Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks
When and Where: Thursday, May 23, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisc., 8:30 p.m. EDT.
Home court and bench play have carried almost all of the Eastern Conference series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors thus far.
The Bucks look to reclaim the upper hand in both areas Thursday night in a crucial Game 5 that will have the winner one game from a date in the NBA Finals opposite the Golden State Warriors.
Bench mob and Lowry deliver for Raptors
The Raptors clearly needed their bench to deliver after Sunday’s double-overtime Game 3 victory, and they did just that in Tuesday night’s 120-102 romp that evened the series at two games apiece.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 22, 2019
After receiving a total of 80 points from its reserves in the first three games, the Raptors needed only three bench players to account for all 48 Tuesday night. Norman Powell may have gone 6 for 18 from the field, but he did hit four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points.
Fred VanVleet was more accurate, hitting all three of his shots from long range and adding 13 points. But the surprise contributor was Serge Ibaka, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds in just 24 minutes, with the Raptors a plus-24 when he was on the court. Ibaka was also one of the defenders who helped Kawhi Leonard deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“I think it’s great that they can feel confident enough to step into those shots and take them, and then obviously when the results, they go in, I just think that feeds our energy at the defensive end,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Wednesday at media availability. “It keeps them playing, and it just, I don’t know, it seems we’re at our best when we’re getting contributions or little bits here and there from a lot of different people.”
Ibaka had totaled 17 points and 20 rebounds in the first three games of the series before recording his first double-double this postseason.
“We’re here for a reason. It’s not by mistake we’re here, and we show during the season what the bench can do,” Ibaka said Tuesday night after the win. “And then when we have a couple games where we can’t really play our best basketball or we can’t really help our team, we take that personal, everybody.
“We come the next day, we watch film. We stay on the court. We take extra shots, just to try to come back and be better, like we did tonight.”
The lopsided win afforded Nurse the chance to rest Leonard extra minutes throughout the contest, with the All-Star logging 34 — his fewest since a playoff-low 32 in the series-clinching win over Orlando in the first round. Despite looking hobbled at times, Leonard finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and four steals.
It also appeared he was serving as a perimeter decoy on the dribble, which prevented the Bucks from playing tighter defense on Toronto’s perimeter shooters as the Raptors hit 14 3-pointers.
“I mean, yeah, we were concerned,” Nurse said about having Leonard play heavy minutes being less than 100 percent. “I think he’s fine. I think he’s fine. I think he’s — you know, he logged a lot of minutes. He’s certainly tired, like a lot of guys in this series are.
“But, again, he’s got tremendous will. He’s got tremendous desire, and there’s one time I was trying to give him an extended rest there, and he didn’t really want it. So he must be okay.”
In addition to the bench delivering offensively, Kyle Lowry‘s early outburst was a welcome sight for the Raptors. The All-Star guard set the tone for Toronto’s offense with 12 points in the first 4:51 and finished with 25, nearly matching his output from Games 2 and 3 combined.
Game 5: Thursday (5/23), 8:30pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/ydP6k2z5mG3
— NBA (@NBA) pic.twitter.com/ydP6k2z5mG4
“I do think Kyle feels like he sees opportunities for himself in these series, and I think Kyle is usually an early, early scorer,” Nurse noted. “He knows leads are precious and he’s trying to jump start that. He was humongous last night. We didn’t get off to a great start, and I think he automatically changed that by himself.”
While getting the offense going is important for the Raptors, the challenge for them playing in Milwaukee has been defense. The Bucks have averaged 118.3 points in the four games at Fiserv Forum, including the playoffs, while hitting 57 3-pointers en route to three victories.
Bucks go back to drawing board at home
The losses in Games 3 and 4 marked just the second time all season the Bucks have lost back-to-back games, and they have not lost three in a row in 2018-19.
There were issues across the board for Milwaukee on Tuesday night, most notably its lack of offense from the bench as the reserves contributed just 23 points on 8-of-26 shooting, including 2 of 12 from 3-point range.
Malcolm Brogdon, who averaged 16.3 points in Games 1 through 3, missed his first eight shots and finished with four points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“They need to play well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said bluntly Wednesday about his reserves. “I think our whole team, whether it be the bench or the starters, needs to be better defensively. I think there’s things offensively where the bench can, you know, just like the rest of us, we have to execute a little bit better. We have to space better. We have to move the ball better, drive it better. Those guys are all part of that.
“You know, this series, the benches have been critical and very influential and credit to Toronto’s bench, particularly last night. They really stepped up and had a huge game, and we need that from our group.”
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 22, 2019
Antetokounmpo finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but Budenholzer may have to make some tweaks to his half-court sets since the Raptors are playing a de facto 1-2-2 zone defense when the “Greek Freak” has the ball on the dribble at the top of the key. That is giving everyone the chance to collapse on help defense and prevent Antetokounmpo from using his length and Eurostep to get to the rim.
“I don’t know, man,” Antetokounmpo told The Athletic when asked if he is being aggressive enough offensively. “That’s a question I’m going to be able to answer tomorrow when I watch the film and see if I need to be more aggressive or gotta keep making the right pass.
“But it’s been working so far. We’re in the Eastern Conference Finals by making the right pass, making the right play. So, I don’t see a reason I should change it now, the team should change now. I don’t see a reason.”
That offense, though, may take a back seat to the Bucks rediscovering their defensive identity. Both Antetokounmpo and point guard Eric Bledsoe were both named to the league’s first-team all-defensive squad, and after such a chastening loss, Budenholzer is expecting the entire team to bounce back after saying “we were not good” and “weren’t in it as we needed to be” in Game 4.
Budenholzer hinted there may be a change somewhere in the starting lineup, with forward Nikola Mirotic perhaps the leading candidate to be swapped out for Ersan Ilyasova in a straight up switch of forwards or potentially Khris Middleton slotting at the “3” with Brogdon and Bledsoe reunited as the starting guards.
Like Lowry for the Raptors, Middleton will enter this game on a roll for the Bucks after scoring a team-high 30 Tuesday night to go with seven assists and six rebounds.
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) #FearTheDeer4
The series will return to Toronto for Game 6 on Saturday night.
The Raptors are:
- 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games vs. Central Division opponents.
- 0-6-1 ATS in their last seven playoff games as underdogs between 5-10.5 points.
- 4-10-1 ATS in their last 15 playoff games as underdogs.
The Bucks are:
- 21-5 ATS in their last 26 games following a straight up loss.
- 6-0 ATS in their last six games following a loss by 10 or more points.
- 4-0 ATS in their last four playoff games as favorites between 5-10.5 points.