The consensus around the league seems to be that the Toronto Raptors got a bit of a raw deal having to play Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. The thinking is that it’s rough having to take on the second or third best player in the Eastern Conference, and especially a young team on the rise.
There’s a school of thought that the team with the best player in any series has an inherent advantage, and much as we all love Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, that honour is certainly one that Giannis holds.
Still, as we head to Milwaukee for Game 3, I think this ‘woe is me’ line of thinking is lazy at best and poisonous at worst. These Raptors were never built around having the best player on the floor at any given time. They’re a team that thrives with a two-headed offensive monster, and a strong secondary cast. When the Raptors bench is good, they’re dangerous. Period.
When they added Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, the dynamic of the team didn’t change. The moves strengthened that secondary cast, and the team improved immensely. The search all year has been for the right combinations of secondary players to maximize lineups; there has never been any question about the role of the two men at the top, beyond whether or not they could just be themselves come playoff time.
Keep in mind that if Toronto was playing Indiana (Paul George), or Chicago (Jimmy Butler), the chips would arguably have fallen the same, in regards to ‘best player’ distribution. You could have (and almost did) draw the Hawks, of course, but such is life. If you’re the Raptors, or their fans, now isn’t the time to whine about your fate; it’s time to take charge of it.
Here are your keys to Game 3.
Toronto did an excellent job beating the Bucks aggressive double team in Game 2. They made quick decisions by outlet passing to an open man, who was then able to swing a pass either for open threes, or into the interior, where the Bucks often lack real rim protection.
I had this (very pleasant!) exchange with a Bucks fellow on Twitter.
To do that, they'll have to stop automatically doubling DeRozan so much. Might see him get some room to work in Game 3. https://t.co/RgGOUuHukS— Dan Grant (@SlamminDannyG) April 20, 2017
A little joke at Eric’s expense at the end there; to his credit, I believe he was suggesting that they won’t change strategy, not that they shouldn’t.
Toronto shot 14-of-29 from deep in Game 2, which seems like an unsustainable number, particularly given that the 14 makes were a Toronto franchise record. With that said, if you look at the success they had from three versus Milwaukee during the regular season, the formula to beat the Bucks is pretty elementary, particularly if they’re going to continue to send aggressive help.
Toronto did a great job moving the ball in general, with 24 team assists. Five different players had three or more helpers — somewhat surprisingly, Serge Ibaka led the team with 6. Look more deeply though, and you’ll find that DeRozan and Lowry led the team with four ‘hockey assists’ each — essentially, they made astute first passes that led to baskets a pass later.
It actually could have been even better, which is a good sign. The Raptors converted just 5-of-12 potential Lowry assists, and 1-of-5 for Cory Joseph. They’re getting a ton of opportunities to score against a Bucks defense that is so aggressive because they lack the personnel to play straight-up.
Toronto lost Game 1 at home (again), and gave up their home-court advantage by doing so. This is now a five game series, with three of those games set to be played in Milwaukee. It’s absolutely key for Toronto to take their best swing tonight, to regain some semblance of control in the series.
The Bucks were just 23-18 at home this year, tying the Hawks for fewest home-court victories by any NBA playoff team. With an identical 23 victories, the Raptors tied Boston for the best road mark in the East. Last season, the Raptors managed to win Games 2 and 3 in both the Pacers and Heat series, which eventually went to deciding seventh games. Is anybody else getting that same ulcer-inducing vibe from this series?
Where to watch: TSN, 8pm EST