MILWAUKEE — In the intervening time Kawhi Leonard shook Khris Middleton on a backdoor lower for a simple layup halfway by means of the third quarter of Sport 1 on Wednesday night time, the Toronto Raptors appeared like their finest selves.
The Raptors had managed solely 5 shot makes an attempt on the rim within the first half, however right here was a lovely half-court set that encapsulated how brutally environment friendly the Raptors will be once they’re maximizing their strengths: Leonard and Kyle Lowry splitting off Marc Gasol within the excessive publish — Lowry fanning out to the left nook whereas Leonard skirted behind Middleton. This was Toronto excessive IQ basketball at its savviest, and the bucket gave the Raptors a 10-point lead with 5:50 left within the third interval.
Discover the whole lot it’s good to know concerning the playoffs right here.
• Schedules, matchups and extra
• Specialists’ picks for convention finals
• For the Warriors, what’s outdated is new once more
• Blazers left searching for Curry answer
• The methods Giannis, Kawhi outline East finals
• Bucks attempt to keep away from one other G1 letdown
• What’s subsequent for eradicated groups?
By many measures, the Raptors turned in a stable effort on Wednesday night time. They executed their defensive sport plan, enthusiastically took lots of the open pictures they’d turned down by means of a lot of the primary two rounds of the postseason, and located alternatives in transition.
But, a deadly fourth quarter undid a lot of that stable work in a 108-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Wednesday night time was one other Sport 1 throat-clearing for a Bucks crew that hadn’t performed in a full week. A unit that depends on cadence and timing, the Bucks could not discover their stream by means of a lot of the sport. Mainstays like Khris Middleton initially struggled to search out pictures in opposition to Toronto’s switching schemes, an irregular protection for Toronto. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the last word rhythm participant, wasn’t at most impact with the lengthy break.
But regardless of lacking 29 of their first 35 makes an attempt from Three-point vary and the forgettable 45.7 p.c efficient area purpose share, the Bucks got here away with the sequence opener. If Sport 1 is proof of something, it is that the Milwaukee Bucks are — and can proceed to be — an exceptionally troublesome crew to beat underneath any situation.
I feel we did a fantastic job of simply sticking with what we have been doing all postseason lengthy,” mentioned Brook Lopez, who led the Bucks with 29 factors. “Photographs did not go in early, however we did a fantastic job of grinding it out, performed nice protection and simply caught with it. Then issues began going our method.”
That is one measure of NBA crew dominance: A capability to win troublesome video games in opposition to powerful opponents regardless of subpar performances from high gamers, marginal success in opposition to defensive methods, and poor capturing. On that normal, the Bucks, now 9-1 within the postseason, are dominant, even when the top end in Sport 1 wasn’t an exhibition of their finest choreography.
Brook Lopez scored a postseason profession excessive 29 factors in Milwaukee’s Sport 1 win over the Raptors. AP Photograph/Morry Gash
As he donned his signature Disney gear at his locker earlier than heading over to the postgame podium, Lopez debated one of many nice postseason conundrums for a crew that encounters a switching protection just like the one Toronto customary on Wednesday night time. Ought to an offensive crew reply by looking accessible mismatches within the half courtroom, or ought to they disregard no matter benefit they might or could not have and simply proceed to run their stuff?
“Somebody will say, ‘Why do not you simply go down within the publish?’ however that is not who we’re,” mentioned Lopez. “We do not need to change who we’re.”
Although there are lots of NBA coaches who imagine not attacking mismatches quantities to leaving cash on the NBA hardwood, the place articulated by Lopez has been the constant stance of Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. Although the Bucks by no means fairly cracked the code offensively in Sport 1, they loved a well timed outburst by Lopez within the fourth quarter, when he drained three of his 5 makes an attempt from past the arc.
“That is the Brook everyone knows and all of us love,” mentioned Antetokounmpo, who famous that Gasol, assigned to protect Lopez, has a directive to be an lively assist defender on this sequence, which can continuously depart Lopez open.
Lopez’s exploits all over the place on the ground have been important to Milwaukee’s victory on Wednesday night time, however the sport was received on the defensive finish of the ground — with Lopez, once more, because the catalyst. With uncommon exceptions, the Raptors merely could not get to the rim in Sport 1, making an attempt solely a fifth of their pictures at level clean vary, a woefully low frequency. For all of Antetokounmpo’s offensive presents and the ground spacing the Bucks display, their skill to wall off the basket space is their single most constant attribute as a crew. Toronto hardly ever noticed the rim, and on the events they did, the Raptors have been a meager 9-for-17.
“You possibly can convey your protection each night time, and that is what we count on,” mentioned Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “There are going to be nights when you do not make pictures, and you have to simply proceed to do properly or give it defensively. When you do this, you possibly can break by means of and discover a solution to win on an evening whenever you actually do not shoot very properly offensively or play that properly offensively.”
This concept is gospel in Milwaukee underneath Budenholzer: In a league the place video games are more and more received and misplaced by the vagaries of streaky perimeter capturing, protection is the last word insurance coverage coverage. Go 6-for-35 from Three-point vary over the primary 36 minutes of basketball? Definitely not superb, however no person makes an attempt to overlook. But when the protection is tightening across the paint like a vise, and defenders are instantaneously scrambling again out, and rotators are sharp of their anticipation, chilly snaps will be endured — and large video games will be received.
Herein lies the problem for any crew that should take down the Bucks in a seven-game sequence: Setting apart the video games that shall be misplaced as a result of Milwaukee employs a transcendent celebrity, and succesful shooters round him, what do you when the Bucks’ defensive effort — far much less variable — is so ruggedly dedicated to depriving you what you need and wish most?