May 17, 2019, 2:38 am
Perhaps saying that the Raptors missed an opportunity in Game 1 is overly diplomatic.
It’s too passive, implying that the Raptors failed to take hold of something that was there for the taking. They controlled the game for 36 of its 48 minutes, exerting their will on the league’s top team with a calm command of the court. They did indeed take hold of the game – they also tossed it aside entirely in the fourth quarter.
A harsher, incisive way of saying it might be that they blew it.
The Bucks bring an entirely different set of challenges than the Sixers did, and the Raptors performed well in the early feeling-out process on Wednesday night.
Toronto got off to a fantastic start, weathering a quick early burst from Giannis Antetokounmpo and running out to a double-digit lead. It was the exact opposite of their battles with Philadelphia. Shots were falling, bench players were making an impact, players were decisive and eager to get the ball in advantageous spots.
Freed from a single nightmare matchup that could not be switched at any cost, the Raptors looked empowered to open things up and get back to the ball movement that they worked so hard to instill in the regular season. Being able to up the tempo and attack any opening served the team well, and it’s worth watching to see how that freedom carries throughout the series.
Increasing the pace appeared to get more of the Raptors involved in the play, and knowing that the game would be settled at something faster than a brutal slog looked to imbue the team with more verve for passing and shooting.
Against the Sixers, the Raptors seemed focused on generating the best possible theoretical shot as each possession took on increased weight. Against the Bucks, shooters know that quick shots are an acceptable outcome so long as there is daylight. The idea is still to find the best shot possible, but the goalposts on which shots are baseline acceptable may have shifted.
It was working early on, with the Raptors hitting 10 3-pointers in the first half – a mark they only surpassed once in seven full games in the second round. Every Raptor besides Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka connected from deep in the first half and the team ended up hitting about 40 percent of their wide-open shots on the evening, much more in line with their regular-season work than we saw against Philadelphia. Though things dried up considerably in the second half (5-for-20, to be exact), the Raptors should be pleased with their effort overall.
One particularly troubling sign is that the Bucks generated more open triples than the Raptors did and clicked at just 8-of-34. Though Toronto can influence that by helping off of certain shooters (hello, Eric Bledsoe), it’s still something that they should expect to increase in future games. If the Raptors are to steal a game in Milwaukee, odds are that it will feature a poor shooting night from the Bucks.
Consider their first opportunity wasted.
After their own struggles the Raptors should know that immediate correction isn’t necessarily in the cards there, but it is something they’ll want to try get under control. Once the shot is in the air there’s no way to influence whether it will connect or not, but there are elements of the process that players on the court can hope to impact. The Bucks also deserve credit for flat-out refusing to engage in the mid-range game that the Raptors concede by choice. Such is the battle when facing an elite offensive opponent.
Milwaukee, despite a poor night from the floor, was able to win the game in transition and on the glass.
The transition battle figures to be a major factor in this series, between Antetokunmpo’s prowess in the open floor and the overall bodies of work – the Raptors graded out as one of the league’s best transition offenses, with the Bucks ranking as one of the truly elite transition defenses. The Bucks won the fast-break battle by a 25-15 margin despite losing the turnover battle (12-13), while also taking the points-off-turnovers battle, 20-13.
On the rebounding front, Milwaukee grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to the Raptors’ eight, which yielded a 24-13 advantage in second-chance points. While Brook Lopez and Antetokounmpo figure to be problematic on that front, the Raptors also conceded offensive boards to Nikola Mirotic, Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, Pat Connaughton and Malcolm Brogdon.
Coming off a series where rebounding played a critical role, Toronto will need to refocus their efforts, especially knowing that some of the additional threes the Bucks earned are likely to drop next time.
Despite all that, the Raptors were able to respond well to every Bucks run up through the first three quarters. Whenever Milwaukee would bring the game within one or two possessions, the Raptors would make enough plays to push their lead back out to more comfortable territory.
About that fourth quarter, though.
The Raptors completely fell apart defensively to open the frame, conceding a 12-5 run in the first four minutes that featured eight points for Brook Lopez and five offensive rebounds for the Bucks.
The game would’ve gotten out of hand if not for Kyle Lowry, who was magnificent in posting 30 points, eight rebounds and seven 3-pointers. Lowry was the only Raptor to make a shot from the field in the final frame, going 5-of-7 while his teammates clanked their way to an 0-of-15 showing. For as good as he was in Game 7 against Philadelphia, Lowry cranked up the volume against Milwaukee.
