See? A little yelling never really hurt anyone. Just ask the Raptors as they seem to have gotten their $h!t together after a horrendous loss in game 3 exactly one week ago.
In the past 7 days, the Raptors have shown all sorts of basketball – the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. The Raptors went from being a team who had a field goal percentage of 33.8% during game 3 ( which looked absolutely pathetic btw) to being a real championship contender who shot 57.7% from the field in game 5. When players were asked what caused such a drastic change, a lot of them referenced a “heated tape session” between players and coaches. DeMarre Carroll explained it as "a lot of yelling from everybody mainly defense minded players". Which, to me, translated to “PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka was just yelling at everyone and calling them out on their mistakes”.
In game 4, the Raptors were able to show a sliver of their potential with an 87-76 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. This allowed them to tie the series 2-2, splitting their road games 1-1. By game 5, the Raptors had the momentum on their side and they were able to take that energy back to the Air Canada Centre. They seized the opportunity to take the lead in the series by completely dominating the Bucks Monday night with a 118-93 victory.
Whatever caused them to finally wake up, it needs to stick around. Whether it was heated tape sessions, certain guys showing up or just getting into the swing of playoff basketball, it's working. The Post Up noticed 5 key factors that helped the Raptors turn this series around:
1. We The Norm – If you were to ask anyone on the Raptors, and even on the Bucks, what the biggest difference has been, they would all say that Norman Powell has been the game changer. Coach Casey puts it perfectly when he says that Norman is the “x-factor” for the Raptors. Between games 4 and 5, Norm has averaged 18.5 points, 57.4% from the field, 4 rebounds and has been literally perfect from the three; shooting 7/7 from beyond the arch. He went from being chained to the bench playing very limited (if any) minutes to being thee go-to-guy among the Raptors. As described by everyone on either team, he brings a sense of energy and aggressiveness that the Raptors have been lacking all series. During the regular season, his quickness and aggressiveness was seen as careless and selfish basketball. But during this series, his “trust my instinct” approach has done wonders. He adds depth to whatever line he is playing with, especially with the starting line-up. There is so much focus on either Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan that the Bucks don’t have anyone to spare in order to guard the quickness of Norm, hence the reason why he gets so many open looks.
2. Hot potato pass it on, pass it on… – When the Raptors share the rock, beautiful things happen. Though assists was not the identity of the Raptors during the regular season, it has been something they have learned and have been slowly working into their system. It's evident as seen in the games that the Raptors have won in this series, they had 16+ assists, with game 5 having 29 dimes. Assists and ball movement during a game reflects a couples things about a team. One, it shows that the team is not rushing the shot. They are able to recognize when it’s a bad look and kick it out to a teammate that has the better shot. Two, it shows that they trust each other. The Bucks have figured out Debo and Kyle so you can almost guarantee a double team when they have the ball. The quicker they can kick it out to another player and get the Bucks to chase the ball, the more open looks they will get. Jason Kidd even confessed during his post-game interview after his loss in game 5 that the young Bucks struggle when you play fast-ball against their defense -- despite their length, it throws their timing off.
3. Be Aggressive! Be! Be! Aggressive! – Like what was already said, the reason why Norm has been so successful is because he has been aggressive with his looks. You can see this starting to rub off on guys like Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and even DeMarre Carroll. When the Raptors are aggressive from the very beginning, it sets the tone for the rest of the game. In game 3, their first basket was not scored until the 10:14 mark of the first quarter with JV making a free-throw. The Bucks went on to a 5-0 run in the first minute and well, we all know how that game ended. Meanwhile in game 5, Serge Ibaka nails a 3-pointer 19 seconds into the game which was then followed up by a nasty dunk a minute later. When asked about the difference in game 5, Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted that the Raptors came on strong and they did a good job not letting up. Despite their numerous attempts in game 5 to cut the lead, Giannis said that the Raptors kept punching back. Another reason why being aggressive works is to play off the infamous length of the Bucks. When you settle for jump-shots, these are contested shots. I’m not saying that your drives, lay-ups and even dunks would be wide-open but at least it provides the opportunity for a call to be made against the Bucks.
4. It’s a make or miss league – As both Coach Casey and Jason Kidd have said, this is a make or miss league; you either make your shot or you don’t and it seems both teams have seen either side of this. In games 3 through 5, both teams have (more or less) taken the same amount of shots but yet their shooting percentages have been the game changer. Let’s break it down like this:
See! The amount of shots that were taken were pretty much identical, no outliers like a Rockets vs. Thunder game. When guys find their rhythm and stick to it, it can make the difference between a win or a loss. Like Demar said, when the rest of the team make their shots, it takes a lot of pressure off him and Kyle to be the main source for points. Making shots does wonders for point distribution and this was evident in game 5. All 5 of the Raptors starters along with Corey Joseph were in double figures for point scored.
5. Know your role – When you’re looking for a deep post-season run, guys need to understand that their role may be different compared to the regular season and they need to be okay with that. This is important especially when rotations are not working and the coaching staff need to shake things up to get the team going. The Raptors as a whole have been doing a good job of this all throughout the regular season and playoffs have been no different. You see this with our bench players who are always willing to do what it takes for the sake of winning. JV said it perfectly during his post-game interview for game 5, where he played his second consecutive game as a bench player. He said that the most important thing is the “W” not your own numbers. He accepted this change with open arms and did what his team needed him to do. Not to sound like I’m in love with Norman (but let’s be real, I am), he has done an amazing job of this since his time with the Raptors. As Jack Armstrong said, Coach Casey and his staff have no loyalty to any specific players. Their loyalty is only to winning and so they are going to make any necessary changes to get them there.
With game 6 just mere hours away, you know that both teams will be preparing right up until tip-off. For one team, it's win or stay home. For another, a win will help them reserve whatever energy is left when they meet the reining NBA Champion, Cleveland Cavaliers, in round two. Looking at the odds, the Bucks are favoured to win but why not? They’re playing in their home court and they have the advantage of playing with their back against the wall. Being the underdogs can really motivate a team to do the unthinkable. Like Giannis said, the two-day break gives them time to really prepare, become eager and angrier. Meanwhile, the Raptors have been here before; twice last season actually. They know what it feels like to choke in game 6 and have to play the do-or-die game 7. I'm sure Ibaka, who has been a huge part of a disappointing series with his ex-team the OKC Thunder, will reiterate just how important it is to close out a series the first chance you get. So what do you think - will the game on Saturday be against the Bucks or King James and his squad?