As bad as Toronto has been at Game Ones in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs, currently at 0-9, this team has, more often than not, found the next contest more to their liking and against Milwaukee on Tuesday, Game Two at the Air Canada Centre belongs to the Raptors and they had better deliver.
“It’s like deja va all over again,” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s the first to four. That’s what it is and we just have to go out there and take care of Game Two.”
Going from a bad NBA Lottery Team when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey first arrived to a playoff team and recently an Eastern Conference Finals contender happened faster than expected, but those expectations can’t be rolled back now.
Making the playoffs has become nothing special, so unlike the last three years, even the crowd at the Air Canada Centre showed up late and sat on their hands until they were told to do something. It felt like a regular season game in the building.
“The expectation of our program, where we started is definitely where we are now and it’s not going to end,” Casey said. “Each year you try to improve, get better, go further. The expectations have changed more so.”
After getting smacked in the mouth three years in a row on the opening afternoon of the NBA playoffs by a lower seeded team, one could be forgiven for thinking Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would have been ready for the physicality, intensity and often unfriendly whistle of the postseason. But after a solid second quarter where the Raptors took a 5 point lead, Lowry shot 1-7 and DeRozan shot 1-8 and the pair only scored a single point in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee pulled away.
“The second half was abysmal,” Casey said. “We didn’t play with any pace, any movement. All of that led to tough shots, challenged shots.”
The Bucks were very physical with both of the Raptors All-Stars and a regular season whistle likely would have allowed them to live at the line in the second half, but the Bucks, with two rookies in their starting lineup, played as aggressively as the referees would allow and the Raptors didn’t respond in kind.
“They played hard longer than we did,” Casey said. “I thought they played with more force for longer than we did.”
Fortunately for Toronto, stepping up in Game Two is something this team and their stars has done before.
The Raptors came back in Game Two against the Nets in 2014 behind a 30 point effort from DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas stepped up with a double-double 15/14. Last year against the Pacers Lowry had the near triple double with 18/7/9 and Valanciunas stepped up big again with 23/15 in the victory.
It’ll take a big game from from at least one of the Raptors All-Stars and someone else to pull out a Game Two win over Milwaukee.
“We missed a lot of shots we normally make,” DeRozan said. “We have to understand that we can’t let that affect us.”
“I just have to play better,” Lowry said. “No if ands or buts about it. I have to play better.”
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Game One was the Bucks didn’t do anything the Raptors weren’t prepared for. Toronto had faced the Bucks four times this season, gone 3-1 and knew exactly what to expect from this long lanky team and their star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“I was expecting everything,” DeRozan confirmed. “It’s on us, we don’t have any excuses. They have one (win) and it’s on us to take advantage of the next game at home.”
“They did everything we expected and they did it well,” P.J. Tucker said. “We missed shots. We didn’t get back on defense.”
And the Bucks are under no delusions that the Raptors can’t play better.
“They are a very talented team,” Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said. “Going through the process of the good and the bad, you look at DeRozan and Lowry, the core has been together so they’ve seen everything and understanding that, they’re very talented and they’re well coached. Casey is going to have these guys ready to go.”
Game Two at home belongs to Toronto. It’s up to them not to give it away.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.