May 21, 2019, 12:37 pm
Game 3 was stuffed to the brim with talking points and narrative arcs, providing us with dozens upon dozens of threads to chase. It was rarely pretty, but it was closely contested and brought a new level of intensity out of both participants. It was a game whose physicality was delivered to placate the people who complain about things being tougher in the 90s.
Sunday’s proceedings are difficult to dissect, because talking about one important play almost necessitates that we discuss the handful that came before it. It was the sort of game where the discussion of any one detail opens up the box to discuss a hundred others, with the outcome constantly hanging in the balance. There was no big comeback charge – it was a tight, mostly even matchup.
But for as much as we can chase every single subplot, Game 3 became about Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard is magnetic, attracting each and every big moment. For the stories that swirled around the rest of Game 3, Leonard’s is the one that defined the night.
It didn’t feature the dramatics of Game 7 and it wasn’t his most dominant performance of the postseason, but the fact that he was clearly hobbled from his first basket onwards might make this Leonard’s most impressive game yet.
On the innocuous play in question, Leonard appears to tweak something upon landing and was seen clutching at his left leg later in the night. That’s the same leg that cost him a handful of games in the regular season (yes, bitter fantasy owners, Leonard did actually have real health problems) and it looked like an event that could suck all the wind from Toronto’s sails.
Although both Kawhi and Nick Nurse downplayed the injury in the postgame, Leonard was most certainly ailing through most of his career-high 52 minutes. A number of jumpers came up short and Leonard appeared less mobile than usual on the defensive end. His lack of burst was apparent on this play in particular:
Leonard ended the night shooting 11-for-25, but he still delivered 36 points thanks to a 12-of-13 mark from the free throw line. In the immediate wake of the injury, Leonard seemed to approach the game from a different perspective, collecting all five of his assists in the first half. He faced extra defenders repeatedly against the Sixers and did a good job working through similar looks against the Bucks in Game 3.
He should expect to see a lot of extra arms going forward. The Raptors managed to win Game 3 after whiffing on all of their closing chances, and outside of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell, there wasn’t anyone that the Bucks needed to be afraid of leaving uncovered. With how tenuous the production has been from Gasol and Powell this postseason, it’d be surprising if Milwaukee treated their Game 3 work as more than a blip. It shouldn’t force any substantial changes to their defensive tactics, especially if it means relieving pressure on Kawhi.
Beyond the need for shooters to shoot, it’ll be imperative that the Raptors move without the ball. At their worst they’ve grown stagnant, with players standing and watching Leonard go to work in one-on-one situations.
Defensively, the Raptors made the call to switch Leonard to the Antetokounmpo matchup that had previously gone to Siakam. How those two interacted was a major point of interest entering the series, and an 0-2 deficit prompted the Raptors to make the first concession.
It’s not dissimilar to what happened against Philadelphia, where Leonard shut Ben Simmons out of the series and then turned his attention to Jimmy Butler, albeit with more urgency given the quality of the opponent and the series score. The Bucks are much better than the Sixers, and Antetokounmpo’s bag of tricks is miles deeper than Simmons’.
It worked to great effect, with Leonard serving as Antetokounmpo’s primary defender on 41 possessions. In that time, Antetokounmpo shot 2-of-12 for four points with one assist and two turnovers, while the Bucks could only muster 35 points as a team despite Leonard’s preoccupation. Given how many shots Antetokounmpo gets close to the bucket, 2-for-12 doesn’t seem all that repeatable, but Leonard was able to gum up the works and the other Bucks couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. The Raptors continue to hold up well on defense whenever Milwaukee isn’t out on the run.
As an aside, Leonard was Middleton’s primary defender for 20 possessions, holding him scoreless on 0-for-3 from the field. Middleton was also scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting in 26 possessions against Siakam and 0-for-1 with no points in 14 possessions against Lowry. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Antetokounmpo’s poor game wasn’t entirely because of Leonard’s defensive coverage – they also employed some double-teams and some unlikely characters were able to coax turnovers – but it’s going to be a major surprise if the Raptors back off that matchup going forward. Even injured, Leonard represents Toronto’s best opportunity at keeping the ball out of Antetokounmpo’s hands.
