Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors
When and Where: Saturday, May 25, Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ont., 8:30 p.m. EDT.
Having wrested control of the Eastern Conference finals by dealing the Milwaukee Bucks their first three-game losing streak of the season, Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors get their one chance at home to close out the series in Game 6 on Saturday night to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Bucks bench goes missing for second straight game
One reason the Bucks won 60 games in the regular season and 10 of their first 11 in the postseason was a productive bench that averaged 31.8 points in the regular season and upped that mark to 36.1 per game in the playoffs.
In the last three games, however, it has been the Raptors who have re-discovered their “bench mob” from last season — a key component in how they won a club-record 59 games and finished one shy of that mark in 2018-19.
In the last two games, Milwaukee’s reserves have been outscored 83-38, shooting just 35 percent (14 for 40) overall and 5 for 21 from 3-point range. George Hill has been the only consistent source of offense — he had 12 of the 15 bench points in Game 5 — and Nikola Mirotic has struggled to find his perimeter stroke all series, going 0 for 3 from beyond the arc Thursday night and 0 for 4 overall.
Nikola Mirotic now 6-31 (19.4%) from 3 in the series. Bucks are -37 with him on the court, +46 with him on the bench.
— Justin Phan (@jphanned) May 24, 2019
“They’ve done a good job guarding the three for this series,” said Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon, who made his first postseason start and totaled 18 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. “We’re arguably the best three-point shooting team in the league and they’ve done a good even limiting our attempts. We’ve got to figure out ways to get the ball moving and to have open shots.”
The Raptors again flustered MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, holding the All-Star to a quiet 24 points as he went 9 for 18 from the field and missed 5 of 9 free throws. While there were some wrinkles in Milwaukee’s offense — Antetokounmpo did see the ball wider than at the top of the key and he did hit a pair of 3-pointers — the “Greek Freak” was again flustered by a Raptors defense keyed by Kawhi Leonard and constant double teams.
He also got little help on the perimeter from his teammates as Milwaukee shot 10 of 31 from beyond the arc — a performance that actually raised its shooting percentage from deep in this series to 30.3 percent. There were multiple dry spells for the Bucks coupled with spurts of 3-pointers by the Raptors in Game 5, which cannot happen if Mike Budenholzer’s team is to bring this series back to Milwaukee for a decisive Game 7.
“We certainly feel like we have what it takes to win the next two games,” Budenholzer said. “Last night was kind of a one- or two-possession game. At times, we were really good and had double-digit leads. Both teams, I guess we’ve blown each other out once each, and the other games have been pretty close.
“We need to go win, whether it be a close game or something different. We need to win Game 6, and obviously you go to a Game 7, both teams have to win it. We certainly feel like we can do that.”
With Milwaukee’s spotty bench scoring the last two games, it is imperative for Khris Middleton to hunt his shot more aggressively than he did in Game 5. He finished with a playoff career-high 10 assists but also had only six points on 2-of-9 shooting coming off his 30-point effort in Game 4.
Of Khris Middleton's game-high 10 assists, 3 went to Brook Lopez and 2 each to Giannis, George Hill, and Eric Bledsoe.
— Positive Residual (@presidual) May 24, 2019
Budenholzer did not offer anything concrete Friday in terms of adjustments to make his top two scorers focal points for the Bucks offense in an elimination game.
“He’s certainly incredibly important to us,” Budenholzer said of Middleton. “He’s a great shooter. He can impact the game and do a lot of things. As I reflect on it and watch the tape and even just look at the box score, he’s got 10 assists. The usage or the involvement, the impact that Khris was having, I think we can’t just look at nine shots.
“Would we love to get him a few more threes, maybe a few more shots? Yes. But I think the way he’s passing and reading the situations and really looking at the film — Giannis very similarly. I think Giannis is passing and sharing in a really good way. As always, we’d like to get better. So we’ll see if there’s ways we can help.”