He was knocking down deep threes without hesitation, running all over the floor, diving for loose balls, drawing charges – classic Lowry plays. That’s an element that should only serve to increase the regret in Toronto’s locker room. Beyond losing a winnable road game they also managed to waste an incredible performance from their point guard, who traffics more in “very good” than “incredible” these days.
While Lowry’s playoff reputation is founded in a small minority of his games, there’s no denying that Wednesday was Lowry of a different vintage. He simply will not be the same 30-point threat he was even a couple of years ago, nor has the team asked him to be. To have a true throwback night go for naught may loom large as this series goes on, especially if the team continues its troubling trend of only having two players pose major offensive threats on any given night.
That’s where the Raptors find a deep-rooted problem. The rebounding and turnovers can be fixed with better effort and more attentiveness. Where the team has continued to struggle, however, is in staying in attack mode.
Against the Sixers, games devolved into everyone watching Kawhi Leonard go to work, with brief cameos from Lowry and Pascal Siakam for a possession here or there. In Game 1 against the Bucks there was a lot of standing around and watching Lowry go to work. For as good as he was playing, one-on-one with Antetokounmpo is an unacceptable situation. There’s not a ton of movement from Lowry’s teammates here:
For whatever reason, the Raptors seem to be shaken by missing shots, which should not be the case for a top-heavy team with veterans who are comfortable in their roles. Leonard and Lowry combined for 61 points on 20-of-41 from the field, but the rest of their teammates simply have to convert at better than 14-for-51.
Danny Green seems to be the poster child for such issues through Toronto’s playoff run, as he’s been largely quiet and has started passing up good shots. Worse, he completely froze when pushed into a must-convert opportunity at a critical juncture in Game 1.
The Raptors will now walk the tightrope of pace. They need to prevent the Bucks from getting out in transition, even though they seemed to reap some early benefits from playing quicker themselves. Dragging things down into the mud will eliminate their own transition abilities, even if they can continue to stifle the Bucks to 0.69 points per possession in the half-court.
In a perfect world they’ll push the pace on offense and grind Milwaukee into a slow offensive game, but perfect worlds do not exist. Even quasi-perfect worlds don’t exist against the best team in the league.
There’s a happy medium of slowing things just enough to run plays that can help guys like Siakam (6-of-20 shooting) and Green (1-of-5 overall, only one shot attempt while being covered by Nikola Mirotic for 29 possessions) get good looks while keeping Milwaukee’s length from forcing turnovers against an overly-methodical attack.
The Raptors need to find it, and fast. They’ve already frittered away a glorious opportunity. Surviving a second collapse might not be possible.
1 – The Bucks will probably get Malcolm Brogdon back in the starting lineup at some point, even if it’s not in Game 2. He was largely excellent throughout and helps Milwaukee get the defense rotating with his ability to drive and kick. That should result in big advantages with the presumed other starters (sorry, Nikola Mirotic) between their shooting and what can happen if additional driving lanes open up while the defenders rotate. There might be a bigger net benefit there than keeping Brogdon with a few other capable ball-handlers in the second unit, despite his strong play as a reserve. Expect a change if the Raptors make a concerted effort to get Danny Green going, which has been the talk over the last day.
2 – That said, the Brogdon-Kawhi minutes aren’t going to cut it, even if it graded out alright in the regular season. Even as Leonard faded in Game 1, there’s still more ways to capitalize on mismatches like that. It looks like a matchup that both coaches will be fine with until things go haywire, and coach Budenholzer has zero incentive to change things up after a victory. Winning tends to put preventative measures on the back burner.
3 – Nick Nurse is going to have to find a way to steal Leonard some rest. The Raptors were able to take his bench stint in the first half but couldn’t hang with it in the fourth (Norman Powell’s missed layup into Brook Lopez’s three stands out), and Leonard ended up with 42 minutes in total. It’s fine to empty the tank in something like, say, a Game 7, but that’s just too much to expect anyone – even someone of Kawhi’s raw ability – to handle consistently.
