Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee – Tue, May 21

Vegas line is Bucks -2.5; started as Bucks -1…

Raptor Recalibration, Game 3: Late-game execution, Leonard vs. Antetokounmpo, hoverboards and more – The Athletic

The final minute (x3)

At the risk of turning a fun win into a negative, the Raptors put themselves in more precarious positions late thanks to poor late-game execution, and the contrast between what the sides ran on key plays was stark. To be fair, the Raptors spent more of the closing minutes ahead, and as discussed all year here, the Raptors skew conservative in clutch situations with a lead (or a tie at home) — they trust their defence and prioritize eating clock and avoiding turnovers over slightly better, earlier or riskier shots.

It wasn’t bad initially, though execution was a little lacking. Out of a timeout with 39 seconds to go, the Raptors run a sideline out-of-bounds play with some good line-out misdirection on the actual inbound pass and again with a stack to get Kawhi Leonard the ball. They have off-ball action taking place on both baselines, too, with the idea being to make help on Leonard more difficult, but the Bucks are mostly unconcerned if it means slowing Leonard. Fred VanVleet gets a decent look at a three, he just rushes it a bit.

Khris Middleton then hands them a gift with an ill-advised transition three. The thinking here is probably to get a quick shot up so they have the chance to foul if he missed — that’s how it plays out — but usually that trade-off means an easier look than a hurried three (for the win, no less).

The difference gets more pronounced after Siakam misses two free throws and the Bucks have an after-timeout play with seven seconds to go. Note how Giannis Antetokounmpo starts the play deep in the back court, drawing Leonard away from a help position and pulling Gasol away from the paint with a very high screen. The Raptors actually stop it, only for Middleton to get his own rebound.

The Raptors have a chance to answer with an admittedly difficult 2.2 on the clock. The Raptors don’t have any timeouts left, Middleton does a good job physically denying Leonard the left short corner and Siakam’s left to put up a heave.

Raptors still need more from supporting cast – Yahoo

Where the improvement can come from will be in the supporting cast stepping up. The Raptors know what they’re going to get from Kawhi Leonard at this point, and the same can be said of Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry — players who will provide energy and effort even if they’re not making shots. But the shots have to start falling, and they have to come from a cast of players that has been very inconsistent in these playoffs.

Danny Green is shooting 35.1 percent from three in the playoffs after making 45.5 percent of his three-point attempts in the regular season. Fred VanVleet shot 1-for-11 in Game 3, and is 2-for-11 from beyond the arc in this series, following a series against the Philadelphia 76ers in which he made one three-pointer in seven games.

Green knows there will be open looks in this series, and after going 1-for-6 from beyond the arc in Game 3, he knows the best way to help alleviate Leonard’s offensive load is to start making more shots.

“Kawhi is picking and choosing his spots and understanding how they were guarding him and finding plays not just for himself but for other guys,” Green said. “That’s why we’re getting so many clean, open looks. We just have to knock them down, myself especially. Fred, me and Serge [Ibaka] hopefully will step up and make more shots next game.

Outside of a few blowout losses, the Raptors’ defence has been very impressive during this postseason run, and was a key factor in why they were able to keep their season alive with a win on Sunday. But the Bucks have more depth, more shooting, and as they showed in the double overtime loss, they will keep coming. When the shots are falling, Toronto will likely need a lot more offence to win one more game against the Bucks, let alone three more and the series.

In Game 3, two unlikely heroes emerged. Norman Powell came off the bench and delivered 19 points and three three-pointers in 30 minutes. Marc Gasol rebounded from an embarrassing Game 2 performance and hit four threes, putting together his best all-around game of the postseason, finishing with 16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks.

To win Game 4, the Raptors will need a few more surprise performances from their supporting cast.

Game’s best player is up for debate, but postseason MVP? That’s Kawhi Leonard – The Athletic

Damian Lillard owned the first round, waving goodbye to Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City with the most cold-blooded, deep-three finish to ever end a series. But he’s been slumping ever since, battling injuries and defenses whose sole purpose were to shut him down, while C.J. McCollum balled out in the second round. Nearly every metric leans toward Antetokoumpo being the best player this postseason, primarily because his team has been the most dominant. Antetokounmpo is likely to walk away with Maurice Podoloff trophy next month but he’s only had one vintage game in this series and his team is up 2-1 — and could easily be up 3-0 if Leonard didn’t find enough in reserve to close.