The Bucks are 5-10 in playoff elimination games dating back to the 2000 playoffs, including a 1-6 mark on the road. The lone road victory came in Game 5 in their first-round series in 2015 at Chicago.
Leonard, Raptors look to close out Bucks at home
It is not hyperbole to say this is the biggest game in the 24-year franchise history for the Raptors, and by extension, arguably the biggest game in the history of basketball in Canada considering Toronto never got a third win in the 2016 conference finals versus LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Leonard, who looked far better physically in Game 5 than he did in Game 4, scored 15 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and again thrived in his role as primary defender on Antetokounmpo.
But what made Game 5 different was his offensive flourish in the fourth quarter when he took a series of Bucks defenders to task as they continued to switch on ball screens in the high pick-and-roll.
This season has been all about Giannis' rise to superstardom and likely his first MVP award. This postseason, however, has been all about Kawhi Leonard. https://t.co/e9QuDkDZIx
— JSOnline – NewsWatch (@js_newswatch) May 24, 2019
“I enjoy it, and this was our workout for the summer,” Leonard said after Thursday night’s win. “You’ve just got to go out and shoot the ball, I guess. That’s my mindset. Get to a spot, try to help my teammates win the game.
“Just trying to win, either if it’s me scoring points or getting my teammates wide open looks, just out there trying to win. It does not really matter about me scoring, it’s just about being aggressive and don’t shy away from anything.”
Leonard also had a career-high nine assists — all of which came on 3-pointers by his teammates. Fred VanVleet sank four of his seven 3-pointers off feeds from Leonard, while Pascal Siakam (2), Norman Powell, and Marc Gasol all knocked down looks set up by their All-Star swingman.
Toronto finished with a playoff franchise-record 18 3-pointers — the second time in three games it set a record — and is shooting 36.5 percent from beyond the arc in the series. VanVleet has been lethal in the last two games, hitting 10 of 12 after making 7 of 9 on Thursday night.
Fred VanVleet shot 8-of-41 from 3-point range over the first two rounds of the playoffs and the first three games against the Milwaukee Bucks.
He's 10-of-12 from deep over the last two games, both of which were wins.
Better late than never. pic.twitter.com/eFoWjLCQhL
— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) May 24, 2019
Though Gasol’s 3-pointer was the only shot he made, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry made a salient point about what the former Memphis Grizzlies big man and Serge Ibaka bring to the table in terms of offensive flow and continuity.
“We’ve honestly got a bunch of professionals,” Lowry told The Athletic. “The trade for Marc brought the IQ to another level. It just kind of helped everyone understand. Marc plays extremely smart. Marc plays extremely hard and when you’ve got a guy back there manning your line, it makes things a lot easier.”
Lowry finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and six assists as he continues to play through a thumb injury on his guide (left) hand for shooting. It has affected his perimeter shooting but not his willingness to drive to the basket — Lowry has made 17 of 18 free throws in the last two games.
Toronto is 8-7 all-time in closeout games, including a 4-1 mark at home. The Raptors have won their last four such opportunities north of the border since being ousted in the first round in 2014 when they dropped a Game 7 to Brooklyn while squandering a 3-2 series lead.
“Yeah, it’s a ‘whatever it takes’ game. It’s an unlimited-minutes night,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “This is just like any other critical must-win games. … We’ve had to play really super hard and super well to get any victories. So we’re focusing our thoughts on the first part of that, playing super hard.
“I think that’s one thing you say we can control. Can we control how hard we run back? Can we control how hard we guard, help each other, contest shots, physical block-outs, physical screening, hard cuts on offense? Those things we can control. Some of the other stuff — shots going in, some other breaks, the ball bouncing or whatever. But we have to do the things we can control to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
The Bucks are:
- 2-6 ATS in their last eight playoff games as underdogs between 0.5-4.5 points.
- 2-7 ATS in their last nine playoff games as underdogs.
The Raptors are:
- 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 home games vs. teams with an above-.600 road record.
- 6-2 ATS in their last eight home games.
- 5-2 ATS in their last seven games following an ATS win.