4 – Eric Bledsoe’s play seems to be a sneaky bellwether for the Bucks, and he was largely silent outside of a quick burst in the third quarter. While the Bucks have a capable backup in George Hill (who picked up four steals in 27 minutes), it certainly would make life easier if Bledsoe evens out in his production. Nine points and five rebounds on 3-of-12 shooting belies the impact he can make on even mediocre nights, and for as much room for improvement as the Bucks have after Game 1 it would still be untenable for Bledsoe to struggle like that going forward.
5 – Brook Lopez must be licking his chops in this matchup, with Marc Gasol a little bit too slow to close-out regularly and Serge Ibaka prone to losing the plot. The stylistic shift from encouraging Joel Embiid’s jumpers to getting out on Lopez at all costs might take some time to catch up to. It speaks to the true diversity of talent in the game today, even if Lopez brought all sorts of moves beyond the three ball to his Game 1 effort.
6 – Gasol didn’t have too many issues with over-passing tonight – the problem was with execution. 2-for-11 from the field isn’t going to cut it, and it’s the 0-for-4 inside the arc that sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s imperative that Gasol finds his place in this series. There was a clear-cut role for him against the Sixers but the Bucks present an almost 180-degree shift in what he’s required to do. Milwaukee will be trying to get him in space as much as possible, and Gasol will need to outscore his problems or the Raptors will have to reconsider their defensive coverage and lineups. Keep in mind that Gasol was rather active as a double-teamer in Game 1.
7 – This has the looks of an Ibaka series, but he was dreadful in the second half and was deservedly stapled to the bench down the stretch. His roller coaster postseason continues, and Toronto’s inability to use more than six players regularly in the second round might catch up to them here, especially with Milwaukee coming off plenty of rest and having a fairly deep bench.
8 – The struggles of the bench will continue to limit Nurse’s options, and his next “reliable” option in Patrick McCaw was unable to play for personal reasons. It’s going to take a lot for Nurse to call on Jodie Meeks or Jeremy Lin, but there has to be some kind of workable solution. We’ll see if the Raptors change their substitution patterns going forward.
9 – Lowry and Ersan Ilyasova both drew charges tonight. That’ll be a fun count to keep track of over the course of this series.
10 – The Toronto response in Game 2 is going to be fascinating one way or the other. This is a tough loss for them to swallow, obviously, but there were some positive takeaways even with the admission that the Bucks will likely shoot better from deep going forward. The fourth quarter will provide a ton of footage to pick through.
February 20, 2020, 11:46 amMeyers LeonardC, Miami Heat
Meyers Leonard (left ankle sprain) has no timetable for a return to the court.
Leonard has been out since February 3, and his injury was initially described as a multi-week issue. He's had short stints of fantasy value this season, largely because of Miami's other injuries, but is safe to cut in most formats if you had been holding on. Expect Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and Solomon Hill to help soak up the extra minutes available.
Source: Miami Heat on Twitter
February 20, 2020, 11:42 amTyler HerroPG, Miami Heat
The Heat announced that Tyler Herro (right ankle soreness) has no timetable for a return.
Herro has been out since getting hurt on February 3, and although he said that he was pain-free entering the All-Star break, the Heat will not rush him back. The rookie has been on and off the standard-league radar all year long but is safe to drop in 12- and 14-team redraft leagues with this news. The Heat have a deep rotation and can spread his minutes around multiple players, though Goran Dragic is the likeliest winner from a fantasy perspective.
Source: Miami Heat on Twitter
February 20, 2020, 11:38 amKemba WalkerPG, Boston Celtics
Kemba Walker was limited in Wednesday's practice and Brad Stevens said that the Celtics will continue to manage his workload.
Walker played in the All-Star game and isn't expected to miss time. Just don't fret if you hear about limited or no-practice days for Walker going forward, as Boston is clearly going to prioritize keeping their star PG fresh for what they hope is a deep playoff run.
Source: Jay King on Twitter
February 20, 2020, 11:25 amCoby WhitePG, Chicago Bulls
Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson is speculating that Coby White will get more starts down the stretch this season.
White has been used as a reserve in each of his 55 games so far this year, though the Bulls have largely done so to shelter a young player whose game is still fairly one-dimensional. He does look like the team's future at point guard and should get a longer look as a starter while Chicago plays out the string of another lottery-bound season. To this point he's been outside the top-250 and probably won't be a factor in standard leagues, even if he starts, because of his poor efficiency (.370 from the field on 10.9 shots per game). The best case scenario would likely be White playing enough to hold appeal as a points and threes contributor for fantasy teams that are punting FG%. The player most likely to be affected is Tomas Satoransky, though his well-rounded game would likely keep him inside the top-125 even if he lost a couple minutes per game.
