Pre-game news and notes: Learning from mistakes

16 mins read
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Whether you find the Toronto Raptors’ 108-100 game one loss encouraging or a prophecy of doom depends on which parts on which you focus. Samson Folk does a great job explaining the disparity in his gameday preview, which you can find here. But let’s dig into the side of optimism first. The Raptors were basically perfect in the first quarter, holding the Milwaukee Bucks outside of transition (after the first few minutes) and contesting the arc like madmen. The defensive switching and hard doubles seemed to fluster the Bucks, forcing them out of their comfort zones, leading to late-clock attempts. The Bucks have taken only 5.0 percent of their shots in the 0-4 second range of the shot-clock over the playoffs, only slightly up from 4.2 percent during the regular season. That portion nearly doubled in game one, with the Bucks taking 8.6 percent of their shots in the very late portion. On the other end, the Raps shot 6-for-13 from behind the arc as the Raps won the quarter 34-23.

It was all downhill from there. Despite some occasional flashes of brilliance from Toronto in the rest of the game, they weren’t able to put it together for as long a stretch as the nine straight minutes of greatness in the first. The Bucks played the part of a boa constrictor, starting loose and weak, slowly tightening and wrapping and squeezing until any air space left to their opponents has vanished. Even though the Bucks never caught fire from behind the arc, shooting 25 percent in the game, they hit some clutch pull away triples in the fourth quarter. Nikola Mirotic and Brook Lopez especially provided some daggers.

The Bucks outscored Toronto 85-66 over the final three quarters.. Even though the shooting didn’t come around until the fourth, they dominated the offensive glass, notching 15 offensive rebounds in the game. Lopez, of course,  finished the game with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He was dominant on both ends. But even though the Bucks soured any positive feelings Toronto might have had, the Raptors still proved that there is a blueprint to victory. They laid out how they might find success going forward.

The Raptors played a good defensive game; the Bucks didn’t just miss shots. Toronto formed a wall in the paint on any Giannis Antetokounmpo drive, helping well and rotating behind the ball with precision and accuracy. (That was far less true in the fourth quarter, which correlated with the Bucks actually connecting on some triples. Fatigue will play a role in this series, especially as Toronto is forced to play each starters 40 minutes each game. It’s harder to help at the right time and nail your rotations when you’r tired.) Pascal Siakam was brilliant as Antetokounmpo’s primary defender, holding him to 2-of-6 shooting with four turnovers. The Bucks on the whole scored 0.87 points per possession in the 38 possessions in which Siakam was Antetokounmpo’s primary defender. Toronto was great at helping double Antetokounmpo when he got deep position, and Gasol especially stripped him a variety of times in the paint. Gasol doesn’t have the athleticism to meet him at the rim – no one does – but he does have the quickness to strip him on the ground.

Related, Antetokounmpo destroyed Toronto when a big was his primary defender. When Toronto tried the Al Horford-style defense, and switched either Ibaka or Gasol onto him (Ibaka actually spent time as the primary defender, before any switches), the Bucks scored 1.5 points per possession in 24 possessions. Antetokounmpo can get around either of them too easily, and then there isn’t a big to prevent him from scoring around the rim. As a result, Toronto over-helped when Ibaka or Gasol spent time on Antetokounmpo, allowing the Bucks to score easily in those minutes. Paradoxically, Toronto could be better switching a guard onto Antetokounmpo than switching a big, as guards are usually better at stripping him on the floor, and that leaves bigs to be the second line of defense. Regardless, Siakam was solid, so Toronto should stay in that alignment, and probably not play a single minute in the game with Antetokounmpo on the floor without Siakam.

With Siakam against Antetokounmpo, and helping swarming, Toronto forced players other than Antetokounmpo to make plays, and it was clear that the Bucks don’t have any elite initiators beyond their superstar. Khris Middleton isolating against Kawhi Leonard just isn’t going to cut it for Milwaukee. Milwaukee got far too many baskets after offensive rebounds. After several great defensive stands, the Bucks scored because one big – usually Lopez – refused to be pushed out of rebounding space. (That the Bucks still had a great transition defense is concerning.) If Toronto cleaned up the defensive glass and took away even half of the Bucks’ 24 second-chance points, they would have won game one. There is a blueprint to stopping Milwaukee, and Toronto needs to use it for all 48 minutes.

Toronto Injury Updates

OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out. Patrick McCaw remains out (personal).

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. Brogdon looked just fine in game one, but he’ll come off the bench again as he works back into game shape.

