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Tactical Issues: How will the Raptors and Bucks adjust in Game 6?

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The Raptors came in with a backs against the wall mentality for Game 5 and stole a game in Milwaukee. Now, the Bucks are facing down elimination, and have to do the same in Toronto or head out on vacation.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s such a shame that the Milwaukee Bucks’ fans did a better job and effort trolling Drake than coach Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks’ effort against the Raptors. After the Bucks’ initial run to start the game, the Raptors stepped up their compete-level, and the Bucks were not able to do the same.

Coach Bud also made some questionable moves in the process, like switching on Kawhi Leonard, and not building on Khris Middleton’s offensive breakout in Game 4. Coach Nick Nurse, on the other hand, appeared to push the right buttons and did not seemed bothered by Drake’s massage — or an early 14-point deficit in Game 5.

With the Bucks in town and Drake waiting for them, let’s revisit some of the adjustments that the Raptors and the Bucks did in Game 5, and predict what they can do for Game 6.

For the Bucks

Start Brogdon Again

I suppose the significant change that coach Bud made in Game 5 was to give Malcolm Brogdon his starting spot back. Up until Game 4, Brogdon had been the most consistent Bucks bench player and had better production than Nikola Mirotic.

Brogdon also showed that he could stay in front of Kawhi for the most part, so starting him alongside Khris Middleton would give gave the latter the respite he would need from guarding Kawhi. Meanwhile, Mirotic has started to become more and more unplayable, as his offensive production dipped, and the Raptors have continued to target him on defense.

The move proved to be justified, as Brogdon contributed to the initial salvo by the Bucks that saw them start the game with an 18-4 run. He finished the game with a solid 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists.

However, Brogdon still had the turnover that essentially cost the Bucks the game.

Will We See This Again: Expect Brogdon to start again.

Get Bledsoe Going

Eric Bledsoe got to a hot start, but it felt like a fool’s gold. After going 3-of-4 in the first quarter, Bledsoe shot 3-of-12 for the rest of the game, and was nowhere to be found in the fourth. Things also didn’t look good as the Raptors’ point guards dropped a combined 38 points on Bledsoe, a recently named member of the 2019 NBA All-defensive first team.

Getting Bledsoe touches early on might have also hurt Middleton, who could not get into his rhythm and did not get a lot of opportunities to shoot the ball.

Will We See This Again: To some extent, yes. The Bucks need all hands on deck for Game 6. But if things go south with Bledsoe on the floor, expect a lot more George Hill.

Potential Adjustments for the Bucks

Giannis/Middleton Pick-and-Roll

Giannis can’t get past the Raptors’ wall on defense, and could barely get past Kawhi straight up. The alternative here is to get Giannis the ball as a cutter, but that limits his value as he’ll most likely be a finisher. Giannis is a good and willing passer, but he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to catch the ball on a cut and create scoring opportunities for his teammates in one fluid motion in this series.

However, it’s an option to get Giannis going, and maybe his dominance in the paint would be enough to collapse the Raptors defense to free up their perimeter shots.

Will We See This: It’s worth a try.

Shortened Rotations and Playing the Best Players

Coach Bud should just go all in for Game 6 and play his best players, even if it becomes a 7-man rotation. If they need to play the starters extended minutes, so be it. If having the best players out there means not playing Bledsoe a lot, so be it. Milwaukee may need to lean more on Giannis, with the starters — plus Hill, and maybe spot minutes for Ersan Ilyasova, and that’s it.

The Raptors have been in this situation for the most part of the playoffs, and they are older, and have played through injuries. The Bucks are younger, more athletic, and should be able to sustain extended run time.

Will We See This: It’s a win-or-go-home game for the Bucks, but the concern here for Milwaukee is that coach Bud is a creature of habit and might stick to his guns.

