Major Opportunity Brewing for Bucks after 1-1 Split in Toronto
The NBA Playoffs are in full swing and they have officially made their way to Milwaukee, where the Bucks will host the Toronto Raptors for game three tonight followed by game four on Saturday afternoon. Going back to my playoff preview last week, it was important for the Bucks to steal game one or two in order to grab home court advantage in the series. While it would have been nice to escape the Air Canada Centre with a 2-0 lead, beggars can’t be choosers and getting away with one is more than they could have asked for. With the Bradley Center set up to be in a black out for game three tonight, the Bucks are hoping that the Raptors will be fearing the deer by night’s end.
Game One Statement
The Milwaukee Bucks stole the spotlight with the first upset win of the playoffs. Not only did they steal game one in Toronto, but they did it in dominating fashion as they outscored the Raptors 51-32 in the second half to win 97-83. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a statement performance as he finished with 28 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block, which resulted in a technical that was rightfully rescinded after further review from the league office.
The Bucks definitely surprised the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals runner-up Raptors, who have now lost nine straight game ones in the playoffs. Their physicality sent a message that they weren’t satisfied with just making the postseason. Giannis’ performance was validation of the incredible year he’s having as he continues to transform into a superstar while playoff Greg Monroe left an imprint in his first ever playoff game finishing with 14 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and a steal in 26 minutes off the bench. The rookies stepped up in their debuts as well with Thon Maker showing off his length by getting three key blocks to start the third quarter while Malcolm Brogdon dropped a smooth 16 points, six rebounds, and two assists in 34 minutes. With Khris Middleton struggling to get things going shooting wise (4-15), he dropped a team-high nine assists as he made plays for guys like Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova, who combined for 22 points on 7-20 shooting including knocking down four triples. It was a great team effort on both ends of the floor as they limited Toronto to 36% shooting and just 21% from three.
As fun as that was for Milwaukee, who hadn’t won an opening round playoff game on the road since 1983, did they just wake a sleeping giant? Despite a big game one from DeMar DeRozan, who dropped a team-high 27 points to go along with eight rebounds, he didn’t get much help elsewhere. Serge Ibaka was the only other Raptor in double figures with 19 points on 8-14 shooting while fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry fell back into his playoff hole with just four points on an abysmal 2-11 shooting. The Raptors bench of Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker and Corey Joseph played a combined 72 minutes while accounting for just 13 points on 4-15 shooting. Toronto was able to outrebound the Bucks 47-43 but lost the turnover battle 11-5 that led to 19 Milwaukee points. All in all, it was a forgettable performance on both ends of the floor for the Raptors, who were able to bounce back in game two and even the series before heading to the land of cheese.
Game Two Slips Away
After taking the first punch, the Raptors responded in the best way they could with a 106-100 win on Tuesday night. After a tough shooting performance in game one, Toronto shot 48.1% from the field including making a franchise playoff record 14 triples on 29 attempts. They doubled their bench production by getting a combined 26 points on 9-18 shooting led by Corey Joseph’s 11 points in 18 minutes. The Raptors set the tone early as they rallied around the All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who backed up his game one performance with a team-high 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Lowry, on the other hand, was finally able to break out of his playoff slump by pouring in 22 points on 6-12 shooting while silencing his doubters by knocking down a step-back dagger jumper over Malcolm Brogdon to give his team a four-point lead with under 10 seconds remaining. The Raptors also got an uplifting performance from Serge Ibaka, who scored 16 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes after almost being ruled out due to an ankle sprain he suffered in game one.
It was a tough one to swallow for the Bucks, who wouldn’t go away as they kept fighting back before ultimately running out of time. Despite a rough shooting night (9-24), Greek Freak kept his team in it with a game-high 24 points along with 15 rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Even with 30 points from their bench, including 18 from Moose and 20 from Khris Middleton, Milwaukee still couldn’t make enough plays when it mattered the most. Sure, the refs may have made some questionable calls in favor of the Raptors, but this is no time to make excuses. The effort was there and the Bucks made Toronto earn this one to the last whistle.
Speaking of questionable calls, a couple things that got my attention had to do with coach Kidd’s rotations specifically in game two. First, the lack of Michael Beasley, who played just six minutes in game one while receiving a ‘DNP-Coach’s Decision’ in game two. Mirza Teletovic, however, has now played a combined 19 minutes in both games while going 0-4 from the field and 0-2 from downtown. I understand the threat of playing Telly, who can get hot at any moment, but Beas poses a better all-around scoring threat with the strength to body up the Raptors bigs on both ends of the floor.
Secondly, I found myself scratching my head as Tony Snell, who was 5-7 from the field including 4-6 from three for 14 points, was on the bench for the final five minutes of game two in favor of Matthew Dellavedova, who scored just seven points on 3-10 shooting and 1-4 from three in 22 minutes. The only thing I can come up with is that Kidd wanted an extra ball handler on the floor in Delly, who is also known for his pestering defense on opposing point guards. However, Delly is a mere 6’3” while Snell is 6’8” and an above average defender in his own right. With the Raptors having the size advantage, it seems like common sense to have your biggest and best defenders on the floor at the end of the game. Not to mention, he was having a much more efficient night on the offensive end.
Bucks Must Protect their House
That being said, it’s time to move on and focus on the task at hand. Milwaukee has a major opportunity in front of them and it starts tonight in front of their home fans.
The Bucks understand that they are in a unique position. They now have full control of home court advantage throughout the rest of the series, meaning they can take the series in six games if they win all their games at home. As great as that sounds, they still have a lot of work to do. Stealing game one was fun, but it means nothing if they let Toronto come into their house and steal one back. They must up the intensity from start to finish and keep the pressure on the higher seed. If you told me at the start of March when the Bucks were 26-33 that they would be in this position, I would have laughed at you. However, here they are with a chance to earn the respect they have been craving. If they want to prove they are ready to take that next step, now is the time to go out and make it happen. No longer is it time to own the future. The future is now. Fear the Deer.