Welcome to Forgotten Raptors Playoffs! All throughout the 2019 NBA Playoffs, we’ll be looking back at past Raptors series — going all the way back to 2000 — and digging into the hidden, underrated, forgotten or straight-up wacky subplots and memories!
Today we’re looking back at Toronto’s first-round victory over Milwaukee in 2017.
Toronto Raptors (51-31, 3rd seed) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (42-40, 6th seed)
Toronto defeats Milwaukee 4-2 in the best-of-seven series.
What Everyone Remembers
Norman Powell reaffirming his Game 5 Legend status, and DeMar DeRozan dunking away a furious Bucks comeback rally in Game 6.
What You Should Probably Remember Instead
This series was a snapshot of DeMar DeRozan’s postseason career with Toronto.
The 2017 Raptors are kind of a forgotten Raptors team. 2016 was the Eastern Conference Finals run; 2018 was the 59-win, top seed, finally-gonna-beat-LeBron team (or, you know... nah). The 2017 team was reshaped at midseason, didn’t coalesce thanks to a Kyle Lowry injury (more on this soon), won a fairly disappointing 51 games and landed the third overall seed... and kicked off its postseason with an incredibly forgettable first round series against the sixth-seeded Bucks.
You’ll be shocked to hear this, but the Raptors lost Game 1 at home. They bounced back in Game 2, and headed to Milwaukee tied at 1-1; it’s these next two games that I want to talk about, because more than any other, they encapsulate the DeMar DeRozan postseason experience.
In Game 3, a Bucks blowout, DeRozan had (possibly?) his worst playoff game ever, getting completely wiped off the board by the length of the Bucks and spawning a million “I’d rather have Khris Middleton than DeMar DeRozan” Twitter flamewars. DeRozan finished 0-for-8 from the field, with eight points on free throws; he threw the “if you’re not scoring, you can always find other ways to contribute” argument out the window by notching two rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, and three turnovers in 31 minutes. He was a game-worst -23.
Meanwhile Middleton, DeRozan’s primary defensive assignment, finished with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting, with seven assists and two steals. He finished +17.
All told in those first three games DeRozan averaged 19 points on 15 shots per game at 34% shooting. And 1.3 assists.
But then! DeRozan bounced back in Game 4 and played (what may have been?) his best playoff game ever as the Raptors took control of the series. As you may recall, Dwane Casey made a rare (for him) playoff adjustment that worked, inserting Norman Powell into the starting lineup for Jonas Valanciunas in Game 4; Powell’s D took some of the pressure off of DeRozan, and he got free for 33 points on 22 shots with nine boards, five assists and four steals.
He finished those last three games averaging 28 points per game on 20 shots at 52% shooting, along with five boards, five assists and three steals, and of course, had the monster dunk that sealed the series win in Game 6.
It’s possible that DeRozan’s postseason struggles have been overblown, but the inconsistency he showed in this series — and these are just raw numbers, if you watched him try and navigate traps and force up bad shot after bad shot, or die on screen after screen, you likely lost a good inch and a half on your hairline — capture his postseason resume perfectly.
Where does DeRozan’s Game 6 dunk rank on your list of Raptors postseason highlights? Let us know in the comments.