Aside from one game against the happy-to-be-there Orlando Magic, Leonard hasn’t been afforded the luxury of a bad, or even not-historically-great performance. If Leonard doesn’t have it, his team doesn’t either. If he takes a seat to catch a breather, the situation for the Raptors goes from sugar to shiggity in a hurry.

While that might seem unfair to place such a burden on any player, Leonard has rarely shrieked when the opportunity to play hero comes his way. He rescued the Raptors in Game 4 in the second round against Philadelphia, drilling a three-pointer over Joel Embiid that would’ve been the lasting image of that series if he didn’t hit another, more iconic shot three games later over Embiid that sent the 76ers All-Star big man into one of those sloppy cries. And with the season on the line, one more time, Leonard was always there – popping up with the rebound, swooping in for the steal, lunging in for the tie-up that leads to a jump ball, taking off from just inside the foul line for a lefty dunk.

“It’s amazing. What he’s been doing for us all year, especially in the postseason, has been really good for us,” Norman Powell said of Leonard. “He’s a guy that all he wants to do is win. He doesn’t care about accolades, the points. As long as he’s out there helping the team win, that’s good for us. We feed off of that. He’s a great leader for us.”

After a breakaway layup early in the game, Leonard reached down for his left leg and lost some of the burst in his step. After that lefty dunk, which came on a fast break in which he could’ve been called for double dribble, Leonard reached down for his right leg and teammate Kyle Lowry — reduced to de facto assistant coach and trainer after fouling out in regulation — brought over some heat packs for him to apply during the subsequent timeout.

Though he felt some pain, Leonard wasn’t going to be denied. Leonard played more minutes than anyone on the floor but out-leaped everyone else for a critical offensive rebound in the final minutes, darted past Malcolm Brogdon for a steal even as the loose ball first rolled to Brogdon. That brief postseason hiatus made Leonard appreciate this stage and embrace the urgency required. This was his fifth game with at least 40 minutes played this postseason after having just four in the regular season. Holding back Leonard probably cost him a chance at MVP and his team a few more wins, but who’s going to complain when this postseason is the result?

Kawhi vs. Giannis is the series for Raptors and Bucks | The Star

It wasn’t just that Kawhi set Giannis on a hesitant path — the Greek Freak didn’t shoot at all in 17 possessions against Siakam, and Marc Gasol stripped him of the ball more than once, and the Raptors sent traps and doubles — but the Toronto superstar also played team defence, helping and then recovering for steals. It was like he could be in two places at once.

And as a result, at times Toronto didn’t have to help quite as much on Milwaukee’s shooters, and the potential MVP finished with 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting, plus eight turnovers. He only went 5-of-12 in the paint. Kawhi is a bull with safecracker’s hands, and his balance and footwork are near-impeccable. If Giannis is muffled, the Bucks can be beaten.

“That’s why we had him on Giannis from the jump, and he wanted that assignment,” said Green.

And as the Raptors face another effectively do-or-die matchup in Game 4, Kawhi limiting Giannis is a centrepiece to Toronto’s hopes. Giannis figured out Al Horford in the second round. Kawhi may be a different challenge.

“You got Kawhi, probably the best two-way … basketball player in the NBA and you can kinda take a little bit of help off Giannis, and let Kawhi play one-on-one, but just give him different looks, different bodies,” said point guard Kyle Lowry. “Think four or five guys guarded him last night. Just give him different looks and different bodies and different areas, situations, try to make him as uncomfortable and (be as) unpredictable as we can possibly be.”

Kawhi Leonard once turned a younger LeBron James inside out in a playoff series, and LeBron had more ways to score than Giannis does. Toronto’s half-court defence in this series has been superb; it will have to remain so, to have a chance. Giannis told Milwaukee reporters he would have to attack Kawhi, if only to sap his energy for the other end of the court. Kawhi’s health, after all that limping, remains a closely guarded secret.

But Kawhi doesn’t seem to fear anything in basketball. Let the biggest deer come.

Raptors blog: Kawhi matchup troubled Giannis in Game 3 | Toronto Sun

DEFENCE STEPS UP

Mike Budenholzer credited Toronto’s defenders while also making it clear that he didn’t feel that his players shot the ball well. “You should always give them some credit for their defence. Whether it’s just the matchups or their defence in general, they were active,” Budenholzer said.

“When we have good opportunities, you’ve got to make them. We didn’t probably make enough of our good ones, and I think we’ll be better in Game 4.” Budenholzer said Giannis was making the right decisions in passing the ball, the Bucks just didn’t hit the shots.

