Fine, so Game 1 for the Raptors is now out of the way. The caterwauling, the insecurity, the tension and release of the start of the post-season. It’s all done. Now we can all turn to Game 2. What a relief.
The problems of this series with the Milwaukee Bucks remain, however. They still have the indescribable force that is Giannis Antetokounmpo (more on him in a bit), they still have a bunch of long-armed dudes, they still have mastermind Jason Kidd managing the bench. We would kind of like them all to just go away, and yet: they remain.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are also still standing. And it is widely acknowledged that they may have many of the better players in the series. (Not the best, but you could argue anywhere from six to eight of the top players in the series are Raptors; not that that showed up in Game 1 however.) There is still life in Toronto.
As we prepare for Game 2, here are three things to watch for:
Giannis, Giannis, Giannis
Giannis Antetokounmpo was exactly as terrifying as we imagined. And poor DeMarre Carroll is not the guy to stop him. This creates a two-fold problem for the Raptors. The first is obvious: Giannis is a space alien from a different planet, an evolved being beyond comprehension; he’s the star child from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. No mere mortal is going to slow him down. That’s the irreducible heart of the dilemma.
The second problem is more of a question: Do the Raptors just abandon the idea of putting Carroll on Giannis? There are three branching options here.
First, start P.J. Tucker and see if the rugged forward can push Giannis around enough to get him out of his comfort zone. For stretches of Game 1, this worked. Second, use Patrick Patterson way, way, way more. Our man only got 16 minutes in Game 1 which seems comically low. Third, depending on the size matchups, try to match length with length and throw Serge Ibaka on Giannis. (This may not work if Serge is playing on a wonky ankle, but it may be something.)
But really, we’ve seen this before — with Paul George, or LeBron James — Toronto just needs to pray.
Now Try To Do That Again
So, OK, we know Giannis is Giannis, but how do you explain the rest of the Bucks’ performances? Greg Monroe carved up the Raptors inside, Malcolm Brogdon did what he wanted, Thon Maker (!) looked pretty fearsome in random moments, damn Matthew Dellavedova had 11 points and is somehow on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For the Raptors to own this series, they have to be able to house these periphery matchups.
For Game 2 the Raptors need some of these names to play better: Cory Joseph (in tough against the length of the Bucks — and got his soul snatched on an opening play from Delly), Patrick Patterson (not really his fault, barely got in the game), Jonas Valanciunas (needs to own the paint), and DeMarre Carroll (we’ll take what we can get here).
It feels simple to say, but the relative plus/minus comparison between these two groups of supporting players for the Raptors and Bucks will determine a lot.
Which Kyle Lowry?
But not everything. Because really, this is all prologue for the main event: Where is Lowry?
Look, the Raptors are sunk — and I’m talking 2015 post-season sunk — if Lowry is a shell of himself. There’s no two ways about it, even with strong play from Joseph, or a miracle run from Delon Wright, or JV going off, or whatever permutation you want to think about. The Raptors cannot win in the post-season without Lowry.
Last season, even when Lowry wasn’t shooting well (which was most of the time), he was a net-positive for the Raptors. He made a difference in other ways — be it with passing, smart defense, or heady/disruptive plays on and off the ball. That’s long been Lowry’s MO. Which makes getting outplayed by a rookie Brogdon all the more galling. (I don’t care if Malcolm has a graduate degree.) That matchup should favour the Raptors in a big way. NBA teams rarely have rookies play for them in the playoffs, and rookie point guards least of all.
So, which Lowry will we see tonight? It’s the question of today, tomorrow, and the rest of the Raptors’ post-season run — a run that could be very short if the answer is “bad Lowry.”
Where to Watch: TSN, 7pm EST