The Raptors missed out on a golden opportunity to close out Game 1, and I would’ve gladly watched that heartbreaking loss again instead of the garbage heap they subjected fans to in Game 2. There wasn’t a single moment on Friday night in which to believe the Raptors stood a chance; early in the first quarter, this game was already a write-off. Marc Gasol failed to set the tone early, fumbling the ball and shakily bricking his jumpers. In the end, he only played 19 minutes as he was rendered entirely ineffective.
The Raptors are going to have to play four perfect games out of the next five to have a chance at advancing past Milwaukee, who put on a clinic last Friday night. The Bucks’ offense was cohesive, the shots were falling and they played hard-nosed defense for much of the game. I’m not going to go on record saying this series is over, but folks: it’s not looking good.
Norman Powell is likely going to see some extended run moving forward to provide the Raptors with some much-needed energy off the bench. He finally had himself a game, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. In smaller lineups, he could potentially take over for Danny Green, who has struggled to guard the Bucks’ larger wings in Nikola Mirotic and Khris Middleton.
Here are tonight’s details:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00 PM ET
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Milwaukee - Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Nikola Mirotic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Toronto - OG Anunoby (out - appendectomy), Patrick McCaw (out - personal)
Milwaukee - Donte DiVincenzo (out - heel), Pau Gasol (out - foot), D.J. Wilson (questionable - ankle)
What’s Going on with Gasol?
I’ve written entirely too many disparaging paragraphs about Marc Gasol over the past couple of days, but it’s unfortunately deserved. He knows it too, mentioning after last game that he played poorly and it damaged the Raptors’ confidence. In the regular season, Marc had been a key cog in the Raptors’ offense, providing secondary facilitation alongside Lowry. On top of that, he had been taking his threes with no hesitation and hitting them at a ridiculous clip (44.2 percent).
Now, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t trust Gasol with the ball. An early post-up against Khris Middleton last game could’ve potentially gotten him going, but he was blocked ferociously at the rim by the enormous Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis’ freakish length has proven effective in suffocating the Raptors in the paint.
In the regular season, Marc had no issue with a packed paint, seeing as it gave him room to hit outside jumpers. Now, those shots aren’t falling either. The Bucks have opted to let him shoot from the perimeter, instead focusing their defensive efforts on Kawhi Leonard, and it’s working.
Set the Tone Early
For Toronto, it’s been easy to tell how a game is going to turn out just by watching the first quarter. On Friday night, I had plans to watch the game at my dad’s house. I arrived one minute after the game had begun, and my dad greeted me with a foreboding, “sorry Dylan, you might as well go home.” Boy, was he right. Within the first few possessions of Game 2, it was already painfully obvious the Raptors were in for a rough night. The shots weren’t falling, sloppy passes were being tossed haphazardly, and the Bucks already had two easy dunks.
To survive, the Raptors need to make a statement early on in Game 3. Maybe it’s a Gasol three, maybe it’s a hard-nosed Lowry drive, but they need something to instil some energy early. With nine minutes left in the first quarter of last game, Siakam had a beautiful drive and kick to Danny in the corner, who made it splash. Sadly, at that point the Bucks had already established their dominance.
Try to Enjoy
This season has had its fair share of ups and downs, but the Raptors were still able to make just their second Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. (Their second appearance in four years!) There is some pride to be felt in that accomplishment, even if the season ends in heartbreak at the hands of a dominant Bucks squad. This could very well be the end of an era in Toronto, so I implore you to enjoy it while it lasts.
Regardless of whatever happens in this series, I’ll always remember Kawhi’s Game 7 buzzer-beating miracle shot that erased the playoff ghosts that have haunted the team since Vince Carter clanked that nearly identical shot in 2001. If the Raptors start to fall apart tonight once again, just think about those four bounces. It makes me feel better.