Bucks Playoff Preview: Is it Time to Fear The Deer?
Apr. 15, 2017
The Milwaukee Bucks are in the Playoffs! My apologies for the excitement but aren’t you? Well if not, here’s a little something to get the blood flowing.
The 6th seeded Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, are hungry and searching for the franchise’s first playoff series win since the 2000-2001 season against the 3rd seeded Toronto Raptors. Saturday will be the Bucks first playoff game since 2015, when they fell to the Bulls in game six of the first round. While there are just four players (Giannis, Khris Middleton, John Henson and Jabari Parker) remaining on the roster from that 2015 team, it’s a different year and those four guys are that much older with that experience well under their belt. Milwaukee will have some newcomers to the playoffs such as Greg Monroe, who is no longer the active leader for most NBA games played without a playoff appearance. They also have some important vets such as Matthew Dellavedova, and more importantly Jason Terry, who has probably played in more playoff games than anyone else combined on the Bucks roster.
No one playoff game or series is the same. pic.twitter.com/GmrK1hgE02— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 14, 2017
When you look at the matchup, Milwaukee has an uphill battle ahead of them. The Raptors have gone 7-1 against the Bucks in the past two seasons. The lone win for Milwaukee came in their most recent matchup back on March 4, in which they defeated the Raptors 101-94 at home behind 21 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists from the Greek Freak. They also got 24 points from Khris Middleton while rookie Malcolm Brogdon added 17 and Spencer Hawes exploded for 16 off the bench. Despite Toronto playing without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry in that game, a win is a win and it should help with the confidence of this young Bucks team heading into this series.
On paper, Toronto poses an extremely difficult matchup across the board but the one advantage Milwaukee can lean on is that they will have the best player on either team in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Will it be enough? That question will remain unanswered for the next week and a half or so, but it definitely doesn’t hurt their chances. In Giannis’ first playoff series against the Bulls in 2015, he didn’t play as well as he may have liked. As a raw 20-year-old kid who had just finished his second NBA regular season he averaged 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. Only two years later, he’s an All-Star and the favorite to win Most Improved Player of the year. It’s safe to say that at 22, he’s miles ahead and is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
That being said, it’s going to take a lot more than Giannis, who averaged 24.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.3 steals in four games against the Raptors this season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the tale of the tape and break down what it will take for the Bucks to pull of what would be a huge first round upset.
(3) Toronto Raptors (51-31) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks (42-40)
Season series: Raptors won 3-1
Toronto Probable Starters:
PG – Kyle Lowry*
SG – DeMar DeRozan*
SF – DeMarre Carroll
PF – Serge Ibaka
C – Jonas Valanciunas
Milwaukee Probable Starters:
PG – Malcolm Brogdon^
SG – Tony Snell
SF – Khris Middleton
PF – Giannis Antetokounmpo*
C – Thon Maker^
Keys to Victory for the Bucks
Giannis, Giannis and More Giannis
As mentioned above, the Greek Freak is the best player in this series and he must come out and make it known right away. Not only does he need to come out in attack mode early and often, but his teammates must help him out and feed off his energy for the Bucks to have a chance in this series. Giannis also must understand that while he needs to assert himself, he can’t force the issue. Toronto has well respected defenders in Carroll and P.J. Tucker. Giannis must be aggressive but also have trust in his teammates to help bail him out when the time is necessary.
Steal Game 1 or 2 in Toronto
Winning in the playoffs is never easy, especially on the road. Milwaukee has had plenty of problems playing in the Air Canada Centre for what seems like forever. For whatever reason, the Raptors have had this mental edge over the Bucks and they will most certainly use their home court dominance to their advantage. In order for the Deer to win this series, they obviously have to win a road game. Their best chance will be if they can do it in game one or two. The longer this series goes on, the harder it will be to win up north. If it goes to a seventh game, I’m not sure they will have enough left in the tank to get over the hump.
Limiting the Raptors Backcourt All-Stars
Toronto not only has one of the best backcourts in the Eastern Conference, but in all of the NBA. Lowry and DeRozan especially haven’t had much of a problem proving that against the Bucks the past couple seasons. Milwaukee has recently made efforts to shore up their defensive backcourt with the additions of Tony Snell, Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon this season. That being said, they will need those guys to step up even more this series and do whatever it takes to limit their production while trying to force other guys to beat them. We’ve seen what Delly can do against elite guards in the playoffs for the Cavs in recent years. That was one of the reasons Milwaukee went out and paid big bucks for him in the offseason. It’s also why they went out and got Tony Snell. At 6’8, Snell can cause problems for DeRozan if he can keep him away from the rim and force him to take contested jumpers.