How the Bucks respond will likely define Game 4. The Celtics looked to have established a blueprint for keeping Antetokounmpo from running wild, only for him to rip it to shreds immediately. His history of ripping schemes apart means that the Raptors cannot rest easy, especially with Leonard at less than 100 percent. Hard doubles won’t have the same surprise factor and the Bucks figure to try and force an ailing Leonard to move around more often. It’ll be a smorgasbord of coverages. The chess match will be fascinating to watch.
All the groundwork laid on that end of the floor kept Milwaukee from grabbing hold of a winnable game, even as a pair of key Raptors were forced to the sidelines. Unlike Game 1, the Raptors were able to hold the Bucks off until the final buzzer.
That they’ve led for 88 of a possible 154 minutes this series (including a wire-to-wire win for the Bucks in Game 2 – so 88 of 106 in ‘winnable’ situations if you want to get cheeky) is a cold comfort with the team still trailing in terms of games won. But it is an assurance that they may be closer than the outside world gives them credit for; that locking in can allow the Raptors to beat the league’s best team, glossing over what may or may not be sustainable in each individual game.
Keeping the game close at least allows great players to put together true takeover moments. In the second overtime, Leonard put another signature play in the books.
While Brogdon was the one who beat Leonard to a loose ball and raced away in the second quarter on a play that stirred up the worst fears for Leonard’s health, the roles were reversed at the game’s highest-leverage point.
Kawhi continues to own the most important moments for the Raptors. The team’s ceiling has always been pushed upward by one man and one man alone, despite the quality play that most of the other Raptors delivered in Game 3.
Whether he can keep that up through his leg issue remains to be seen, but to this point the Raptors have no reason not to believe that Leonard can play through it. They also have no other choice but to believe as much.
1 – It’s a shame that Leonard took this one over, because Marc Gasol came to play. He took a ton of heat after a mediocre Game 1 and a terrible Game 2, but Gasol brought the heat on Sunday. Gasol was eager to shoot in the first quarter, going 3-for-5 from the field with two 3-pointers. It’s amazing how simple “just shoot” is as a prescription, but it forced the Bucks to abandon the paint a little more quickly and everything flowed from there. Gasol also picked up three assists in the first quarter as defenders started biting on his pump fakes, enabling Gasol to use his abilities as a playmaker on the move. The drive-and-kick game wasn’t always pretty but it got the job done. Defensively, he managed to play almost the entire fourth quarter and both overtimes, even staying on the court despite playing with five fouls. Gasol finished the game with 16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and a pair of 3-pointers. Every time that he’s faltered in the postseason has been followed up with a great response. Love this play with him physically calling for the cut and delivering:
2 – It’s a shame that Gasol’s arc is the second story behind Leonard, because Pascal Siakam followed up a poor start to the series with a wonderful game. We took a closer look at Siakam following Game 2 and he was able to hit most of the talking points we discussed. He finally buried a couple of corner threes, managed to stay active on the glass with 11 rebounds and came out of nowhere for a pivotal block on Brook Lopez. A Siakam drive also led to Giannis Antetokounmpo fouling out, and he looked far more eager to attack the basket rather than settle for jumpers. It wasn’t perfect, with Siakam’s 0-for-2 at the free throw line in the final seconds leading to 10 extra minutes of basketball, but ultimately there was enough to grade him as a positive. He was extremely close to the goat horns, though.
3 – It’s a shame that Siakam is the subplot behind Gasol, because Norman Powell provided a massive lift off the bench. He seems to be a fit in this series, even if he’s a bit undersized for the matchups he’s sometimes taking. The fact that he’s always willing to shoot has set him apart from most of the Raptors’ other guards, and in Game 3 Powell rewarded Nick Nurse’s faith after he was made the first sub of the evening. It was a rocky season for Powell, but this is now the third year where he’s stepped up to change the landscape in the postseason.
4 – While the Raptors are overjoyed to get 19 points out of one bench player, the Bucks had two of their reserves go for 20-plus in Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill. Both have outplayed Eric Bledsoe substantially, and Hill’s length and shooting are a great fit with Milwaukee’s other starters. He’s not quite the same driving threat that Bledsoe is but it’s no surprise that he’s done the bulk of the point guard work through three games so far. Toronto has to win the minutes where Giannis is off the floor, but the Bucks’ depth makes that a challenge. Bench scoring was 54-27 in Game 3.