“But you know, I think when somebody is committed to getting the ball out of his hands, we feel great about the shooting around him and the players around him. Hopefully we can make teams pay. We were right on the cusp of winning a game when we didn’t play that well,” Budenholzer said.

Raptors have little choice but to ride with Danny Green and he has no choice but to keep shooting – The Athletic

The exception here is Danny Green. The Raptors guard has not mentioned or even hinted at an injury all playoffs long. Instead, he has just been inexplicably off of his shooting game. He is down to 35.1 percent from 3-point range, which seems high, from 45.5 percent in the regular season. He is still connecting on 51.5 percent of his wide-open 3-pointers, but is only 22.7 percent on all other attempts. In the regular season, he was at 40.6 percent on those same looks.

It is a precipitous drop, one that makes you wonder if anything else was bothering him. In the regular season, Green was close to 28 minutes per game, but he has been up above that in all but two of the 10 games since the 76ers series started. If Game 3 ended in regulation, Green would have been below 30 minutes in consecutive games, in part because of his own struggles and in part because of Norman Powell’s emergence.

Is he tired? Is he injured? Both?

“I think it’s just part of the game,” Green said. “Sometimes you get good looks. Sometimes you miss them. I didn’t think I had a great rhythm in terms of last game. Sometimes it happens that way. There are no concerns right now. Some of them were off balance. Some of them were rushed. But for the most part, I just missed. You’ve got to keep taking those shots confidently.”

“We do check some things,” Nurse added when asked whether the team assesses a player’s mechanics when such a good shooter is struggling. That paid dividends earlier in the season, when the Raptors noticed an unspecified kink in Lowry’s shot to help break him out of a rut.

“Nowadays you can check it a lot of ways other than just looking at the film or seeing how it’s coming off their hand or if their feet are squared up or if they’re floating, or things like that. We like to check all those things just to make sure they’re lined up. We do that after each and every game just to see if anything sticks out. And nothing’s really stuck out for us with him.”

This is why nobody seems particularly concerned about Green’s slump, even if his shooting is a huge part of the Raptors’ offence. This is not like the case of Fred VanVleet, who has occasionally seemed unable to get to his spots offensively and take his normal shots. By all accounts Green is just missing, and failing a complete lack of confidence, you have to continue to ride with such a player, at least somewhat. Even if Green’s one-on-one defence is not as good as it looked during the regular season, he is still capable of making really intuitive plays, as he did in the Raptors’ hot start on Sunday. Many wondered if Powell would take Green’s starting spot, but one of Powell’s biggest sins is defensive inattentiveness.

Gutsy Game 3 proves Raptors, Kawhi Leonard willing to put it all on the line – Sportsnet.ca

The load is no longer being managed.

Not only did he play a career-high 52 minutes on Sunday night, but he played the entire fourth quarter and all of both overtimes — 22 consecutive minutes of the highest-intensity basketball imaginable, without a break. And he played the last three minutes of the game while seeming to favour his right thigh — the same area that caused him to miss so much time in San Antonio — after racing full speed, full court and splitting two Milwaukee defenders for a solo fast-break dunk.

The only protocol he’s following now is the one that gives the Raptors a chance to win. Leonard may or may not be here for a long time, but he’s here for the right reasons — his actions speaking louder than anything the man of few words could possibly say.

Needless to say, wasn’t feeling his best Monday as the Raptors gathered for a film session at the OVO Athletic Centre.

“Yeah, I think the consensus today is he’s tired,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who is popping throat lozenges on the regular as he tries to keep his voice after spending his nights screaming to be heard in arenas with decibel levels approaching jet engines. “[But] he’s got two days and will be ready to go. Those are kind of the words coming out of his mouth: Little tired, but he’ll get his rest, got two days, and he’ll be ready.”

He told team officials and medical staff earlier on Monday as they followed up that he was playing in Game 4. His only message?

He was going to play on Tuesday night.

Would he be playing if it was not a virtual must-win in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Almost certainly not. The last time Leonard played through some obvious discomfort with his leg in a game that went into double overtime was when he played 45 minutes in a Jan. 13 win over the Washington Wizards, played two days later on the road against Boston and then sat for the next four games.

The Raptors don’t have that luxury now and Leonard — pending free agency and all — doesn’t want any part of it.

