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.
August 18, 2019, 11:21 pmBogdan BogdanovicSG, Sacramento Kings
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored a team-high 28 points in Serbia's 85-80 win over Greece on Sunday.
Serbia will be a tough team to beat in the 2019 FIBA World Cup thanks to Bogdanovic, Nikola Jokic and Nemanja Bjelica among others. Bjelica put up 18 points and 14 rebounds as well. They were able to beat Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 20 points. This is one of the teams that could sneak up on Team USA and pull out a win.
August 18, 2019, 10:36 pmJustin AndersonSG, Atlanta Hawks
According to The Athletic, the Wizards and Justin Anderson are trying to work towards a training camp contract.
Anderson averaged a career-low 9.6 minutes per game with the Hawks last season. The former first-round pick is looking to gain another opportunity on a thin Wizards team. He will likely not have much fantasy value if he manages to make the roster.
Source: Fred Katz on Twitter
August 18, 2019, 9:37 pmVictor OladipoSG, Indiana Pacers
Victor Oladipo is still rehabbing from his ruptured quad tendon in January, and is unsure if he will be an active participant at the Pacers' training camp when it opens in September.
Our last update from Pacers POBO Kevin Pritchard had Oladipo aiming for December or January, and that timetable still seems doable. He is taking his leadership role seriously, connecting with the Pacers' new players this summer, and it seems likely that he will make his presence felt this year at some point. Oladipo had an outstanding campaign two years ago, but even before the injury he was a disappointment last season. Fantasy owners should proceed with caution, we may not see Oladipo's top form this year.
Source: Indiana Pacers
August 18, 2019, 8:49 pmBol BolC, Denver Nuggets
Bol Bol stated that he has completely recovered from the left foot fracture that ended his college basketball career, and he is now working out twice a day for his upcoming rookie season with the Nuggets.
The multi-talented center could put up big numbers if given the opportunity with the Nuggets, but the risk for another injury is real. With that in mind, Bol is not expected to receive a lot of minutes this season. If that somehow changes, it would be exciting to see his rare combination of blocks and 3-pointers in action.
Source: Jim Slater of AFP
August 18, 2019, 7:26 pmDwight HowardC, Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are allowing the Lakers to speak with Dwight Howard.
The news came out yesterday that the Lakers would seek permission and the fact that they were granted it suggests that Howard will not be on the Grizzlies for long. The aftermath of DeMarcus Cousins tearing his ACL left them in need of another center if they want to remain true to playing Anthony Davis exclusively at power forward. Joakim Noah is the other option on the Lakers' radar and has been a facilitator and role player in the past.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
August 18, 2019, 7:18 pmMoritz WagnerPF, Washington Wizards
Moritz Wagner has been cut from Germany’s FIBA World Cup team.
The move seems somewhat surprising given Wagner’s youth and notoriety, but Germany still has four NBA players on their roster despite cutting Wagner. The Wizards have plenty of depth in the frontcourt and Wagner is probably lower on the totem poll when it comes to receiving minutes.
Source: Dario Skerletic of Sportando
August 18, 2019, 9:33 amJonah BoldenPF, Philadelphia Sixers
Jonah Bolden has opted to withdraw from Team Australia in the FIBA World Cup.
Bolden becomes the fifth NBA player to skip out on playing for Australia in the World Cup, a trend that seems to be prevalent for several countries' national teams. Bodlen could be looking at an increased role as a backup center for Philly's thin bench this upcoming season. He is not expected to be a relevant fantasy option though.
Source: Fox Sports Australia
August 18, 2019, 9:25 amJeremy LinPG, Toronto Raptors
Jeremy Lin is in advanced discussions with the Bejing Ducks according to a report from Chinese journalist Sonx Xiang.
Lin previosuly turned down a deal to play for CSKA Moscow, and has also discussed his openness to playing in China. The nine year guard still hopes to resmue his NBA career at some point, but a move to China may be the best career option for him at this juncture.
August 18, 2019, 9:18 amDwight HowardC, Memphis Grizzlies
The Lakers will soon ask Memphis permission to speak with Dwight Howard according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Shams goes on to mention that there is mutual interest here and that Joakim Noah could be another veteran of interest for LA. The realistic options for free agents at the five really don't go much further than these two for the Lakers. Stay tuned for more updates on this developing story.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
August 18, 2019, 8:37 amDwight HowardC, Memphis Grizzlies
In the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins injury, one name the Lakers are considering is Dwight Howard, according to Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated.
Howard is still a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, but it is widely assumed that he will be waived before the season starts. A reunion in LA would certainly be pretty surprising for the Lakers after Howard famously did not resign with them after a miserable season playing with Kobe Bryant. Still, the Lakers need depth at the five and there really aren't any options on the market who compare to Howard's level of productivty, even at this stage of his career. Other center options the Lakers could pursue include Joakim Noah, Kenneth Faried and Zaza Pachulia.
Source: Rohan Nadkarni on Twitter