5 – The Bucks continued to own the offensive glass and transition game. Their unavoidable size advantage led to a 13-8 edge in offensive rebounds, though the second-chance points were far more even at 18-16, Bucks. Some of that had to do with poor shooting, but it’s still a major edge that Milwaukee can continue to mine throughout the series. How the Raptors cope with Antetokounmpo as an offensive rebounding threat will be fascinating to watch, especially if he’s forced out of shots and towards the perimeter in the half-court game. It’ll be like what Toronto did to Ben Simmons, only with the volume cranked way up. Antetokounmpo is a threat at all times. Despite winning the turnover battle 20-17, the Raptors lost the fast-break scoring category by a 29-18 margin. The Bucks’ transition threes remain killer, and their 3-point shooting kept things close in the first half even though it cooled right down in the second.
6 – The Raptors dodged a serious bullet in Game 3, somehow lasting 16 minutes with Kyle Lowry unavailable after fouling out. He’s got to know better on the fifth foul, though it’s not a bad foul in a vacuum considering Milwaukee’s dominance in transition. Ideally the Raptors don’t turn themselves inside out so quickly in such situations and no cheap fouls need to be given.
7 – Both Fred VanVleet and Danny Green were primed for some Hollywood redemption stories in this game, and both ultimately failed to deliver despite a brief tease. VanVleet was thrust into a major role with Lowry fouling out early but continued his nightmare postseason on the offensive end. Despite his size he’s been able to hold up okay as a defender, but he just can’t buy a bucket right now. VanVleet did hit a huge 3-pointer late in the fourth but went just 1-of-11 overall. Green hit his only shot of the night in the extra session but his leash has grown increasingly short as his slump has worn on. There’s too much at stake to let him chuck his way through it, but it is worth noting that the Raptors didn’t shy away from calling Green’s number in overtime.
8 – Eric Bledsoe dropped his third straight dud, going 3-of-16 for 11 points with four rebounds, five assists, three steals and five turnovers. The Raptors have no interest in defending him beyond the arc and so far Bledsoe hasn’t made them pay for it. The fact that Hill and Brogdon have been so productive covers up for a lot of Bledsoe’s deficiencies but it’s been a terrible run.
9 – Khris Middleton is next in line to get double-teams, and we saw that pop up a few times in Game 3. It’s tough to do when Giannis is also on the floor, but switching Leonard over to that matchup means the Raptors are going to take their chances with guys like Siakam, Powell, Green and Lowry covering Middleton. There will be open shooters for the Bucks to find, and it’ll be a matter of how long it takes Middleton to adjust to hard doubles.
10 – Nick Nurse played it coy with his lineup, insinuating a change before rolling out the same starters. We mentioned this briefly in our look at Game 2, but a new starting lineup (with Ibaka presumably in place of Gasol) didn’t seem like it would help much. Toronto’s current starters have a pretty sizable sample of being excellent, and flipping the two centers runs the risk of elevating Ibaka while leaving Gasol out in the cold. Changing the rotation and substitution patterns, which is what Nurse ended up doing, seemed like the more prudent call, and doubly so in hindsight. We’ll see if the Bucks have any counters after their comeback efforts fell just short. While we’re here, Malcolm Brogdon has a team-best plus-21.0 net rating through three games while Niokla Mirotic is at minus-4.7.
Bonus Observation – This was a pretty poor game for the refs, at least in terms of bad calls that immediately come to mind. They missed an obvious double-dribble on Kawhi Leonard’s massive dunk. The block call that took Antetokounmpo out of the game could’ve gone either way and seemed pretty ticky-tack after some of the things they had previously ignored in the paint. Norman Powell’s final foul featured a fairly obvious push in the back from Brook Lopez, and Kyle Lowry’s fourth foul was called correctly but came right after the officials missed a clear charge on Brogdon. Not to mention the sequence of three straight offensive fouls earlier in the night. We saw 60 total fouls in 58 minutes tonight, which only served to enhance the viewing experience on a night where both teams were laying bricks.
February 25, 2020, 1:31 amLou WilliamsSG, Los Angeles Clippers
Lou Williams cooled off in Monday's win over the Grizzlies, quietly chipping in eight points on 3-of-7 shooting with four rebounds, two 3s and six assists in 22 minutes.