Source: NBC Sports Chicago
February 20, 2020, 11:18 amKris DunnPG, Chicago Bulls
In a recent mailbag, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports said he believes the Bulls have a "good chance" of bringing back impending RFA Kris Dunn.
Dunn had emerged as a starter on the wing this season thanks to Otto Porter's injury, and was actually turning in a top-100 season for fantasy GMs thanks to 2.0 steals per contest. He may miss the rest of the season thanks to a right MCL sprain, which could cost him some serious dollars in free agency, though the Bulls are on the inside track when it comes to retaining his services. There aren't many teams with cap space this summer and Dunn, a non-shooter whose value comes from excellent defense, may not be well-rounded enough to attract attention from the teams with spending money this summer. Whatever happens, it's been a strong year from Dunn, who looked to be on the outs in Chicago.
Source: NBC Sports Chicago
February 20, 2020, 11:08 amOtto Porter Jr.SF, Chicago Bulls
K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago fully expects Otto Porter to exercise his player option and return to the Bulls next season.
No surprises here, as Porter has been hurt pretty much all year and would be a fool to pass up the $28.4 million he's set to earn next year. Even a healthy Porter might not get that much on the open market with teams trying to save space for the summer of 2021. Porter was great in his first half-season with Chicago but has been limited to nine lackluster games this year. Formerly a top-50 lock, he's lost a lot of luster this campaign. He recently returned to practice and should be back in action soon, though expectations need to be tempered. Porter's a fine flier in most formats but he isn't a must-stash player unless you have IR spots free.
Source: NBC Sports Chicago
February 20, 2020, 10:54 amGiannis AntetokounmpoPF, Milwaukee Bucks
Every executive that spoke to ESPN's Tim Bontemps believes Giannis Antetokounmpo will re-sign with the Bucks.
Antetokounmpo's free agency has been shaping every team's decisions over the past few months, if not longer, as teams are trying to open up max space in the summer of 2021 to go after the reigning MVP. Milwaukee has built an excellent team around him and an early playoff exit might be the only thing that will sour Giannis on the organization. If he does re-sign without entering the open market, expect a wave of player movement as team make use of their flexibility with the league's top target off the board. This is all still a long ways off, but the prevailing sentiment seems to be that Giannis isn't going anywhere.
February 20, 2020, 10:43 amKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
Speaking to Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report, Kevin Durant (torn Achilles) confirmed that he will not play this season.
"NO! No. The best thing for me is to continue the rehab, get as strong as I can and focus on next season," said Durant. There has been some speculation that KD would get back on the floor this year after he was spotted getting shots up, but him sitting out the entire season is the most sensible call for everyone involved. Durant shouldn't be on any redraft rosters to begin with, and dynasty and keeper GMs now have confirmation on what's been expected all along. It will be interesting to see how Durant looks upon returning from such a serious injury, and he'll be one of the riskier names at play in next season's drafts considering his likely ADP.
Source: Nets Daily
February 20, 2020, 10:37 amAlex LenC, Sacramento Kings
Alex Len (right hip flexor) is questionable on the injury report but Luke Walton said that the big man will not play on Thursday.
Despite the official designation, the Kings will keep Len on the sidelines in their first game out of the All-Star break. After frittering away a chance to start in Atlanta, Len should be off most fantasy radars. He'll have a chance to earn good minutes with Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley out injured but it's hard to envision Len becoming more than a deep-league asset at his peak.
Source: Jason Anderson on Twitter
February 20, 2020, 10:33 amJake LaymanSF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Jake Layman (left toe sprain) has been cleared to return to practice and will be re-evaluated in one week.
Layman visited multiple foot specialists in his recovery from a toe sprain that's kept him sidelined since November 18. Prior to the injury he was on solid ground in Minnesota's rotation, averaging 10.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers in 26.3 mpg — all good for career-highs aside from the rebounds. Obviously the sample is small with just 14 appearances on the year, but perhaps Layman can get back to his old role if he gets fully healthy, especially with the Wolves remaking their bench at the trade deadline. He's a name to keep an eye on in deeper formats.
Source: Minnesota Timberwolves