Columns

Raptors Republic Chat: Do we have a series on our hands?

In this chat, we discuss to what extent the Raptors winning in game three should change our expectations in the series. Put another way, can the Raptors beat the Bucks? And if so, why? The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Louis Zatzman

Welcome to another Raptors Republic group chat! The topic today is quite simple. Can the Raptors win this series?

Josh Howe
Simple question, convoluted answer, I’m afraid.

Louis
You sound like every university prof I’ve ever had.

Josh
*adjusts glasses* Erm, well you see…

Anthony Doyle
They can win, but the margin for error is basically nothing.

Josh
But yes, they definitely can. Anthony is right, though—the margin was already slim, and now with Gimpy Kawhi, among other things, that margin is essentially zilch.

Adam McQueen
It will be tough, but game three showed that the Raptors do have some adjustments that can throw the Bucks off.
Especially on the defensive end of the floor.

Josh
Raps blinked first and put Kawhi on Giannis, but it worked wonders.

Louis
The Kawhi on Giannis thing was incredible. He is such an outrageous defender, it means Toronto can force turnovers, which means they can finally score, and they don’t have to help nearly as early, so Milwaukee’s shooters have much more difficult jobs. Is it sustainable, though?

I almost definitely agree with you all, but agreement is lame, and arguments are the currency of these chats, so here’s a question about margins. The Raps played like garbage, essentially, in game three. Yet they still won. Wouldn’t game three show that Toronto actually has some margin for error?

Adam
I don’t think they played like garbage, in fact I thought that was arguably their most impressive defensive performance of the playoffs. Toronto’s defense is sustainable, but becomes a whole lot harder if we get a heavy dose of Malcolm Brodgon.

Anthony
Defensively I think that was pretty close to a peak performance. They held the Bucks to an offensive rating in the 70s in the halfcourt.

Adam
I pray to the basketball gods that Budenholzer continues to start Mirotic for as long as possible.

Louis
Let’s start on the defensive end, because we’re already talking about it. Toronto was almost perfect in game three. Would starting Brogdon over Mirotic ruin Toronto’s defensive plan? Malcolm Brogdon is so incredibly underrated and good. By the way, for a baseline, the Bucks starters with Brogdon in for Mirotic went +4 in 4.5 minutes in game three. So doubling or tripling that lineup’s minutes could be ouch city for Toronto.

Adam
Brogdon joining the starters doesn’t ruin Toronto’s plans, but it stretches them considerably.
By the way, has Brogdon ever missed a corner three?

Anthony
Brogdon is really good, so it poses additional challenges. But this Raptors starting lineup is just so defensively versatile that I don’t think they can really be schemed out of being at least capable of being good.

Josh
That’s where the optimism for the Raptors winning the series lies—in the half-court defence. Toronto is just smothering Milwaukee in there, and if Giannis isn’t rolling or able to make key kick-outs, then they’re stuck relying heavily on guys like Middleton and Bledsoe, who have both been guarded well. It’s only in transition that Milwaukee has been dominant offensively, but that’s still, y’know, a problem. It’s partly why I think one of their moves has to be to replace Mirotic with Brogdon in the starting lineup. Fix some of the issues they’re having now offensively, not to mention swapping out a negative defender with a positive one.

Louis
One positive of having Leonard on Giannis is that Siakam took Bledsoe, and he basically erased him from the game. but if Brogdon was starting, who does Toronto put on him? Lowry’s busy with Middleton, and Green hasn’t been up to the job so far this series. It would seem like Toronto is one defender short.

Adam
I have spent a lot of time (like much of Twitter) shredding Green’s performance. But I think his defence was good on Sunday! Especially as the weakside defender, bouncing between closing out on shooters and jumping inside on passes to cutters.

Josh
Green’s been putrid offensively, and hit or miss (mostly miss) defensively. Does Nurse just go the full mile (er, kilometre?) and start Norm? I’d say probably not, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he did.

Anthony
I think you have to trust Green. He’s too good, and too important not to.

Adam
No, no, no. Starting Norm does not fix the issue.

Anthony
You can start Norm, but starting Norm doesn’t really fix the problem, because Danny is still going to have to play, and taking his minutes away from the better playmakers isn’t going to get his offense going.

Louis
So it sounds like we’re all saying the same thing, re: margins, re: re: defense. The defense has been amazing, and there’s ways for Milwaukee to make it more untenable for Toronto. Which would indicate, Toronto has no margin of error.

Adam
Huzzah for agreement!

Louis
Let’s move to the offense, because that’s where things can get much, much better for Toronto.
First, what’s been the problem so far?

Adam
What? You don’t enjoy Van Vleet/Ibaka pick-and-rolls?

Josh
UGH.

Louis
Contrary to a piece I wrote literally breaking down their two-man game, it turns out they’re not a great playoff offense on their own.

Anthony
It all comes back to the shooting, to me. When guys aren’t hitting shots, it gives the Bucks’ defense a place to steal attention from to take away from Leonard, Siakam and Lowry. When those shots go down, it opens up their game. Saw it last night with Gasol.

