By Frank McLean
As the Toronto Raptors head into Game Five Monday night at the Air Canada Centre their fans can take a deep breath that this series with the Milwaukee Bucks is tied two games apiece instead of it being a three games to one lead for the boys from Wisconsin and heaven forbid this Game Five being an elimination game. But have the Raptors figured out the Bucks?
After Thursday night’s 104-77 loss in Game Three where everybody who draws a paycheck from the Raptors organization stunk the joint out, the fact they were able to pull out a win in an old fashioned physical ugly basketball game was quite reassuring.
Now if you look at past form from the regular season only five times the Raptors lost a game by 15-or more points and in the next game they were 4-1. So really it should be no surprise that they came back and tied this series.
“I’ve always said we play better with our backs against the wall,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “It’s a tough way to live, but I love our team’s resiliency, personality, but I wish we didn’t have to play a stinker before we play that way (like they did Saturday).”
Two factors led to this win.
First it was the change in the starting line-up.
Casey promised there would be changes after Game Three and he delivered on the promise by taking Jonas Valanciunas out of the starting line-up for the first time this season, moving Serge Ibaka to center and DeMarre Carroll to power forward and bringing in Norman Powell to start at small forward. It gave the Raptors a smaller line-up, but they were able to control the Bucks forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton who killed the Raptors in the first quarter in Game Three when they combined for 21-points. On Saturday they combined for just seven points in the first 12-minutes as the Bucks forward pair was stifled all game.
“Just to have a presence there, to put the defense in rotation,” Powell said about the new starting five. “We needed more drives, more kick-outs to have their defense scrambling because they’re so long. Their length is really disruptive, they’re blitzing Kyle and DeMar in pick-and-rolls so you need someone to attack, loosen up the defense and re-attack on the kick-outs or hit the shooters for open shots.”
Speaking of DeMar DeRozan, he is the second reason for the win.
After scoring only eight points in Game Three and not making one field goal, he single-handedly carried the Raptors offensively with 33-points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Your star players have to be your star players in the playoffs and DeRozan didn’t disappoint.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m never too high and I’m never too low, no matter how bad things are or no matter how great things get,” DeRozan said. “I keep a level head and I understand bad things are going to come, and I accept it, just like I accept the great times. I knew lightning don’t strike twice in the same place.”
The thing about this Raptors-Bucks series is you don’t know what Raptors team you are going to see. They go from hitting three-point shots to not hitting three-point shots. They play defense in one game and then they look like they can’t stop a kids YMCA team like in Game Three. They have multiple personalities.
Going into Game Five the Raptors can breathe easy that they have regained home court advantage, but they cannot think that they have figured out the Bucks. Jason Kidd will have made adjustments that he hopes can free up the “Greek Freak” and Middleton.
It’s not just the Raptors that have multiple personalities, so does each playoff game no matter who is playing.
The last word should go to coach Casey as to what to expect in Game Five.
“There’s nobody you can take for granted in this league,” Casey said. “Every game is a different story, different opportunity for different people and we’ve got to come back because there’s a lot of things we can clean up from this game and I’m sure they’ll be making adjustments.
“We’ve got to change things also. I think it’s going to be a chess match for the next three games and there’s no edge. We’ve got to come back and play with the same personality as we did (on Saturday).
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.