About an hour after his staff suffered a blowout loss by the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kawhi Leonard — by no means one to be subsumed into narratives or excessive drama — provided probably the most literal response to probably the most urgent query dealing with his Toronto Raptors.
“We will Toronto,” mentioned Leonard, when requested the place his staff, now trailing the Japanese Convention Finals 2-Zero, goes from right here. “Recreation three.”
It’s a must to admire Leonard’s unflappable resolve. After outplaying the Bucks for many of Recreation 1 earlier than dropping within the closing minutes, the Raptors had been outperformed wire to wire in Recreation 2. They struggled on every finish of the ground, each with establishing a gradual stream within the half court docket and with neutralizing Milwaukee’s rhythm. The Bucks, now 10-1 this postseason, are simply two video games from their first NBA Finals in 45 years — and so they have but to play their greatest basketball within the first two video games.
Although Leonard’s remark may appear imperceptive on the floor, he is right to level out that the motion now heads to Toronto, as a result of few issues shift momentum in a sequence fairly like a change in venue. But to carry serve in Toronto, the Raptors should shortly give you some options to a couple very urgent issues.
How can the Raptors make life simpler for Kawhi?
Defending Leonard may be probably the most troublesome job in basketball this spring. In 14 playoff video games, the Raptors ahead is averaging 31.7 factors per recreation on an efficient discipline purpose share (eFG) of 57.9. He assaults the protection from so many various angles — off the dribble in isolation, within the submit, discovering gaps off the pick-and-roll, as a locomotive in transition.
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Few defenders within the NBA have thrived in that problem extra successfully than Khris Middleton this season, a sample that has continued within the playoffs. Leonard scored 31 factors in each video games at Milwaukee, however he has labored exceptionally onerous to take action. Middleton, in addition to Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon, have restricted Leonard’s drives to his proper, influencing him to his weaker hand — and into the Bucks’ lively assist defenders. Repeatedly on Friday, Leonard discovered himself headed in a suboptimal path off a display screen solely to come across the likes of Brook Lopez — who, as Raptors coach Nick Nurse mentioned on Saturday, “by no means leaves the paint” — or Ersan Ilyasova.
In Video games three and four, the Raptors might want to determine methods to shift the Bucks’ protection to present Leonard a bit extra respiratory room within the half court docket. Which may imply getting Leonard the ball later within the possession after some major actions predicated on motion. For example, Pascal Siakam can strain defenses off the dribble, as can Kyle Lowry off some artful pick-and-roll motion.
The Raptors actually ran these kinds of units, however after they’re producing solely Zero.80 factors per Leonard drive and Zero.79 factors on possessions when Leonard works in isolation, they will must be much more resourceful.
Is Milwaukee’s depth an excessive amount of for Toronto?
Requested to determine probably the most placing attribute of the primary two video games, a number of coaches and gamers recognized the Bucks’ deep supporting forged as probably the most decisive consider Milwaukee’s success. When it is time for a contemporary physique, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has every kind of choices at his disposal — two poised combo guards who can defend in George Hill and Brogdon, a multi-skilled large man in Ilyasova, uber-athletic taking pictures guard Pat Connaughton. The Bucks’ roster has succesful gamers similar to D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown (who’s nursing a foul again) on name if want be.
For the Raptors, discovering combos that may take care of the Bucks’ measurement is a extra daunting job. Toronto badly misses ahead OG Anunoby, recovering from an emergency appendectomy final month, whose measurement and flexibility is suited to this matchup. Norman Powell, Toronto’s solely true backup wing, performed confidently and effectively on Friday, however he and backup guard Fred VanVleet hand over numerous measurement to Milwaukee’s behemoth roster.
Regardless of the combine, the Raptors should discover a number of combos that can provide them the dimensions, spacing and penetration required to have a puncher’s likelihood in opposition to the league’s top-ranked protection.
Will the Raptors discover a option to hold the Bucks away from the rim?
The Bucks are a quintessential modern-day NBA offense that does not waste its time taking midrange pictures. However as a lot as they launch from past the arc — 82 makes an attempt over the primary two video games — they precise a lot of their injury at point-blank vary.
Over the primary two video games of the sequence, the Bucks have tried 63 pictures on the rim to the Raptors’ 36 previous to Friday’s rubbish time, in response to Cleansing the Glass. Giannis Antetokounmpo, to no shock, has been probably the most dominant weapon. Although the Raptors have carried out a positive job of converging on him in half-court conditions, Antetokounmpo has managed to sneak beneath the protection on a number of events and has unleashed a few signature blow-by slams.
Antetokounmpo will undoubtedly get his, however the Raptors cannot permit the Bucks’ peripheral threats to abuse them, whether or not it is Ilyasova rolling untouched off excessive screens in Recreation 2 or Brook Lopez on the block in Recreation 1 or Brogdon and Bledsoe manufacturing pictures for themselves as they probe within the paint.
The Raptors aren’t large, however they seem to be a good unit that understands tips on how to make well timed assist choices. That intelligence has by no means been in higher demand, because the Bucks will proceed to strain them inside.
Can the Raptors maintain their very own on the glass?
This has been one of the crucial precarious spots for the Raptors this spring. They had been a middling rebounding staff through the common season however have gotten pounded in opposition to a procession of massive opponents — the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and now Milwaukee.
It is not unfair to say the Raptors’ incapacity to manage their defensive glass price them Recreation 1, when Milwaukee scored solely 68.eight factors per 100 possessions within the half court docket however generated 24 second-chance factors within the comeback win. Toronto managed to stem the tide — a bit — in Recreation 2 however nonetheless misplaced the rebounding battle to a staff with extra measurement, attain and athleticism.
“We have simply acquired to be a bit bit extra bodily rebounding the ball,” mentioned Lowry after Recreation 2. “We all know that they will crash a bit bit extra. However after we get outrebounded, we do not get to play the way in which we have to play.”
Antetokounmpo corralling a pogo-stick rebound beneath the rim off his personal miss is one factor, however the Bucks’ guards cannot be left unaccounted for within the half court docket. The Raptors additionally must heighten their consciousness now that they are typically switching whereas defending Milwaukee’s pick-and-roll assault.
Make or miss?
“I sound like a damaged document up right here,” mentioned Raptors coach Nick Nurse after Recreation 2, “However we had our share of wide-open pictures that would have at the least stymied a bit little bit of the breakout within the rating.”
As Nurse’s exasperation implies, Toronto’s incapacity to make its uncontested pictures has turn into an unsettling development in latest weeks that has confounded Raptors gamers and coaches alike. Within the common season, the Raptors ranked second within the NBA (a 68.1 p.c eFG) in uncontested makes an attempt, in response to Second Spectrum monitoring. However over the previous two rounds of the playoffs, that mark has dropped to 52.1. To place that futility in perspective, the New York Knicks ranked final within the league within the common season at an eFG of 59.four.
It is onerous to not empathize with the Raptors. Their offensive execution hasn’t been good, however even a median efficiency on their open seems to be would have them wanting like a much more competent offensive staff. In truth, neither staff has shot notably effectively within the first two video games. Among the many starters, solely Lowry and Middleton have overperformed from the sphere, in response to Second Spectrum monitoring, when their weight loss plan of makes an attempt is measured for shot high quality.
For the Raptors, the scenario is very dire since they’re down Zero-2 and the arrogance of their shooters can wane. If that document retains skipping, the music may cease very quickly.