Josh
I mean, Green and FVV, on just a very surface-level basis, need to do better than hitting one shot each.

Louis
I actually saw the shooting as symptomatic, not causative, of the Raptors’ success. In the first half when their shooting was incredible (40 percent from deep), every possession had a paint touch. Siakam was driving into bodies like a maniac. And they just went away from that in the second half!

Anthony
Can it be both? There are definitely shots that have go down that aren’t. But I understand your point. Kawhi being gimped hurt a lot, I thought, and the Bucks started to figure that out. Also, Lowry’s foul issues hurt the offense.

Josh
T’was also nice to see the Raptors looking to make their own destiny on a lot of shots last night, rather than adhering to the Bucks’ defensive scheme and taking a plethora of midrange looks.

Louis
Exactly, they weren’t settling. It was a display of force, in a number of ways, which was really important.

Adam
Do you think that was a tactical mishap not attacking the rim in the second half, or the result of their energy being sapped?

Louis
Probably energy being sapped, but in the second half, Siakam was being given far more space on the perimeter, so I think the Bucks were conscious in trying to protect the paint more, as well.

Josh
Does that game go to double OT if Lowry doesn’t foul out? He was having another great game that’ll be totally forgotten about.

Adam

He probably draws three charges, deflects a pass, and dislocated two fingers en route to a one point victory.

Anthony
I don’t think it goes to overtime with Lowry on the floor. But I have a contrary opinion on the heavy minutes to conventional wisdom. I think the long game might actually help the Raptors a little. They’ve been in this mode where everyone is exhausted and playing too much and just trying to survive for two weeks now. Last night was the first game in a long time where the Bucks guys had to play like that. The exhaustion sometimes hits different the first time you feel it.

Adam
I like the positive spin on this!

Louis
Do you all think Giannis has space to improve? He was not super effective guarding Siakam last night.

Adam
I think Siakam hasn’t been his primary concern. His main role is as a helping rim protector. I think the Bucks saw Embiid rattle Siakam’s confidence and hoped the same would happen this series. But that Siakam man, he won’t stop.

Louis
I’m getting at the Bucks having another potential option to throw at Toronto’s offense, which would be to put Lopez on Siakam and let Giannis guard Gasol, giving him more room to roam and protect the rim. Siakam has struggled with Lopez guarding him

Adam
I don’t know how well Lopez could deter Siakam for a full game, especially if he defends sets where they start feeding Pascal on the move or running off of DHOs. Nor do I think it is a good use of Giannis to be involved in defending more pick-and-roll actions.
Is it a cop-out to suggest that the Bucks don’t have to change anything drastically?

Louis
Both teams, both coaches, could easily be looking at this series and say, ‘we’ve been fine, and we should improve dramatically in the same schemes.’

Josh
I don’t think there’s a lot of reason for the Bucks to change anything, save for maybe starting Brogdon, which we already brought up.
I also think Siakam would figure out Lopez eventually on offence. Would like that matchup if I was Toronto.

Anthony
It’s cliche to say, but these teams just match up really well and have played each other pretty well through three games, aside from the first half of game 2.

Adam
Okay, I have a question, (It’s something I’m going to look at on my preview tomorrow). In every game, the Bucks have killed Toronto in in the paint, on the fast-break, and on the offensive glass. Is that the crutch that is keeping them alive thus far they will be derailed if Toronto can even that area… or is their shooting going to return to form and they blow the Raptors out? Those three areas have been critical for Milwaukee and I’m not sure if the Raptors can get parity there, or just hope to outperform them in every other facet

Anthony
I don’t think the Bucks’ shooting is going to just ‘return to form’, because I don’t think it’s actually as bad as it looks. The Bucks are shooting pretty much the expected percentage on open looks in the series. The Raptors are just doing a good job of limiting those looks.

Louis
I’m starting to think that the Bucks’ shooters just aren’t that amazing. The team was a middling shooting one, by percentage, during the year. They don’t have any truly elite shooters, save maybe Brogdon and Middleton. And Toronto has been forcing the Bucks into really hard shots! Late-clock, well-contested, deep looks from mid-30s shooters. Milwaukee’s percentages from deep may improve a little bit, but I don’t expect the Bucks to suddenly can 23 triples a game for the rest of the series.

Anthony
I think this Raptors defense is special, and I think we’ve seen that in the Sixers series and the early parts of the Bucks series. This is a really tough team to score against.

Josh
Yeah, I agree with Anthony. The Bucks got pretty hot in the Celtics series, but they’re actually just a fine shooting team. They just shoot a lot of them. I’d live with Bledsoe, Giannis, etc. taking more triples.

Adam
In that case, do you suggest that the Bucks NEED to win in all three of those areas in order to ultimately win the game?

Louis
Yes

Josh
I mean, look, if the Raptors continue what they’ve done for three games and are able to find a way to get back to playing good transition defence, that changes a lot.

Louis
There’s only so much ‘good transition defense’ can do to keep Giannis from scoring 10 a game there, or so

Anthony
Yeah, I think if the Raptors win the transition battle, or the paint battle, in any of these games it’s going to be extremely tough for the Bucks to win that game.

