After going down 2-0 in the first two games in the Eastern Conference Finals, there was a certain amount of panic surrounding the Toronto Raptors. Milwaukee had only lost twice in a row once all season long, and the task ahead of the Raptors was to beat them four times in the next five games, which seemed unlikely after the way the Bucks had manhandled the Raptors in game 2. However, the Raptors came back home and took care of business on their own court, and that has now, at least to some extent, flipped the pressure in the series.
Heading back to Milwaukee for Thursday night’s game 5, the Bucks need to hold serve now and defend their home court, or they face the challenge of coming back to Toronto with a must-win game, and while the Raptors also want to avoid being down 3-2 on the series coming into Saturday’s game, Toronto is the more veteran team that has been down this road more times, and now a game 7 feels like a reasonable outcome to expect in this series.
In the two games back in Toronto, Nick Nurse seemed to have all of the correct adjustments, with Kawhi Leonard acquitting himself well defending Giannis Antetokounmpo well and the help coming from the right places both to keep Giannis away from easy shots at the rim and also to recover out on the Bucks shooters, who have had a rough series thus far, with Toronto limiting them to fewer open shots in each game as the series progresses. The Raptors defense held the Bucks to quiet games in the halfcourt, and the Bucks were left doing their best work in transition, which Toronto also tried to limit.
Of course, the Bucks were the best team in the league throughout the regular season, and there are adjustments they can also make to try to crack open the Raptors defense in this game to take control of the series once again. The easiest thing that could change for the Bucks which would make things harder for Toronto would be for the Bucks’ shooters to simply have a huge night from outside. Despite Toronto’s good defense, Milwaukee has a lot of good shooters who could have a big night hitting their shots, whether contested or not, and make the defensive gameplan a lot harder to execute for the Raptors. If the Bucks shoot upwards of 40% from outside, the Raptors will have a much harder task taking this game.
Also, Mike Budenholzer could look to adjust his starting lineup, taking Nikola Mirotic, who has struggled for most of the series out and putting in Malcolm Brogdon in his place. The Bucks starters have been considerably better in the series with Brogdon in that spot, and that changes the defensive matchups for the Raptors and could make it harder for them to execute their defensive gameplan. Brogdon has mostly been good in the series, both shooting from the outside and working in traffic, and might be the answer to help Giannis get rolling in game 5.
As well as the adjustments that each team might look to in this game, there is also the reality that in the playoffs, it’s generally expected that the home team’s role players will be better than the road team’s and the Raptors role players stepped up in a big way in game 4, with Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka accounting for 48 points and the Bucks’ bench, which was supposed to be a strength in this series, struggling. Headed back to Milwaukee that should be expected to flip, and if that’s the case, Toronto will need more from Kawhi Leonard, who looked physically limited in the last game, and Pascal Siakam, who struggled to make an impact while dealing with foul trouble. Powell has had a really strong series thus far, and with Danny Green still having not found his shot in the playoffs, the Raptors might look to Powell to fill more minutes with the starters if Green doesn’t have it going once again.
This is now a best of 3 series, and the Raptors will have to win a game in Milwaukee at some point in this series to win the series. If that’s not on Thursday, it’ll have to be game 7 on Monday night. While the Raptors have the experience advantage, and that matters in a game 7, Toronto would likely prefer to avoid that scenario and if they’re going to do so they have to find a way to come out of Thursday night with a victory. This has been a fantastic series thus far, and game 5 should be no exception.
Tipoff: 8:30 EST | TV: TSN/TNT | MIL -6.5 (O/U 217.0)
OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is still out, and Nick Nurse seemed to indicate he isn’t close yet. Patrick McCaw (personal) is day-to-day.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher, Eric Moreland
DJ Wilson (ankle) is day-to-day, Pau Gasol (foot) is out, Donte DiVincenzo (heel) is out.
PG: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill
SG: Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown
SF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tony Snell
PF: Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova
C: Brook Lopez