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Raptors vs. Bucks, Game 6 Preview: Toronto looks to close it out

Can the Raptors avoid yet another Game 7?

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NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The last time I previewed a game in this series, I tried to be insightful. I talked deeply and meaningfully (I thought!) about statistics — the Raptors success versus the Bucks this year, the Bucks middling home-court record — and I expressed optimism that if the Raptors bench came out and did what we’ve seen it do for most of the season, the struggles of the Raptors stars would be mitigated and a victory was well within reach.

Then Game friggin’ 3 happened.

We don’t need to re-live that Coke-truck-crashing-into-a-Pop-Rocks-factory level disaster, but suffice to say, all my awesome analysis was for naught, and I assume the troll I interacted with in the comments section return to feast on my charred remains, as was his right.

The point is, that tack didn’t work, and since everybody knows these previews exert a tremendous amount of control over the results of the game, I’ve decided to go in a different direction.

Here are your keys to the game.

Energy

Toronto came out and threw a haymaker to begin Game 5, out-working the Bucks on both sides of the ball and holding a 31-20 lead at the end of the first quarter. For a Raptors team that’s struggled mightily this season with their starts, this was a boon. DeMarre Carroll keyed that success by actually showing up for the game, grabbing a couple offensive rebounds, hitting an open three and just generally looking like he had a functioning respiratory system.

Eric Koreen of the Athletic put Carroll’s overall impact on this series best in his Game 5 summary:

‘You could not have called DeMarre Carroll a ghost in the first four games of this series, because ghosts are invisible. Carroll’s mistakes, on the other hand, were glaring.’

The Raptors need the Carroll that showed up in Game 5. He wasn’t otherworldly — 12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a three in 22 minutes isn’t normally something to write home about — but he doesn’t need to be. Getting out to a good, energetic start on the road against a Bucks home crowd that will surely be fired up, will be a key.

More Energy

The Raptors have been a little bit banged up this series. Kyle Lowry’s tight back (not to mention his ongoing recovery from wrist surgery), Cory Joseph’s illness, Carroll’s wonky knees; they’re not ravaged, but they’re not the picture of health either. It’s the NBA playoffs and this crap happens, but these limitations, particularly Lowry’s, mean that it’s important Toronto receives contributions from the entire 9-man core rotation that they’ve used in these past two victories.

Norman Powell has been a big part of that, with two sublime performances after being thrust into a starting role, but I have an inkling that he won’t continue to shoot 100% from three point range. His excellence from deep has disguised the fact that P.J. Tucker, while an animal on defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo, has really struggled with his outside shot in this series, hitting just 18.2% of his three’s, on 2.2 attempts per game. Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan, Lowry and Carroll are also well below their season long numbers, and top out at 28.6% behind the arc.

Of course numbers like this get skewed in a short series — this is just a 5-game sample size, and includes to two 20+ point blowouts. Nevertheless, relying on Powell to prop up the offense again in Game 6 is a risky proposition. He’s going to contribute, but the other shooters in the roster need to find their stroke if Toronto is going to pull off a road victory.

Oh yeah, and do it with ENERGY!

Whatever It Takes

I mean whatever it takes! DeMar? You keep passing out of that double-team! P.J.? You instill fear! Serge? You keep them out of the paint! Jonas? You shoot that three!

Wait. Scratch that last one.

Seriously though, we’ve seen the recipe for beating this Bucks team — protect the paint, defend in transition and force them to play their non-existent depth. Jason Kidd played seven players more than 22 minutes in Game 5, with only eight minutes for Mirza Teletovic, seven for Michael Beasley, five for Jason Terry and two garbage time minutes apiece for Rashad Vaughn and John Henson. Spencer Hawes got roasted so badly by Lowry earlier in the series that he got a DNP-CD in a blowout.

If anything, Kidd might try to go even tighter in Game 6, as those players were a combined -21 in 24 minutes. Single game plus/minus stats are far from perfect, but the point is that outside of the core group, the Bucks are awfully thin.

If Toronto can try to get to the line early and force the Milwaukee to play any of those aforementioned guys, that recipe for success starts looking awfully tasty.

Where to watch: Sportsnet, 7pm