Game 4 of the Raptors vs. Bucks first round series was ugly. Neither team shot particularly well from the field, neither could hit threes, there were turnovers galore, and sequences under the rim that looked straight out of an old school 90s-era contest (or a pro wrestling match). This would be unfortunate save for one fact: the Raptors like to muck it up.
Despite boasting one of the better offensive rankings in the NBA throughout the season — one that was somehow historically good for awhile — the Raptors’ style of play is often hard to watch. The team has a surfeit of talent at every position, and a deep bench, but Toronto still struggles at times to put itself together. Some would say it’s the fault of Dwane Casey’s decisions, others would say it’s a product of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s play style, still others wonder about the ultimate basketball IQ of players like Jonas Valanciunas. Me personally, I believe it is more of a mystery — the Raptors play like the Raptors because... they are the Raptors. Embrace it.
Whatever the case, Game 5 against the Bucks offers yet another referendum on the Raptors. Will it be an ugly game? Will anyone hit shots? Will a grappling match break out? Anything feels possible, or impossible, with this deliriously mystifying team. Here are three things in particular to keep an eye on.
Which Lowry and DeRozan?
Game 1 saw good DeRozan, bad Lowry. Game 2 was both good DeRozan and Lowry. Game 3 was an abomination for everyone involved. Game 4 saw good DeRozan, and then a return to form (again) from Lowry. But I don’t think I’m alone here in asking: which version of Lowry and DeRozan will we see tonight? There really is no way to know.
It is not surprising to see the Raptors win when both Lowry and DeRozan play up to their potential. For DeRozan that means scoring in a myriad of ways and throwing the Bucks’ defense into tumult. When DeMar is hitting his jumper, mixing it up in the post, driving to the basket, and drawing free throws, he is effective. For Lowry, it’s about using his intelligence and hitting 3s. When Lowry is in the driver’s seat, the Raptors’ path to victory becomes clear.
There may not be any explanation as to the up-and-down nature of their play — the Bucks swarming defense? playoff pressure? teammates not hitting shots? — but the Raptors still ride or die with them. So, uh, brace yourselves:
Lowry had back stiffness and went home early. Expected to play. Did not take part in shoot-around.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 24, 2017
Bench Production Would Be Nice
Heading into this series it looked like the Raptors had the stronger bench unit. Given the presence of defensive genius P.J. Tucker, and the likes of Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell and Delon Wright, Toronto fans were confident. Which is what made Game 4 so comical. The Raptors got zero points from their usual bench players with only Valanciunas, the usual starter, logging any buckets (he had 12 points of 5-of-5 shooting, when the game started to get really rough-and-tumble).
The Bucks meanwhile have bench players of their own who have been all over the map, production-wise. Save for Greg Monroe, who has steadily killed the Raps, Milwaukee has had to rely on a mix of Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Terry, and, gulp, Michael Beasley. This group should not exactly inspire a lot of terror in the hearts of the Raptors or their fans, which makes the no-shows from members of Toronto’s bench all the more inexplicable. Let’s see who shows up for Game 5.
The Best of Giannis and Khris
Now, the worrisome part. In Game 4, thanks to some superlative D from Tucker, Powell, Serge Ibaka and the rest of the Raptors, both Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo were contained. They weren’t stopped per se, but they were forced into spaces and shots they didn’t want. Can the Raptors keep it up?
For long stretches of this series, Giannis has been the best player on the floor — he’s drained 3s, he’s finished around the rim (in increasingly absurd ways), and he’s been a terror in the open floor. His partner Middleton, meanwhile, has systematically carved up the Raptors with smart passing and solid shot making. One of the narratives to emerge from Game 4 was the acknowledgement that just as DeRozan and Lowry have had off nights, so too have the Bucks’ star duo. It remains to be seen if that is actually the case, or if the Raptors’ collective efforts have figured them out.
Where to Watch: TSN, 7pm EST