The Raptors already employ one fabled Bucks killer. I mean, accurately speaking, they have like a half dozen, and that’s before counting Eric Bledsoe’s oh-so reliable bed-wettings in the name of Toronto whenever called upon.
But of course, it’s Norman Powell’s history of punking Milwaukee that stands out from all the rest. From his series-saving Game 3 performance last May, to his hero turn as a starter in the back half of the 2017 first round, and all the way back to the very day the Bucks owned themselves by dealing the picks that’d become Norm and OG Anunoby for Greivis Vasquez, Powell’s career has been built on the tears of various folks in the Bucks’ organization. Not having him for Tuesday’s 108-97 loss was a real hit to their chances at taking down the defending Eastern Conference runners-up.
As it turns out, a broken finger couldn’t entirely stop Powell from infusing his Bucks-flummoxing arts into the game. In fact, it seems he’s hard at work crafting a protégé in Bucks torment: Terence Davis.
“Throughout the game ... he just pulled me to the side and was just giving me pointers,” said Davis of Powell after his 10-point, four-rebound, two-assist evening. “I remember watching a series where he did actually kill the Bucks a lot so I kept that in the back of my mind.”
Imagine for a moment a world with two Norms. A pair of 6’4”, driving, finishing, 40-percent three-point shooters with little to no conscience, both tailored to shred the Bucks? Sounds to me like a recipe to make certain Freaks pause at the thought of signing a super max contract. On Tuesday, Davis showed he can make that world a reality once Powell returns; one that may offer the optimal conditions for a repeat of 2019 this coming May.
Milwaukee kicks ass at playing defense. Their Defensive Rating of 101.7 is so good they could drop from their current third-place offensive rank down to 20th and still have the league’s best NET Rating. It’s stupid. They’re so damn good because they know exactly how to butter their own bread. As we learned in the playoffs last year, Mike Budenholzer is almost laughably predictable. His tendency to have exactly one tendency may be the biggest roadblock between the Bucks and a championship. But the chuckles sure quiet down when you face the mass of congealed torsos and arms that protects the Bucks’ rim at all costs in the flesh, smack in the middle of the regular season, when they’re in their most comfortable state.
Toronto looked scared to shit whenever the prospect of attacking the Bucks’ back line from hell presented itself on Tuesday. The “52” in the “3PA’ column of the Raptors’ box score was a number borne out of equal parts smart game planning and trembling fear.
“There was 52 of ‘em, let’s say 40 of them were probably decent,” said Nurse when asked after the game about the Raptors’ three-heavy shot chart. “We had a couple shot-clockers that were bombs ... there was one that got blocked, so you’d probably like to have that one back, there’s a couple others. But I thought for the most part they weren’t that bad.”
Maybe the Raptors’ triples weren’t that bad, selection-wise. Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet certainly missed their fair share of open tries. Five of them came off Matt Thomas’ blessed finger-tips, which was good for both the Raptors and anyone who has functioning eyes. But Nurse did concede that the looks didn’t always come together through picture perfect process.
“Probably not,” said Nurse when asked whether the Raptors dipped into the paint enough as a means to create threes. “You know I would like to probably hit them multiple times in a possession. I think I can remember Pascal hitting a corner three right in front of our bench. And it was a really good possession where we drove it, kicked it, swung it, drove it, kicked it, and then it was Pascal standing all alone in the corner. Thought we needed a few more of those types of multiple paint touch possessions.”
Too often Toronto’s trips into the paint lost steam before they really got a chance to initiate the type of flow Nurse pined after. Pascal Siakam’s efficient night was powered by threes, which is good, obviously, but surely the Raptors would have swapped a few of his nine attempts for forays into the realm of the drive-and-kick. Fred VanVleet, iffy at the rim against even so-so shot-blockers, made a habit Tuesday of driving, only to continue on through to the other side of the paint like a tourist cruising through the trunk of a Redwood. Passiveness, along with and a whack of possession re-sets halfway through the clock surely helped jack up the Raptors’ number of tries from above the break. That figure wound up at a super-high 43.