Raptors stick to film work after double-OT win – ESPN

So with Monday spent watching film, and Tuesday morning’s typical pregame shootaround being canceled, the goal is to try to summon as much energy as possible for Tuesday night’s Game 4 — one the Raptors need to win to even the series at two games apiece and avoid facing elimination when the series shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 5 on Thursday.

“It’s not about execution,” Raptors guard Danny Green told ESPN. “Everybody knows each other’s plays. It’s about grit and will. Guys are mentally locked in, sprinting back, talking to each other … those are the main things that are deciding these games.

“For us, it’s just a matter of will power and to have the mentality to want to win, and want it more than them.”

The Raptors needed every ounce of that Sunday night — specifically from Kawhi Leonard, who didn’t look right throughout much of the game after an awkward landing in the first quarter. Leonard still played a career-high 52 minutes and finished with 36 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists.

Leonard didn’t speak to the media Monday, but he also wasn’t listed on the team’s injury report. For his part, Nurse said his star was feeling all right, and he echoed Leonard’s comments from after Game 3 that Leonard would be ready to go when the ball goes up Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena.

“Yeah, I think the consensus today is he’s tired,” Nurse said. “He’s got two days and will be ready to go. Those are kind of the words coming out of his mouth. He’s a little tired, but he’ll get his rest. Got two days, and he’ll be ready.”

Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry — the team’s All-Star point guard who fouled out midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s thriller — admitted Monday that he’s still dealing with the aftereffects of an injury to his left thumb during the Philadelphia series.

“I try not to think about it,” he said. “I mean, it is what it is. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be sore, but you’ve got to push through. At this time of year, you’ve just got to push through no matter what you’re going to go through … just got to make things happen however you can.”

Kawhi Leonard’s Legend-Making Performance in the N.B.A. Playoffs | The New Yorker

The Raptors defense, led by Leonard, continually collapsed on the paint, where the Bucks’ unique star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, does his gnarliest work. At least partly as a result, Antetokounmpo never got it going. Even when, for a moment or two, he returned to his usual form, there was a feeling of ambivalent qualification. On a second-quarter fast break, he took a few dribbles after crossing half-court, moving toward the hoop, then, as is his way, he clutched the ball, took loping steps around the bodies of his defenders—agility shouldn’t come so easily to a guy this muscular and this tall—and finished with a layup. But there was soon a debate, first on the sidelines and then on the broadcast, about whether the move had been a travel. Had there been three of those loping steps, or just the legal two? Even great plays weren’t great enough to stand on their own, or to break away, narratively, from the confusing din of the game. When the Bucks pulled even and sent things to overtime, it felt fitting: there wouldn’t be a knockout, just an act of survival or defeat. (No N.B.A. team has ever come back to win a playoff series after trailing 3–0.)

By now Leonard’s hop had become a full-on limp, but he seemed revived by the opportunity to steer his team as much by endurance as by domination. There was a wily pivot-fake into a fifteen-footer, a slow but effective march to the hoop. He had a chance to win it for Toronto at the end of overtime, but he missed the shot, and so there was a second overtime. In this final frame, Leonard found the strength for a series of plays that put the Bucks away for good, placing a stamp of protagonism on the marathon game. Not quite two minutes into the second overtime—he’d played almost fifty minutes of basketball by now, and would end with fifty-two—he raced downcourt in transition, after a steal by his teammate Danny Green, took off from the dotted line with two defenders hanging from him in the air, and slammed the ball home with his left hand. After the move, it was clear that he’d hurt himself further. He grimaced all the way to the bench and covered his face with his hands when he sat. But, when he returned to the court, he kept pushing, even as his eyes seemed to glaze over with pain. He bumped bodies in sacrificial attempts to garner fouls, and, with less than two minutes left, intercepted a pass between the Bucks swingmen Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon and raced forward for another dunk.

When the game was over and the Raptors had won, making the series a salvageable 2–1, Leonard had somehow gathered thirty-six points, nine rebounds, and five assists in those fifty-two minutes of his. As he gave a post-game interview, his eyes seemed to water, either with emotion or pain or both. Knockouts are nice; so are routs, when it’s your own team doing the winning. But a slog can be exciting, too, when a player with as much fortitude and intelligence as Leonard is the leading man.

