The Toronto Raptors faced the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday for Game 2 at the Air Canada Centre. After the horrendous effort (or lackof) in Game 1 where they lossed by 14 to the young Bucks squad, the Raptors were putting their 4-1 record for game 2’s on the line. The stats continue to be on the side of the Raptors as they were able to come out on top with a 106-100 victory, improving their game 2 record to 5-1.
So what are some things the coaching staff figured out about the Bucks that helped with the win? Well it doesn’t take much studying to see but they were able to slow down The Greek Freak, Giannis Atentokounmpo. Mind you, it was not a complete shutdown hence the term “slow down”. The Raptors were able to keep Giannis to 24 points, 15 rebounds and shooting 37.5% from the field. You’re probably looking at those numbers and thinking “wow, that’s a quiet night for Giannis, no?” When you hear about this guy and see just how good he is, a line like that would be considered “slowing him down”. The Raptors focused on keeping this guy out of the paint and forced him to shoot in the perimeter. By forcing Giannis to take those perimeter shots, it took away the Bucks’ first option for offense. When Giannis was not getting good looks, which was often, he would be forced to pass to more unreliable shooters like Tony Snell, Thon Maker or Matthew Dellavadova. Despite the Raptor’s efforts, Giannis still found ways to make the points he did contribute, matter. A prime example of this would be at the 1:12 mark in the fourth quarter where Giannis banked a three-point shot to tie the game at 100. From there it was a series of missed shots that would later cost the Bucks a loss.
Aside from stopping the Greek Freak, the Raptors’ ball movement was a key factor in their win. On Tuesday, the Raptors had 24 assists compared to 11 from game 1. Increased ball movement allowed the Raptors to recognize when it was or wasn’t a good look for them. You were able to see this with every possession that DeMar DeRozan had because it was always met with a double team from the Bucks. It forced DeMar to kick out to a guy that was left open. By adding a couple more swing passes, it increased the likelihood of someone getting the better look and banking the shot, like a 3-pointer. The Raptors shot 14/29 (48.3%) from beyond the arc, which is a francise record in the post-season – that’s insane! The Raptors are 22nd in the league for 3-point attempts during the regular season. So the fact that the boys had confidence in their three-pointers just adds even more arsenal for them to use.
The increased in team assists also shows that this team trusts each other. Increased ball movement allows for involvement from the whole team; more touches per possession. When guys like DeMar and Kyle Lowry draw in their defenders deep into the paint, it leaves other guys open with more desirable shots. This was described perfectly by Lowry during his post-game interview when he explained the dagger he served to the Bucks late in the fourth quarter. He stated that the last play was actually drawn up for DeMar but because of the double team along the baseline, DeMar looked for another option. DeMar saw Serge and knew there was a better chance at executing this play if he passed it off, so he did. From there, it was Serge’s turn to analyze the situation and he recognized that Thon Maker was there to contest a potential shot so a kick-out pass to Kyle made more sense. Kyle said as long as he got to the spot the play was still alive. Kyle got to his spot and going up against the rookie, Malcolm Brogdon, you already knew this shot was going in. Ball movement shows that the team has confidence in each other to recognize good looks and play unselfish basketball.
Lastly, a few guys showed up to help the Raptors with their victory. Kyle Lowry produced 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals all while shooting 50% from the field. This is a guy who has been in this situation various times and like Coach Casey said prior to game 2, Lowry is not someone that needs to be told what to do. He knew what he needed to do and made sure he played hard to get it done. Alongside Kyle, Jonas Valanciunas was a huge presence for the team. He set the tone early when he got an and-one going up against Thon Maker very early in the 1st quarter. JV played aggressive basketball which was exactly what this team needed to get fired up. JV finished the night with a double-double; 10 points and 10 rebounds with 22 minutes of play. With how well JV was playing, I was expecting him to close out the game but Coach Casey used the time to rest him in order to match Jason Kidd’s small rotation. Which leads us to our last honorary mention of the night – Serge Ibaka. Keep in mind that he is playing with a sprained ankle so take his numbers from the first half with a grain of salt. Despite his first half performance, Serge showed just how much experience he has in the post-season. Serge was able to find a way out of his rut quickly as he cashed in 16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and was +13 while on the court.
With all the things that the Raptors did right, they were still making the same mistakes we saw Saturday afternoon which forced this game to be a lot closer than it should have been. For one thing, the intensity still needs to remain consistent all throughout the 48 minutes. There were ebbs and flows to this game meaning the teams were trading runs. At one point, the Raptors were up by 13 but they could not hold on nor build on the lead because they would ease up. As hard as the Bucks were playing, it was during crucial moments where the lack of energy from the Raptors fed into keeping the Bucks alive. This was evident especially in the 4th quarter when guys like Brogdon and Dellavedova were getting wide open looks that could have potentially tied or even won the game for the Bucks. As Jason Kidd said, the shots they were taking were good, open shots but unfortunately with the game of basketball there will be times that they just don’t fall in. Another flaw that was evident would be their defense. Of course a lot of attention is placed on stopping Giannis but the Raptors cannot rule out the other guys on the team as potential threats. Guys like Khris Middleton and Greg Monroe can cause serious damage for the Raptors if they continue to be left unattended. Middleton had 20 points for the night and shot 42.8% while Monroe, that’s right Greg Monroe, finished with 18 points and shot 6/9 from the field. Because Giannis is getting the coverage on defense, passes will go to the rest of the team so the Raptors need to be on top of this and aware of the open man.
With a win in game 2, the Raptors have now tied the series 1-1 and switch gears to being the away team for the next two games. The beauty about playoff basketball is that the attention of both teams is so concentrated on each other that not much goes unnoticed. Things like plays, the way someone is guarded, tendencies of players are all studied intensely so any changes a team can make are almost predictable. Both teams have already said that they have not noticed anything drastically different and are doing exactly what is expected of them. With that being said, I expect this series to only go to 5 games so here’s to hoping that the Raptors continue to do what is expected of them.