Louis
I think the Bucks just will win points in the paint as well as fastbreak points. They’re actually much better there than they are from behind the arc. Again, it’s causative vs symptomatic. And I think their paint threats are the cause of their shooting, rather than the other way around.

Adam
Oh, for sure. It’s impossible not to score inside with Giannis.

Louis
Here’s an interesting segue, with what we are all discussing, everything we’ve said, let me rephrase the initial question. If the games continue to play out the same way, tactically, should the Raptors now be favoured in the series after game three? I know the Bucks have more room for potential changes, which we’ve discussed, but let’s just start with how the first three games have played out.

Adam
No. Toronto’s lost two of three games with how the games have proceeded. Even more concerning is the Bucks dominance in the second half of each game.

Anthony
I don’t know. The margin is so small, and beating the Bucks twice in a row is just hard to do. The Raptors have a path, but this Bucks team is just so good.

Josh
Favoured? Nah. I think there’s just a more obvious pathway to success (which is what happens over the course of a series), even if it’s slim. The Bucks have lost twice in a row once this season. Once.

Louis
So then let me ask you this.

Adam
I like this, Louis the Question Master!

Louis
If the Raptors defense ain’t going anywhere, and the Bucks shouldn’t start hitting more 3s, and the Raps have potential to start scoring more points, then … what gives? What are we missing in this analysis? Cuz so far in this conversation, it seems like our arguments are in favour of Toronto being the favourite, but our conclusions are not.

Josh
Because, Louis: Hope is a thing with feathers, but it’s molting season.

Louis
That was… oddly poetic?

Adam
Not gonna lie, I had to google what molting meant.

Josh
It’s gross.

Louis
Let the record state, five full minutes have passed since the asking of my question without a real answer.

Anthony
We favour Milwaukee because the Bucks are really, extremely good and there isn’t a plan that guarantees victory against a team that talented. You just take your best shot and see how it plays out.

Adam
I don’t truly believe that the Raptors can sustain this level of defensive intensity, given the aggressiveness of their trapping on Middleton and Giannis. I’d love to be wrong, but I believe that the tiring defensive scheme they are playing is probably part of the reason they become lethargic offensively in the second half. I still cannot believe that Gasol is logging 40+ this regularly.

Louis
That’s an excellent point. Kawhi Leonard has been almost superhuman in the amount he’s doing for the team at this point. It cannot be sustainable.

Adam
I’m at a loss for words on Kawhi at this point. Incredible.

Josh
We can’t be sure of the Raptors actually following such a tenuous path precisely, and if they stray from it at all, or have injury problems, or do conk out thanks to their defensive intensity, then things immediately swing so hard the other way.

Louis
So let’s edge this thing towards some real conclusions, and if we’re feeling feisty, predictions. So, it seems like we’re saying the Bucks have an easier path to victory because shooting, because Giannis, because Brogdon, but mostly shooting
Am I missing anything?

Adam
Injuries and fatigue. They also have 48 hours to process and prepare for the defensive adjustments Toronto made.

Josh
Yes, all those things.

Louis
But the Raptors, playing at their best, might have at least an equal chance at this thing, because of their defense, Kawhi, also shooting improving, but mostly their defense. But it’s way harder for Toronto to hit that high because of injuries / fatigue / and their path to victory just requires far, far more effort exerted. Again, what did I miss?

Josh
Home court is a real factor here, too, I think, but you’re on the money, Louis. This series has been closer than a lot of people might think, though.

Adam
Yo, we have Kawhi Leonard. That’s a pretty good reason why the Raptors can win. Late game bucket-getters are pretty important as LeBron ‘anti-analytics’ James tweeted the other day.

Louis
With those ‘paths to victory’ in mind for both teams, let’s get some predictions out, revised. Points for changing your original choice and adapting to knowledge gained since the start of the series!

Adam
Ugh, Louis you are asking us to adapt and respond to information presented to us? It is so much easier to stick to my pre-series prediction of Bucks in 6.

Josh
So, my original, foolish pick (I knew it was at the time) was Raptors in 7. I’ll go with Bucks in 7 now. Because brain-stuff.

Louis
I had Bucks in 6, and I think I’d change to Bucks in 7. I don’t need to rehash the arguments we’ve said, but Toronto’s defense has held up better than I expected. I don’t think the Bucks will close out Toronto in Toronto. So I have Bucks in 7 now.

Adam
I’m sticking to Bucks in 6. Digging my heels in. My new, not foolish pick is still Bucks in 6. Lol.

Louis

Way to stick to your guns, Adam! I’m proud of you, mate.

Adam
Stubbornness is one of my greatest traits, Louis.

Anthony
I picked Raptors in 6, and I’ll switch to Raptors in 7. I still believe.

Louis
Because I have to leave for the airport in three minutes, let’s move towards a final statement. Josh, you said something about molting?

Josh
Yeah, it’s gross.
But the metaphor works and I’m proud of it.

Comments
To Top