Playing Sharper

The Bucks got stunned in Game 5 after building that 18-4 lead in the first quarter and thoroughly flustering the Raptors for a time. They were executing their game plan and looked to be out in front of whatever Toronto was trying to do.

What happened next, of course, was the Raptors stepping up their intensity and kicking their butt. We can talk about Xs and Os all we want, but the Bucks looked overwhelmed for stretches and it allowed the veteran Raptors to get back into the game.

Will We See this: As a Raptors fan, here’s hoping for a repeat performance of the Bucks’ effort for Game 6.

For the Raptors

Earlier in the series, I wrote a bit about the synergy of Toronto’s Kawhi-centric offense, and the ball-movement offense that the rest of the Raptors run.

There were not a ton of indications of this synergy happening up until Game 4, especially in this post-season. Kawhi looked like he was ready to put the team on his back by brute force as his teammates faltered.

It looked like coach Nick Nurse and Kawhi stumbled into something in Game 4 (or maybe this is how Nurse really envisioned the roster to play with Kawhi) and doubled-down on it in Game 5. The result? A balanced attack and an offense that closely resembled the Raptors offense whenever Kawhi was being load managed. Of course this time, Kawhi was also an active participant.

Bet on VanVleet

I thought we already saw a Fred VanVleet bounce-back game in Game 4, where he dropped 13 points, going 3-of-3 from the perimeter. I was expecting VanVleet to have a bounce-back game since after Game 2 of the Orlando Magic series, when I thought that he just had a bad game.

Instead, it was a bad game that became a bad stretch of games for FVV. In fact, it was so bad for so long that the fanbase turned their backs on Vanvleet, and justifiably asked for his benching. Heck, even I was on the brink of giving up on him after Game 3 of this series and wrote some alternatives that could soak up his minutes. The shots were not falling for him, and the lineups that he was in appeared to be set up to fail.

No one was expecting a performance like that from VanVleet in Game 5. That VanVleet would come in with confident and shoot the way he did was astonishing. Nurse had faith in him, his teammates had faith in him — including Kawhi, who passed the ball to him several times with no hesitation. Leonard even stopped going for the rebound every time VanVleet attempted a perimeter shot.

Just imagine if Nurse benched VanVleet for Jeremy Lin in Game 5.

Will We See This Again: VanVleet will always bet on himself and Nurse will do so as well.

Kawhi on a Switch

I honestly don’t know what coach Bud was thinking, but switching on defense against Kawhi was one of his worst moves this post-season.

Whether it was Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, or Ersan Ilyasova, Kawhi toyed with them as soon as they switched onto him. Kawhi either scored or created scoring opportunities for his teammates on a lot of those possessions.

Maybe it was because of the excellent marksmanship of Kawhi’s Raptors teammates (excluding Danny Green) that forced the Bucks to cover the perimeter much more closely, or they are afraid of giving Kawhi an opening with his defender going under the screen, or maybe the Bucks game-planned in anticipation of Kawhi playing hobbled — we’ll never know. In any case, thank God for that foam roller.

Will We See This Again: Expect tighter coverage on Kawhi next game, but there may be no solution to stopping him.

Potential Adjustments for the Raptors

For two straight games, the Raptors looked like they have the Bucks figured out. Personally, I would not change anything they’re doing right now — from the wall coverage on Giannis, to their zone defense, to their synergistic offence, and their overall intensity and resiliency throughout the game.

The only thing to address is Toronto’s slow starts, as in Game 5, but that might come with a cost.

Start Powell

The Raptors have had slow starts for the most of this series. Most recently, they found themselves down 18-4 in Game 5. For the past few games, Norman Powell came in and provided the spark that the team badly needed.

Danny Green has struggled, and in Game 5 Pascal Siakam got into an early foul trouble. Between the two, Green is closer to being benched in favour of Powell. However, it’s a risky decision for Nurse to make.

Will We See This: I highly doubt it, but I won’t be surprised if Powell ultimately gets more minutes than Green in Game 6.