Williams' subpar numbers are no cause for concern as the blowout nature of the game played a role in it. Expect him to bounce back with another big game soon.
February 25, 2020, 1:28 amMontrezl HarrellPF, Los Angeles Clippers
Montrezl Harrell was fantastic off the bench for the Clippers in their 124-97 win over the Grizzlies on Monday, posting 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 shooting from the line.
Trez also chipped in three rebounds and two blocks. His improved free throw shooting (.750) over the last week has allowed him to crack top-30 value. As long as it holds, Harrell should be able to coast to a strong finish to 2019-20.
February 25, 2020, 1:24 amPatrick BeverleyPG, Los Angeles Clippers
Patrick Beverley (sore right groin) resumed his starting role in his return to action on Monday with six points (2-of-3 from deep), three rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Beverley saw 19 minutes in his return, less than any other guard on the Clippers roster tonight. Beverley's a lockdown defender and that's his path to minutes and usage going forward. He should post better lines as he gets his legs back.
February 25, 2020, 1:17 amPaul GeorgeSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George (left hamstring strain) returned to action on Monday but was limited to seven point on 3-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, four assists, one trey and one block in 21 minutes.
The Clippers won this game with ease, so there was no need to put a heavy burden on him. The 3-of-11 shooting was a downer, but PG13 should be able to ramp up his production as he works his way back to being 100 percent.
February 25, 2020, 1:13 amJosh JacksonSF, Memphis Grizzlies
Josh Jackson started the second half of Monday's game for an injured Brandon Clarke and put up a mixed bag, going 4-for-12 from the field for 14 points, two 3s, five rebounds, one assist and two blocks in 26 minutes.
Jackson, who is coming off a season-high 20 points on Friday, could be in line for a starting role if Clarke misses time. He's struggled with shooting efficiency during his time with the Suns, so there's a bit of a caveat to our reco to grab him in 14-teamers or deeper.
February 25, 2020, 1:06 amGorgui DiengC, Memphis Grizzlies
Gorgui Dieng was great on Monday, chipping in 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting with 10 rebounds, two 3s, one steal and four blocks in a loss to the Clippers.
Dieng got some extra burn with Jaren Jackson J.r sidelined for two weeks. But with Brandon Clarke also going down in this one, there was little choice but for Dieng to be unleashed for 28 minutes. He's worth grabbing in every league and every format.
February 25, 2020, 1:02 amJonas ValanciunasC, Memphis Grizzlies
Jonas Valanciunas was terrible in Monday's loss to the Clippers, uncharacteristically going 2-for-10 from the field to end the night with five points, seven rebounds and two assists.
This was Valanciunas' worst outings season-to-date. There was an expectation he'd step up in the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr., but he wound up delivering the opposite of an encouraging outcome. As a top-50 play for most of the season, Valanciunas has earned a bit of leash and patience, for sure.
February 25, 2020, 12:49 amBojan BogdanovicSF, Utah Jazz
Bojan Bogdanovic did not hit a trey in his 4-of-10 makes from the field on Monday, but cooked at the line with a perfect 8-for-8 clip for 16 points, two assists, three rebounds and two steals.
The last time Bogie failed to hit a three was way back on February 3rd. His solid free-throw shooting and two steals helped soften the blow. No need to worry as those triples will come splashing down once again in no time.
February 25, 2020, 12:48 amJames HardenPG, Houston Rockets
James Harden led the Rockets to a 123-112 win over the Knicks on Monday with a game-high 37 points on 14-of-25 shooting with six rebounds, nine assists, two steals and four 3-pointers in 34 minutes.
Harden did only make 5-of-9 free throws, which is completely out of character. And while his six turnovers also hurt, none of this is stopping Harden from being the top fantasy player for the season. Not even a month-long slump. It may not be pretty, but The Beard knows how to dominate.
February 25, 2020, 12:44 amMike ConleyPG, Utah Jazz
Mike Conley had a forgettable outing on Monday, recording ust eight points (4-of-6 shooting) and one assist in 22 minutes.
Yuck. Just when you thought Conley was back and ready to roll after a 13-point game on Saturday, he disappoints big time with this dud. The opportunities for production are still there, so he's worth trusting over your average, garden-variety FA pickup.