Kawhi’s Defense Kept The Raptors’ Season Alive | FiveThirtyEight

Stopping Antetokounmpo, whom Leonard guarded more than twice as often as any other Raptor did, was only a chunk of what Kawhi contributed on the night. Despite laboring at times, he logged 52 minutes — a franchise playoff record — and poured in a game-high 36 points (including 8 in the second overtime while the Bucks, as a team, scored 9 in that frame). The showing was Leonard’s 10th 30-point game this postseason, making him the fourth player in the past decade — after LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant — to accomplish that feat in a single playoffs.

Still, for how badly Toronto needed each and every point, Leonard’s defense was likely even more valuable. Milwaukee was just 3 of 18 on shots when Leonard was the primary defender Sunday. Even when Toronto changed the defensive look it threw at Giannis and the Bucks, the adjustment appeared to keep Milwaukee off-balance for stretches.

The Raptors opted to double-team Antetokounmpo when he was near the block, a shift from what they did earlier in the series. They did this three times Sunday after doing it only once during the first two games combined. The first two doubles resulted in Antetokounmpo turning the ball over. The second one flustered Antetokounmpo so much that he jumped to make a pass before realizing no one was open and flung the ball to no one in particular.

That pressure appeared to pay dividends a bit later in the game, too, when Antetokounmpo got whistled for a pair of traveling violations off the catch, perhaps antsy reactions to the double-teams he’d seen earlier in the contest.2 (Before Sunday, Pascal Siakam had been defending Giannis far more than any other Raptor.)

None of this is to suggest that Antetokounmpo didn’t impact the game in other ways. Yes, he was 2 of 7 at the line, and he fouled out during a tie game with 4:24 left in the second overtime, but he also finished with 23 boards and four blocks. The Raptors shot 34 percent while Giannis was on the floor, but they connected on a blistering 59 percent of their shots while he was on the bench, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Largely because of that, Toronto outscored the Bucks by 9 in the 13 minutes Antetokounmpo sat — something the Raptors, who lack Milwaukee’s depth, hadn’t been able to take advantage of earlier in the series.

A handful of other factors Sunday are worth watching heading into a pivotal Game 4 on Tuesday. Toronto finally got production from Siakam and Marc Gasol, both of whom played poorly to begin the series. That happened as a handful of the Bucks’ other starters — All-Star Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Nikola Mirotic — went scoreless in the two overtimes and shot a combined 9 for 43 (21 percent) in Game 3.3.

Kawhi Leonard carried the Raptors on one leg. He can’t do it again – SBNation.com

It wasn’t just The Klaw show, either. Marc Gasol, who had been awful through the first two games, hit four threes for 16 points. Pascal Siakam, who was worse than Gasol entering Game 3, had 25 on 50-percent shooting. Norman Powell built on Game 2 with 19 points off the bench in Game 3. It wasn’t a perfect night for Toronto’s reserves, but they gave just enough to live to fight another day.

This won’t be enough to survive in Game 4. Kyle Lowry only scored 11 points. Danny Green, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka combined to shoot 4-of-29 from the field. Giannis Antetokounpo played with foul trouble and fouled out 36 seconds into the second overtime. Toronto won by eight, but if there was a tolerable way for the Bucks to lose, this was it.

We don’t know if this will be a lingering injury for Leonard. He looked just fine when he scored eight points in the second overtime alone, but injuries have a way of setting overnight.

The only thing that’s certain is it’ll take an even better performance in Game 4 if Toronto wants to extend this series. These games will be the difference between Leonard staying a Raptor and potentially leaving elsewhere when his free agency arrives on July 1.

Leonard just put the Raptors on his back, with one leg, to get a win in Game 3. It’s time for the rest of the team to give their star some more help, or else they could watch him leave this summer — even if it’s on crutches.

Kawhi Leonard Is Doing Everything A Player Could Be Asked To Do – Deadspin

If this was a universe where Leonard didn’t also have to jack up 25 shots on the other end of the floor, this series might yet have some juice. The Raptors couldn’t muster 40 percent shooting from the floor in Game 3. It wasn’t as much of a one-man show as some previous Raptors outings this spring. Pascal Siakam put 25 points on the board, even if he couldn’t ice the two free throws at the end of regulation that would’ve saved Kawhi another 10 minutes of toil. A smooth Norm Powell added an efficient 19 before fouling out. Marc Gasol contributed 15 courtesy of some much needed confidence from deep. But when Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka combine for 4-of-25 from the field, someone else will have to pick up the slack. In Toronto there is no question as to who that someone will be.

