If the Milwaukee Bucks needed any more confidence that they could win this series, they sure got it in Game 3. With a 2-1 series lead following their 104-77 win over the Toronto Raptors, they have a chance to put a stranglehold on the Raptors in Game 4. They cannot relax, however. The Bucks need to continue to do what they’ve done for the past three games and not have any kind of a let down on Saturday.
What more can be said about Giannis Antetokounmpo? He’s been the best player on the court by far in this series. The Raptors’ defensive game plan sort of worked in Game 2 when they gave him space to shoot and took away his drives to the rim. In Game 3, he hit his shots from the perimeter and when he has his jumper going, he’s near impossible to guard. The Raptors just don’t have any defenders capable of challenging his length. He needs to come out aggressive early in Game 4 and set the tone.
The rest of the team has been spectacular as well. Khris Middleton has found his groove. The Bucks have done a great job running him off screens and getting him open looks, which he’s converted. As long he continues to get those shots, he’ll keep hitting them. He also did a good job moving the ball and he finished with seven assists.
The Bucks have also received tremendous play from their pair of rookies, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. Neither was very effective in Game 2, but they bounced back in a big way in Game 3. Brogdon once again kept pace with Kyle Lowry on the defensive end and helped orchestrate the Bucks’ offense on the other. He didn’t have a particularly good shooting night, finishing 2-7, but he dished out a game-high nine assists and pulled down seven rebounds. Maker had his best offensive game of the series with 11 points. He challenged the Raptors at the rim and helped to set the Bucks early aggressive tone. They will both need to keep up this play for the Bucks to win Game 4.
It was a bounce back game from the Bucks’ bench as well. Greg Monroe continued his stellar play, but Matthew Dellavedova, a non-factor in Game 2, left his mark all over Game 3. When Jason Kidd went to his bench, Dellavedova just added to the intensity the Bucks starters came out with. His pesky defense frustrated Lowry to the point that Lowry almost swung an elbow at him right before a timeout. He also hit both his three-point attempts, which helped expand the Bucks to the lead in the second quarter. Michael Beasley also made an appearance and gave the team 13 points on 62.5 percent shooting, 100 percent from three. The Bucks bench has thoroughly outplayed the Raptors bench, and they will need this same production in Game 4.
What about the Raptors? What can they possibly do to avoid a 3-1 hole? To start with, they need to forget Game 3 even happened. Put it in the rearview and focus only on Game 4. Saturday is a new ballgame and if they want any chance at getting back in this series, they can’t dwell on Game 3. Nothing went right for them, so it should be back to drawing board. It’s just bewildering how a veteran team in its fourth consecutive season in the playoffs looks this unprepared for the moment.
That said, there are a couple of things they can do. First, play to their advantage. The Bucks have the defensive personnel to disrupt the Raptors’ ISO-heavy offense focusing on Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Before Game 2 got out of hand, Jonas Valanciunas had a nice possession where he bullied Maker in the post and dunked in his face. He had success in the post in Game 2. Good coaches adapt, and like the series against the Pacers last year, this is one where Valanciunas can really play to his strengths. It’s up to the coach, though, to implement that and for the players to follow through.
Second, there needs to be a tweak in the starting lineup. Benching Valanciunas to start the second half was puzzling and not the right answer. DeMarre Carroll has given the Raptors next to nothing this series. His shot is MIA and he often makes terrible decisions offensively. He also can’t slow down Antetokounmpo or Middleton. It might be time to start P.J Tucker. Tucker hasn’t been all that much better, but his energy since coming to the team has been infectious at times. He will give 100 percent effort from the get-go and stay within his limitations on offense. It might be the spark of life the Raptors need to avoid another slow start.
Third, the Bucks have been relying on their young guys, so why not the Raptors? When given minutes, Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl have played well. Poeltl was actually fighting for offensive rebounds and bringing energy. Norman Powell also needs to play. He is an energetic and aggressive player who doesn’t settle for the outside shot. His defense on Paul George last playoffs was a huge reason why the Raptors won that series. Perhaps he should be given a shot on one of Antetokounmpo or Middleton.
Lastly, the Raptors just need to get their heads out of their behinds. They’re the better team and they need to show it, now. It’s unacceptable for a veteran team who is the higher seed to show such little sense of urgency, and turn in such a disgusting effort. This is what you’d expect from an inexperienced team just happy to be in the playoffs. There’s no excuse for it. It makes you wonder what is going on that this team constantly looks so unprepared for the playoffs.
The Bucks haven’t been in this situation before. It will be up to the veteran guys who have won titles, Dellavedova and Jason Terry, to make sure the rest of the team is up for the task. A let-down is probably forthcoming. The Raptors take Game 4 and make the series a little more interesting.
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