Raptors News

Pre-game news and notes: Win and make history

The Toronto Raptors have never been here before as a franchise. They are one home win away from playing in the NBA Finals. None of Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, or DeMar DeRozan were able to lead the Raptors here. 24 years of franchise history, and the Raptors have never gone to the finals. Then Masai Ujiri goes out and acquires Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard before the season begins, and Marc Gasol midway through, and suddenly the Raptors are on the precipice of history. Leonard has been absurdly excellent, leading the Raptors on both ends of the floor. His game five performance was one for the ages, setting up this possible closeout game. Enjoy it.

Even if Toronto and its fans may be delirious already, the Raptors themselves aren’t trying to come out too hold or too cold. The idea is to have energy without frenzy.

“Your team’s temperament flows through its best players. And (Kawhi Leonard’s) about as even-keeled as I’ve seen,” said Nick Nurse before the game.

Beyond the energy aspect, the Bucks tried a pair of tactical changes in game five. For one, they started Malcolm Brogdon instead of Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic finished a -11 in the nine minutes he played, proving again that this is not a good matchup for him. Toronto has taken advantage of his one-dimensional offensive play and limited defensive ability, and I would imagine we’ve seen the last of Mirotic on the floor. Before the game, Coach Budenholzer wouldn’t elaborate on Mirotic’s upcoming role, saying “he may be a part of (the game).” Brogdon, on the other hand, finished game five with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. He was +18 in a six-point loss, and potentially Milwaukee’s best and most consistent player. Expect a huge amount of him.

Brogdon was also incredibly effective guarding Leonard. In 15 possessions in which Brogdon was Leonard’s primary defender, Leonard shot 1-for-8. He’s excellent at keeping under Leonard through his patient forays into the midrange. Khris Middleton, on the other hand, allowed Leonard to shoot 5-for-7 as his primary defender. Expect to see more Brogdon and with more responsibilities in game six. He’s legit.

The other major tactical change the Bucks made in game five was switching Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the defensive end. I suggested they could try using Lopez as Pascal Siakam’s primary defender in a group chat, and sure enough, the Bucks tried it. The rationale is that Lopez – like Joel Embiid in the Sixers series – can cheat off of Siakam and live in the paint. If Siakam hoists jumpers from the perimeter, that’s even better for the Bucks. And Siakam did seem especially timid in game five, refusing to attack the paint. Even in the post when defenders offered him his weak shoulder in a spin to the baseline, he chose every time to kick the ball back out and reset the offense. Siakam shot 2-of-6 with Lopez as his primary defender, and he’ll need to be more aggressive going forward.

The other half of the the change, using Antetokounmpo as Marc Gasol’s primary defender, went less well for the Bucks. Gasol isn’t an on-ball threat, so Antetokounmpo didn’t have a ton of chances to guard the ball and force turnovers. He did occasionally force Gasol into tough attempts in the post, but in general the matchup didn’t hurt the Raptors. Gasol was unlocked as a passer. They scored 1.26 points per possession in the 34 possessions that Antetokounmpo spent as Gasol’s primary defender. Toronto will take that happily.

Starting Brogdon, and swapping Antetokounmpo and Lopez on defense, was Coach Mike Budenholzer’s answer to Nick Nurse’s choice in game three to let Kawhi Leonard guard Antetokounmpo. It still didn’t work. The Bucks couldn’t unlock their transition game, and the separation between Milwaukee’s success in the half-court versus open court has been eye-opening. The Bucks scored 0.83 points per play in the half-court and more than double that in transition, 1.73 ppp, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s outrageous, and the Bucks need to find some way to run more. The Raptors have taken control of this series by forcing the Bucks to play Toronto at their own speed. The Raptors’ huge advantage in experience is showing.

Game six is, of course, in Toronto. The Bucks have shown their hand, and it still wasn’t enough to top the Raptors’ cards already on the table. Win this one, and Toronto will go to the finals for the first time in its 24-year-long franchise history.

Toronto Injury Updates

Update: per Blake Murphy, Patrick McCaw is active.

OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out. He was getting up shots pre-game, but he remains without a timeline. Patrick McCaw is active, which means Boucher has drawn the choice’s choice for inactivity.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin

SG: Danny Green, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam

C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland

Milwaukee Injury Updates

Donte DiVincenzo (heel) and Pau Gasol (stress fracture) are out.