Locking down the probable MVP on one end of the floor, flirting with 40 on the other—it’s difficult to conceive of a more taxing workload in this league. Leonard logged 52 minutes and winced after landing his dunks and layups late in the game. He was limping on the side opposite his long-term quad injury. If this banged-up and depleted Kawhi Leonard can conjure up three more wins, he’d lay claim to one of the truly Herculean individual postseason performances in recent history. As recent history also confirms, there’s no penalty for getting smashed by the Warriors once you get there.

It’s now all about winning the rest-and-recovery game | Toronto Sun

As much as most of us in the media make a big deal of the in-between games adjustments — and Nurse and his staff certainly didn’t hold back in that regard shifting the initial primary defensive duties for Giannis Antetokounmpo on to Leonard’s plate as the most obvious of the defensive tweaks in Game 3 — the reality is with two more or less evenly matched teams the series now comes down to who comes out with more energy and desire on any given night.

Sunday night that team was the Raptors. In Game 2 it was, by a much larger margin, the Bucks. Game 1 was a draw, the Raptors driving the show in the first half, the Bucks starting to take over in the third and then fully taking over in the fourth to eke out a win.

Pascal Siakam, who rebounded from a tough Game 2 with an efficient 25 points in the win Sunday, downplayed his being freed from guarding Antetokounmpo and played up just the overall drive the Raptors brought to Game 3 as a reason for the win.

“I don’t think that affected anything to be honest,” he said of being relieved of the primary Giannis defender role. “I just felt that, as a team, we had more energy. I think Game 2 we didn’t have quite as much.

“I don’t think it was because I was guarding Giannis,” Siakam said. “It’s hard to guard him but it’s not like he has the ball the whole game. I get to play off of him and be in the gap and help. It’s not like I’m picking him up full court or anything like that or where I’m using all my energy. I just felt like as a team, collectively, we had more energy this game. That is how we want to play, that is who we are. But I think it’s good that we give him different looks. At the end of the day you are going to end up guarding him anyway because we switch a lot. So it doesn’t really matter. But I think just at the start giving him different looks and you know when you are up against a player like that you have to try whatever you can.”

And that start seemed to be key if you listened closely to head coach Nick Nurse.

“Obviously, it set a good tone for us,” Nurse said. “They started the first two games, I think (Antetokounmpo) dunked it. He got the ball and dunked it to start the first two games. That didn’t happen last night, so that was a much better start to begin with.”

Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard finds a way despite Bucks’ tough defense

Brogdon had a brilliant night, scoring 20 points in just his fourth game back from his plantar fasciitis injury.

Brogdon was also a disruptive defender, causing turnovers in the third quarter and staying with Leonard step-for-step. At the end of the first overtime, when Brogdon stopped Leonard from winning another game on another last-second shot – like he did in Game 7 of the semifinals against Philadelphia – Brogdon pumped his fist.

But Leonard walked the tightrope in the second overtime, slipping through Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic for a dunk. It was then, during a timeout, that Leonard was grimacing on the bench.

“He’s great and he always plays at his speed,” Bucks big man Brook Lopez said of Leonard. “He keeps his composure and he does just a great job controlling the tempo and the possession when he has the ball.

“But I think Khris and Malcolm and everyone who guarded him tonight, and in the series, have done a great job of making things tough for him.”

It’s true. Leonard is matchup nightmare for anyone.

“The guy is so strong,” Middleton said. “6-8, he’s strong, he can shoot. And drive. He had a lot of tough shots. He got some easy ones on the fast break, but for the most part he had a lot of tough shots, and that’s what great players do.”

The Bucks appeared to keep this loss in perspective. It was, after all, just their second in the playoffs.

“It was a great game from them; it was a good game from us,” Middleton said. “We just lost. We lost a tough one.”

Pascal Siakam’s growth helps Raptors if they undergo potential rebuild – Sportsnet.ca

Certainly, there are issues just below the surface with this Raptors team. The post-Kawhi let-down, if it occurs, will be something else. The teams depth is no longer a strength but an Achilles heel, Fred VanVleet has, I think, pretty much laid to rest the notion that he can be anything other than an option off the bench. God bless his tenaciousness and all that stuff, but he cannot be your point-guard if Lowry leaves. Which brings us to Siakam. Can he be your go-to guy going forward? I’m not certain. But I know this: whenever this rebuild commences and whoever is in charge, they’ll know they have a terrific complementary piece who can keep up with the very best players in the game. You can work with that. You really can.

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