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

Lineup Notes

  • How many games have the Raptors played in the playoffs, 13? Then I’ve written the following 13 times. The Raptors starters are great. They won their 30 minutes by 6 points, shooting 40 percent from deep, and forcing plenty of turnovers. Toronto can count on winning their minutes whenever the starters are in the game, which is why the starters played 30 minutes together. But because they want to ride that lineup, the Raptors are forced to play bench players together. The Raps would need to cut down 5-starter minutes to play transitional lineups with only one or two bench players. They chose to maximize their 5-starter minutes, but that required playing 3-bench players together. It’s a tough tradeoff, but not an indefensible one.
    • Those 2-starter minutes were rough. Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Siakam-Ibaka were outscored by eight points in two minutes at the start of the fourth quarter. To reiterate, Toronto would need to cut down their all-starter minutes to eliminate their 2-starter minutes. In an ideal world, these lineups would be able to tread water. I’m not sure if a rotational tweak is required, or if the same lineups need to adapt their play to improve their chances. I would lean towards the latter. Siakam could handle the ball more in those lineups, as he did in the end of the game. Toronto needs him to create more for himself, as his ability to draw the defense is a key ingredient to opening shots for teammates. Playing him alongside undersized teammates isn’t necessarily the best fix, but Toronto doesn’t have other options.
      • To extend that point, some pairings had a lot of trouble for Toronto. VanVleet-Ibaka were -13 in 13 minutes. They struggled to create good shots on the offensive end. VanVleet-Lowry were -12 in five minutes. Ibaka-Gasol were -8 in 12 minutes.
        • A possible fix would be to make shift Gasol’s substitution spot to earlier in the first quarter, so that Ibaka gets more time with the starters and fewer with VanVleet. However, Ibaka was also -19 in 12 minutes with Lowry. So it’s not much that the coaching staff can do. Ibaka and VanVleet have to be better, make better decisions, and connect on their opportunities so that they don’t provide an offensive cap on lineups in which they’re a part. I’m confident Ibaka will do it; he was brilliant in the second half of the Sixers series. VanVleet boasted Toronto’s best (tied) plus-minus in four games against the Bucks in regular season. They survived with this phantom VanVleet against the Sixers. But they need him to return to his dazzling self to have a chance against the Bucks.
  • Milwaukee used a lineup of Hill-Brogdon-Connaughton-Ilyasova-Lopez for more minutes than any non-starter unit in the entire game. They played more than six minutes, finishing +4 in that time. Toronto needs to take advantage when the Bucks don’t have Antetokounmpo or Middleton as creators, and minus defenders in Connaughton and Ilyasova. In one stretch, the Raps played Leonard and Siakam against this lineup, yet they were outscored. The problem for Toronto was the VanVleet and Powell were the backcourt, and neither are natural point guards. The ball stuck, and Toronto wasn’t nearly decisive enough to create advantages for Leonard or Siakam. The ball stuck, and players didn’t move. In those scenarios, the Raptors should run 3-2 or 3-4 pick-and-rolls to ensure that either Connaughton and Ilyasova is forced into an action involving Leonard. (They could easily do the same for Siakam.) Then isolate and attack. Again, stamina seemed to play a factor here.


  • Leads against the Bucks basically don’t exist. I mean, in theory they do. But like the Warriors, the Bucks can vaporize double-digit leads within moments. The Raps led the Bucks by seven entering the fourth quarter. That should be enough, right? Not only did the lead not last the whole quarter, but it didn’t even last for two minutes. Lopez hit a triple in the first 30 seconds. VanVleet missed a pair of jumpers, and Lopez hit another. Boom, 90 seconds, basically a tie game. That’s how fast the Bucks can punch you. Lose focus for an instant, and that’s the end of that.
  • Brogdon was much better defending Leonard than Middleton. Brogdon doesn’t have nearly as much size, but his effort was fantastic. He denied Leonard the ball on several occasions and even held him to 3-of-9 shooting as Leonard’s primary defender. Brogdon’s return is a bad omen for Toronto in this series, especially if he’s able to shut down Toronto’s offensive focal point. Brogdon stayed with his jittery fakes, forcing him into the second line of help, where Lopez frequently blocked Leonard in the midrange. The book on Leonard is to keep him out of the paint, not to foul, force him to pull up, and then just hope. Brogdon did it brilliantly.
  • Toronto knows that they did plenty well in game one. Nurse isn’t overreacting.
    • “I think you always need to adjust, win, lose, or draw, but I certainly don’t think you overreact to any narratives that are out there,” said Nurse.
  • Shooting is an obvious and almost building block form of analysis, but it is important. The Raptors need more shooting from plenty of guys across the roster. Green, Siakam, Gasol, VanVleet, and Ibaka combined for 37 points (19 in the first quarter). It doesn’t really matter how they give it, whether from behind the arc or not, but they need to contribute more offensively. Siakam didn’t finish well inside the arc, and the others didn’t finish well behind it.
    • Speaking about shooting, Siakam had as many attempts from deep (9) as Lowry. That’s indicative of some misalignment on the offensive end. Siakam is a good corner shooter, but that skill has been missing for much of the playoffs. He became incredibly good during the regular season at simulating space even when not shooting, whether attacking closeouts, or using space from defenders as a runway for his spin moves and floaters. He needs to get back to his hyper-efficient ways for Toronto to cobble together a semblance of offense.
  • Refs are Mike Callahan, Eric Lewis, and Rodney Mott.

The Line

  • Unchanged from game one, the Bucks are once again -6.5. The over-under is 217.


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