The Raptors are a cerebral and well-coached team. What could surely be seen as a fear of Brook Lopez on Tuesday night could also be construed as a healthy and warranted respect. You could all but hear Lowry, Siakam and VanVleet muttering the Bucks’ Cleaning the Glass rim protection numbers under their breath any time they geared up for a drive. One instance even saw Siakam pull out of a transition opportunity just because Giannis Antetokounmpo was in the way.
Which brings us back to Terence Davis.
There’s something to be said for a little reckless abandon. Davis isn’t dumb. He equally aware of the Bucks’ propensity for swats as any other Raptor on Tuesday night. He was just a little more eager to become a successful outlier than anyone else.
“You got bigs like Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez and they’re great at rim protection, and you gotta try ‘em sometimes I think just to open the lane or open up the floor,” said Davis.
“I just really take what the defense gives me sometimes, man. There was a few opportunities where I was able to get in the paint, and some I finished, some I wasn’t able to. Some I had a good look and you know it just rimmed out.”
Davis carried a confidence into his drives that no Raptor matched on Tuesday. Even through an 0-for-5 first half, the process was right. He’d break through in the second half, fresh off some advice from the sidelined Powell.
“The first didn’t go really well for me. I had bunch of great looks and they didn’t really fall in and they (Powell and Marc Gasol on the bench) could tell I was frustrated,” Davis detailed.
“I was amped up, man. I was playing at a pace that I don’t normally play at, faster than normal. Norm brought me to the side he’s like ‘you know, the environment is different.’ He said ‘you’re good man, just calm down, catch your breath ... next time you get in just let it come to you.’ I really needed to hear that, as a young guy being the position I am, playing against the number one team in the NBA. I needed to hear that.”
An even-keeled version of Davis is still a dynamic one. Dialing back the jumpiness certainly doesn’t tame his bravado either. He remains one of if not the best straight-line driver on the team — and certainly the most fearless — with a nasty array of finishes he can pull out to combat the large men he meets in flight. Consider that this deranged look into the souls of America came after Powell got him to calm down.
Terence Davis saying "he can't guard me" about Middleton to the TNT camera >>>> pic.twitter.com/E9WM6PPaOp— John Gaudes (@johngaudes) February 26, 2020
Occupying the sparky bench role his mentor Powell would normally assume against Milwaukee, Davis busted out the same tricks that make Powell such a damn headache for the Bucks. He’s eager to touch paint even if it’s just to get a swing initiated; he’s creative when bodies litter the path to a clean dunk; give him a shifting defense and his first step is just too much. Like Powell, Davis permeates a certain glee when granted the microsecond he needs to launch up a triple. Defensively he might even have more to give than Powell, who Davis admits was also offering tips on how to hang with Khris Middleton on switches throughout the game, because of course someone on the Raptors bench was thinking about defense.
One other similarity between Powell and Davis emerged Tuesday night as well. By virtue of being somewhere between sixth and eighth on the Raptors trust hierarchy over his four-plus seasons, Powell’s spurts of Bucks destruction often conjure tough lineup decisions. Someone from the inner circle usually needs to get squeezed in order to amply juice Norm’s lust for mounted antlers. Davis created a similar conundrum for Nurse with his work on Tuesday. As the head coach detailed after the game, Nurse flirted with a Davis sub for much of the fourth.
“I did. I had a lot of thought going, even before I put Serge back in, of going OG-Pascal four-five, thought they had a lineup out there we could do it (with). Loved the way Terence played in the second half,” said Nurse when asked about it.
“But yeah, I was — first I was thinking about doing it really early, then I was thinking about doing it again, and I was gonna give Serge a couple cracks ... then I was gonna go small, but then we got into pressing and we got a stop, I think one, and then I was too late ... I was too late.”
Davis, under the guidance of Powell, has the look and feel of another super handy weapon in the Raptors’ campaign to take down a Bucks team that might go and win 70 games. If things get tight when the teams meet again in April — or May — Nurse might be best served to take a beat, toss thinking in the trash, and just call Davis’ number.
I mean, it’s what Davis would do.