The NBA is a three-point shooting league these days and it’s something that Toronto does well. Milwaukee has been vulnerable to outside shooting and will have to get out on their shooters. Once the Raptors get hot from distance, they are hard to defend. The good news is that Bucks killer Terrance Ross is no longer with the team as he was part of the Ibaka trade. They do have plenty of other weapons including Lowry, Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Tucker, Ibaka and even DeRozan at times.
While defending the three will be tough, the Bucks must be able to stretch the floor offensively from deep as well. Getting Khris Middleton back for these last 30 games has been a huge plus to Milwaukee’s spacing. They will also need guys like Snell, Delly, Brogdon, Mirza Teletovic and Terry to step up and knock down the open looks when they get their chances. The more threes they make, the more room it gives guys like Giannis and Monroe to work in the paint.
Since coming back from injury back in early February, Khris Middleton has been instrumental in helping turn the Bucks season around. It took Khash a few games, but for the better part of March he was in a rhythm like we saw last season when he led the Bucks in scoring at 18.3 points per game. He was knocking down open shots while making clutch plays on both ends of the floor to help close out games. Despite a small sample size of just 29 games, Middleton averaged a respectable 14.7 points per game while shooting 45% from the field and career-high 43.3% from three. For the last couple weeks, however, Middleton has been in a funk. He’s had a couple of bounce back games including a 25-point effort in a win over the Pistons on March 31, but he averaged just 11 points per game on just 37.5% shooting over his last five games.
Khris seems to go through a stretch like this every season but they will need him to be on his A-game during this series. When him and Giannis are in rhythm, the Bucks offense runs the much more smoothly. In the playoffs two seasons ago, Khris averaged a team high 15.8 points per game but shot just 38% from the field and a rough 32.4% from three while playing 38 minutes per game. He’s going to have be much better for the Bucks to get past the feisty Raptors, who are one of the better defensive teams in the playoffs.
Sorry for the all caps, but this is important. Toronto boasts a big size advantage with Valanciunas among others especially on the offensive glass. Milwaukee may have plenty of length with Giannis, Thon Maker and John Henson, but none of them have the beef to body up the Raptors bigs. Greg Monroe has the ability to do so and they will surely need him to assert himself as much as possible and play as big as he ever has.
Jason Kidd Finding a Solid Rotation
Last but not least, the Bucks need to solidify a rotation that puts them in the best chance to succeed. Kidd has taken a lot of heat with his rotations during his tenure with the Bucks. To his defense, though, he’s been forced to experiment with different lineups due to injuries and having so much youth on the roster. While it’s easier to find time for 9-11 players throughout the course of season, the playoffs are a different beast. Most teams play at most nine players in the playoffs and it’s important that Kidd makes a plan and sticks with it. One of the biggest question marks seems to be the center position and if he sticks with rookie Thon Maker as the starter. I would be more than ok with that for the sake of continuity and giving Maker playoff minutes will be extremely beneficial for his development. If he decides to scrap his minutes, however, it’s likely that John Henson will get the starting nod, which isn’t a bad idea by any means. Going off of recent history, it’s no secret that Henson has been a totally different player during the playoffs and has had his share of success.
There’s also a question as to whether who will get more minutes between Mirza Teletovic and Michael “point a minute” Beasley. I don’t even really want to touch this one. Beasley sounds like the sexier option but Mirza has the ability to light it up from distance despite being extremely streaky throughout the season. I guess it will have to go by feel or matchups based on how each game plays out. Nonetheless, Kidd has a lot to think about. The good part about it is that he has options.
Well, here we go. If you were to go off recent history between the two teams, then it would be easy to pick the Raptors. I feel Milwaukee is hungry and ready to make some noise. The Raptors may have a deeper roster from top to bottom but the Bucks will have the best player on the floor. All the pressure will be on Toronto, who comes in as the higher seed while having home court advantage. Understanding what happened two years ago when the Bucks fell into a 3-0 hole against the Bulls, they will surely be more well prepared for the moment this time around. That is easier said than done. As difficult as it may seem, the Bucks must rally around each other and simply believe that they can win. Belief can go a long way and if they outwork Toronto despite being out overmatched, then anything can happen.
Besides having the best player, the Bucks biggest advantage is having absolutely nothing to lose with the most to gain. They have brought the “Fear the Deer” campaign back and it’s about time they make it more than just a slogan.
In the words of Brandon Jennings, Bucks in 6!
Playoff tickets for games three and four in Milwaukee are still available!