PG: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Tim Frazier

SG: Malcolm Brogdon, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown

SF: Khris Middleton, Tony Snell

PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova

C: Brook Lopez, DJ Wilson

Rotation Notes

  • For the second game in a row, all three of Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka were ridiculous positives. VanVleet was excellent shooting off the ball, finishing 7-of-9 from deep in the game. Even though Powell and Ibaka didn’t shoot well from the floor, they combined for 14 points, which was enough. The three gave 35 points off the bench, far more than Milwaukee’s 15. As long as Toronto wins their minutes with VanVleet-Powell-Ibaka all on the floor, they’re going to win games.
    • The played 10 minutes together (alongside Kyle Lowry and Leonard for one stretch and Lowry and Siakam for another), and Toronto won those minutes by seven points. That’s enough.
    • The reason why they played a relatively low minute total together, after reaching 17 together in game four, was because Danny Green’s minutes were so limited in game five. Nick Nurse only played him 16 minutes, so VanVleet spent much more time with the starters, therefore taking minutes away from those the trio could play together.
  • On the negative, the Raptors starters were trashola. They went -10 in five minutes, which is the fewest they’ve played in the playoffs. Green was given a quick hook in the starts of both halves, and the starters weren’t given any run beyond the start of both halves. Not great, Bob.
    • The lineup that took the starters’ minutes, though, was excellent. VanVleet taking Green’s spot with the starters went +5 in 13 minutes. At this point in the postseason, VanVleet’s jumpshot is far more trustworthy, and his defense is just as excellent. This was Toronto’s most-played lineup in game five, and it closed out the game with great defense and clutch shooting.
    • Part of the Raptors’ starters performing poorly was Eric Bledsoe breaking out in a big way in game five. His jumpers were falling, and the Bucks want the same level of aggression.
      • “When he plays hard, when he’s active, when he’s engaged defensively, and he lets that activity and aggression carry over to his offense, that’s when he’s at his best,” said Coach Budenholzer before the game.
  • Another intriguing group was VanVleet-Powell-Leonard-Siakam-Gasol. They’d only played 10 minutes together in the playoffs and three in the regular season, going -3 overall in that time. It hasn’t been a well-used look. But they won their five minutes by six points, proving to be Toronto’s winningest lineup in game five.
    • VanVleet and Powell have generally been a poor initiating pair, and this has dated all the way through the playoffs and back into the regular season. One way to combat their limitations is to have Toronto’s best initiators alongside the two. Toronto has run Lowry alongside VanVleet and Powell to great success. But when they need more size, Leonard, Siakam, and Gasol are all excellent initiators from a variety of spots on the floor. VanVleet returned to his natural spot off-ball, where his shooting and movement are deadly. This group got up four triples in only eight possessions played, and they connected on three. That’s why they outscored Milwaukee, but the principle behind the rotation is sound.

Assorted

  • Adam McQueen wrote an excellent gameday post also analyzing a number of potential swing factors. Read it here.
  • The return of Fred VanVleet! He has been so absurdly excellent since the birth of his son, Freddy Jr., connecting on 10-of-13 triples. He’s played more off the ball, repositioning well, darting around the court, and exuding the confidence that’s taken him this far. Toronto needs VanVleet to return to the borderline top-50 caliber player he was in 2017-18, and he’s well on his way.
  • A note on defending Antetokounmpo. Michael Pina published a fantastic in-depth interview with Thad Young about how to stop him. There are some great details, and I wanted to add a tiny bit to what Young described, moving it to how the Raptors have defended him.
    • “We all know his strengths are posting up and driving the ball in, mainly, transition, and seeing guys for kick-outs when you double team and stick your hands in there, and stuff like that,” said Young. “But the biggest thing for me is always trying to keep my body in front of him and making him spin. See multiple hands, see multiple guys, and he’ll come up off the ball. Then, they’ll run some other type of offense.”
      • A big thing there is that Antetokounmpo is brilliant at passing at the identical time that defenders dig into his driving lane. It’s uncanny. He hits shooters precisely when their defenders are out of position. Therefore, Antetokounmpo’s defender has to force him to spin, but if he spins too late, it’s going to be a dunk. Leonard has to force Antetokounmpo to spin early in his drive, spinning into extra help. He’s done an excellent job so far, and that’s limited the Bucks’ half-court offense tremendously.
  • Danny Green continues to struggle. In a game that Toronto won by six, the Raptors were outscored by 17 when Green was on the court. He only played 16 minutes, his lowest total in the playoffs. He was a big part of the starters’ struggles to start the first and third quarters. Toronto would be able to claw back into the game when the starters left the floor in game five, but if Green was part of a new lineup, it would generally be crushed as well. He isn’t solely responsible for the team’s struggles when he’s on the court, of course, but his jumpshot entirely deserting him has been a problem. He finished game five shooting 0-for-3 from deep, bringing his percentage from deep for the playoffs down to 32.9 percent. In just this series, he’s shot 4-of-19, good for 21.1 percent. Green has a rudimentary game off the dribble and in the post, but those are not nearly enough to provide value on offense when his jumpshot isn’t falling. I was against starting Powell, as he’s really the only wing attacker off the bounce the Raptors can bring in off the bench. The Raptors don’t have the depth to bury Green, but they will probably continue to keep his minutes low and run more successful units out there.
  • Refs in this one are Mike Callahan, David Guthrie, and Eric Lewis.

The Line

  • Raps are -2, and the over-under is 212.5.

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