throw attempt. This isn’t the same Gasol Masai Ujiri envisioned when he acquired the three-time All-Star at the trade deadline.
Gasol’s 2-7 performance from three on Wednesday is a touch encouraging. He’s a solid three-point shooter, canning 44.2% of attempts in 26 games with the Raptors in 2019. His numbers lean more toward serviceable than impressive before his Toronto stint—34.1% last season, 38.8% in 2016-17—though the attempts are frankly more important than the percentages. Gasol has been neutered as a scorer with Toronto, increasingly so in the postseason. The blame doesn’t lie with his teammates, though. Gasol looks unwilling to pull the trigger from beyond the arc or assert himself in the post. He couldn’t convert on post-ups against Tobias Harris in the second round and he’s attempted multiple threes in just six of 13 playoff games. Lopez is a capable defender, but the former Grizzlies star needs to hunt his shot to unload a dose of attention off of Leonard. Gasol isn’t scaring anyone in the pick-and-roll despite the ability to make defenses pay. His deference can often lead to beautiful displays of team basketball, though it hamstrung Toronto through Game 1 of the East finals.
Gasol isn’t the only player the Bucks will dare to beat them. Milwaukee will sag off Pascal Siakam even if he converts a few triples—15 points on 6-20 from the field in Game 1—and the same rules apply to Serge Ibaka, especially anywhere outside of from the corner. OG Anunoby’s absence will plague Toronto more against the Bucks than Philly, and the Fred VanVleet Fan Club is hemorrhaging members by the game. Nick Nurse’s rotation has been whittled to eight and it’s not necessarily a reliable octet. Even with the experience edge, Toronto’s core outside Kawhi remains shaky.
Game 1 isn’t always indicative of the path a series will take; just ask Kyrie Irving and the Celtics. Toronto will likely tweak its rotation and receive a boost north of the border, perhaps regaining its shooting stroke in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena. But Milwaukee’s comeback on Wednesday illustrated some significant holes in Toronto’s roster. The Raptors reliance on high-volume Leonard has become a necessity, and their inability to capitalize on Lowry’s Game 1 explosion portends trouble down the road. Leonard’s running mates better step up soon, or the memory of his legendary game-winner may slip away after a quick conference finals exit.
A LOT TO PLAY FOR
Nobody knows what the future holds, whether Kawhi Leonard is staying or going, who will be back and who will go, and that was on the mind of the Raptors when they closed out Philadelphia. Even if they didn’t want to admit it.
“You try not to think about that that much. You try not to think about the finality of things,” said Fred VanVleet. “It’s win or go home, and the go home part is never an option. It’s going into the game and knowing what’s at stake, knowing we’re trying to advance, that we’ve got a lot more better basketball to play.
“Now it’s time to move on. You don’t really think about the consequences too much. You’re just super locked-in, trying to move forward,” he had said.
“Obviously it doesn’t get any easier from here. We know what (the Bucks) bring to the table.”
"Personally, I think I need to do a better job," Ibaka said of his Game 1 performance, wasnt happy with his energy level. "I know every time I bring my energy my teammates feed off that. I didn't bring that last night. I'm going to do better next game."
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 16, 2019
You expect an onslaught of 3-point shooting from the Bucks, but they hoisted brick after brick from long range, hitting just 25 percent. Or you expect Giannis Antetokounmpo to have an MVP showing, playing at a dizzying pace that overwhelms, but his 24 points, 14 rebounds and six assists were more workmanlike than devastating.
You don’t expect a player who hit a total of three 3-pointers in his first eight years in the league to spark a team searching for something extra to propel them to an ugly-ish win.
But a seven-point lead dissipated with the unlikely Lopez — who did make 187 regular-season 3-pointers this season — hitting two triples to start the fourth quarter. Lowry tried to keep the Raptors afloat, but no one except the headstrong point guard could muster a field goal in the period — 15 shots, 15 misses. At times they looked passive, as they did in Game 7 against the 76ers. Luckily, they had Leonard to bail them out that night with a boundless reservoir of energy down the stretch and a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
But even he appeared worn down by the defense of Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon, who took turns guarding Leonard to varying degrees of success. After carefully being managed throughout the season by the Raptors’ staff, Leonard hasn’t missed a game since March 30, playing 18 straight contests.
His longest stretch before now was a nine-game streak in early December before taking two straight games off to rest.
In this series, the games will be every other day and 40-minute nights will be the norm. It’s clear the Bucks want to have him fatigued late in the game.
“He’s the focal point of their offense,” Antetokounmpo said. “Kawhi is Kawhi, he’s going to hit shots. In the fourth quarter, it was tough for him. I think we made him feel us the whole game. That’s what we were trying to do as a team, trying to make him play one against five.”
Green shot 1 of 5 in 35 minutes and believes officials missed a critical call in which he felt he was tripped by Middleton, leading to a Bucks basket that helped push them to a decisive advantage.
“We were playing well for three quarters,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “In the fourth, we had some mental lapses. It starts with me. I gotta do a better job of taking care of the ball, getting open, finding people, running the floor and rebounding. Being active. Things aren’t finding me.”
New #BeHonest with #DeMarDerozan. He’s happy with the @spurs and he has nothing but respect for his OLD TEAM.. @Raptors … he talks about @kawhileonard comparisons. https://t.co/c1qRf79aXR… pic.twitter.com/eUnVEEX4eK
— Cari Champion (@CariChampion) May 16, 2019
And looking back on Leonard’s game winning shot as time expired, that is not a situation where blame needs to find a suitor. He was forced into the corner with momentum taking him out of bounds as he had to chuck a rainbow jumper over the 7 foot 2 inch Joel Embiid. That was not a defensive lapse from the Sixers.
It was great execution on Leonard to get the shot off with great fortune on the bounce.
It becomes exhausting when the media is always looking for the next scapegoat. It becomes infuriating when it always has to be the fault of someone on the unfortunate side of the event.
Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court in all seven contests. He has been the best player in the entire playoffs as we are about halfway through. Masai Ujiri gambled on the whole future of the Toronto Raptors for what just happened.
It was felt whether you were in the arena or watching from a television screen. Whenever he had the ball, you worried about what he was going to do. Whenever the ball left his hands, you felt deflated because deep down you knew it was likely to fall through the hoop.
Add his tenacious defense to the equation and the result is what it is.
There are killers on every team that has made it this far. As long as Joel Embiid can stay healthy, that is what he can be for the Sixers moving forward.
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