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Raptors vs. Bucks Game 1 Preview: Toronto looks to start strong

Toronto prepares itself for the opening round of the 2017 NBA playoffs against the Bucks.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally here. The playoffs. We made it. The Raptors begin their 2017 post-season campaign against the Milwaukee Bucks today at 6:00am 12:30pm 5:30pm! We have plenty of time to get ourselves hyped up — or worried, depending on your emotional proclivities.

This will be the fourth straight Game 1 at home for the Raptors. This, on the surface, is a good thing. Except, you will hear a lot today about how the Raptors have not won a Game 1 at home for some time. In fact, they’ve only ever won one Game 1 (say that 10 times fast) and it was on the road, in the second round... and it happened in 2001. This was back when actual dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It’s been awhile, is my point.

The Bucks pose some threats to Toronto, mostly in the superhuman form of Giannis Antetokounmpo (whose name I can now spell without looking up). Yes, there’s also Khris Middleton to deal with, and some warn about the rookie danger Malcolm Brogdon presents. We also have no idea what the combined might of Jason Terry, Greg Monroe, Mirza Teletovic, and Michael Beasley could bring. They have some dudes.

Still, the Raptors are favoured. ESPN (mostly) says so — though we will have to shame Tom Haberstroh now. (More like Haber-DOH, amirite?) CBS Sports says they’ve got it in the bag. Sporting News says Raptors in 7. And our pals at SB Nation predict a series win for Toronto. What a time.

Here are three things to watch for in today’s (tonight’s!) Game 1 against the Bucks:

Will the Game 1 Curse be Broken?

Seriously. I’m not one to flog a dead horse, but this trend has to end. I have the Raptors winning the series in 6 and, to be honest, I’m not convinced they’ll win Game 1 today. It feels insane to say that. The Bucks are making just their second appearance in the playoffs in recent years, they employ a couple of rookies in the starting lineup, and their bench is made of semi-useful castoffs. The Raptors should crush them — even with the most talented player in the series (Giannis) on the other team.

But look at those predictions I linked to again. Many also believe this series will go six or seven games, and I bet if asked, most would say the Raps will drop Game 1. This is making me crazy. There’s no rhyme or reason to it — though the early start times of the past didn’t help — so here’s hoping a different result comes out of today. The first quarter start will suggest multitudes.

I’ll say this: if the Raptors win Game 1, I imagine they could wrap this up in a sweep or in five games. That’s how confident I am in Toronto, assuming the Game 1 curse is broken.

Containing the Greek Freak

Of course, the key to the whole thing will be dealing with Giannis. The Bucks point guard-wing-centre will be everywhere on the court. The Raptors will attempt to match him with DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, and Patrick Patterson (and I imagine Serge Ibaka will be in the mix as well, depending on the lineups in use). This strategy will only work in part.

The best thing to do with Giannis will be to turn him into a jump shooter and limit both his drives — where he can use his insane reach and vision to finish in traffic or find open shooters — and his transition opportunities — which give him a chance to bend the space-time continuum to his will. Again, this will be difficult in part. Giannis is the best player in the series. The only things working against him right now are youthful inexperience (the kid is 22!), and modest holes in his game (his midrange and 3-ball shooting). Obviously, we’ll be watching him closely throughout the series.

DeRozan the Destroyer

Did you read this piece? It says a bunch of things, mostly centred around the idea of comparing Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan. Now, we’re not talking about Irving in this series, and for sure, since Irving is now an NBA champion, he gets the benefit of the doubt. But, uh, read this...

During the regular season last year, Cleveland’s net rating was slightly better with Irving off the court. Once the playoffs hit, though, they were better off with him in the game by 1.5 points per possession.

Some of that is likely due to a more dialed-in and more prepared defense that’s able to carry some of Irving’s inadequacies on that end — and maybe his own defensive performance improves too — but it’s also because there’s no adjustment to be made against an incredible one-on-one scorer.

And then ask yourself: have you watched DeRozan play at all in the 2016-17 season? The piece implies the Irving is great at the stuff that is hard for a defense to take away (threes and fancy dribbling, I guess). It calls him an “incredible one-on-one scorer,” which is true. But are... are you suggesting DeRozan won’t find ways to score in the playoffs, that he is in fact not an incredible one-on-one scorer? (Yes, I already hear you going, “but what about Khris Middleton’s defense?” — man, get outta here with that shit.)

Again: have you watched DeRozan play at all in the 2016-17 season? Hell, have you watched him play in the last 25 games? This dude is capital-L locked in.

Let’s get it.

Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 5:30pm