The Raptors have spent the past two days preparing for the second game of their opening round series against the Bucks. Despite this being the team’s fourth straight post-season appearance, Toronto is in a jumble after yet another disappointing Game 1 performance at home, a garbage time 97-83 loss.
We’d like to shake the result off, but the news out of the post-game, and the two days that followed, has been a mix of perplexing and concerning. Tomorrow’s 7pm tip-off can’t come soon enough. (Or may be here too soon, depending on your mood.)
First, the factual: Serge Ibaka rolled his ankle in Game 1 after coming down on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s outstretched foot after a three-point shot attempt. It took some time for Serge to get up, but he did continue playing, finishing the game with 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks (for what that’s worth). Unfortunately, the situation is not as clean-cut today.
Ibaka says his ankle is getting better. Didn't commit to playing tomorrow (said he couldn't if the game was today) but he's hopeful— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 17, 2017
So, Ibaka is day-to-day, which is not terrible, but is less than ideal. A step-slow Serge would be a nightmare for the Raptors for any extended period of time against Milwaukee. The Bucks are already way out in front in terms of mobile, long armed big dudes — Giannis is a force, Tony Snell’s got a motor, and Thon Maker can move (to say nothing of Playoff Greg Monroe). Ibaka’s the only guy on the Raptors who can reasonably protect the rim against some of these dudes — particularly Giannis, of course — and having him diminished is trouble.
I’d bet Ibaka plays tomorrow — it is a huge playoff game, after all — but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be.
Second, the gamesmanship: You’ve gotta hand it to coach Dwane Casey for attempting to work the refs through the media, re: Matthew Dellavedova’s screens. It feels like a random thing to harp on, especially after Giannis dunked all over half the team, but Toronto has to start somewhere. "[Dellavedova] did set 18 screens and we did look at them,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey told the assembled media on Monday afternoon. “A lot of them weren't legal.”
Let me just say, I understand all of this frustration with Dellavedova — his stupid gap-mouthed look where he pretends to not know exactly what he’s doing, those dangerous plays when he undercuts guys or locks arms or dives into legs, his ugly-ass shot that should never go in. He’s actually ruined floaters for me. I like floaters, floaters are my move. I can no longer use the floater. This guy.
Anyway, my point here is: I’m fine with Casey ragging (or raging) on Delly and getting the refs to keep an eye on the dirty screens he sets. (And I would not be opposed to, say, P.J. Tucker just ramming into Delly once to send a message.) It’s irritating as hell, and everyone involved with the Raptors organization hates that Delly might contribute to a win over the team. Keep at it.
Third, more frustration: There is no way to qualify or quantify the mystery surrounding Kyle Lowry’s play in this most recent Game 1, and all Game 1s of the past. It is beyond the normal realm of understanding. And what is with all the soul searching? Good lord.
Lowry now says his teammates want him to be more aggressive, which, true, but also: Don’t force shots! In his own words after Game 1:
“Put it this way: I guess I’m going to have to force shots,” was how Lowry put it Sunday afternoon. “My teammates want me to be more aggressive, so I’m going to have to force some more shots, simple as that.
This has me feeling queasy. Not because I don’t want Lowry to shoot, but because I worry about him trying to force anything with the Bucks’ swarming D in his face. There’s got to be a better way for Lowry to shake Bucks rookie Malcolm Brogdon, and attack their blitzing D. The Raptors have sound screeners, they have guys who can attack close-outs, they have players who can hit 3s (theoretically), they even have an old-school big man in the post. There has to be a way for Lowry to use those components — as he has all season, and for most of the past four years — to generate the looks he wants.
I realize this sounds obvious but there’s no other way to understand it. Lowry was involved in three wins over the Bucks this past season. He’s been single-handedly picking apart teams all year. (Remember when he dismantled, say, the Utah Jazz — an uber-long and smart defensive team — earlier in the season?) There shouldn’t be this stress in every Game 1, and in every post-season. Kyle Lowry can do it. And whether it’s injury, or unfamiliarity with new teammates, it feels insane that it’s just not happening.
Which version of Lowry, and the Raptors, will we see tomorrow for Game 2? Time will tell.