The Toronto Raptors got their desired outcome, a 106-100 Game 2 win that tied their series with the Milwaukee Bucks at 1-1, but it was not at all easy. Despite building double-digit leads twice in the second half, the Raptors allowed the young Bucks to come charging right back and take the game down to the final seconds.
In the end, it was just too much Kyle Lowry. The Raptors All-Star bounced back with 22 points on 50 percent shooting, 40 percent from three, five assists, and three steals. He set the down early by being aggressive and attacking the rim, looking to create for himself and for his teammates. No play was bigger than the jumper he hit with 8.9 seconds left to seal the win.
There were much more encouraging signs as well for the Raptors, strategies that they should continue to employ heading into Game 3. To begin with, their defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo was much improved. The Raptors went under screens and gave him a little space to shoot while limiting his drives to the rim and points in transition. Although he eventually hit some shots in the fourth quarter, he didn’t have anywhere near the same impact he did in Game 1. It’s going to be tough to stop him for the duration of the series, but if the Raptors can continue to keep him out of the paint and shooting long jumpers, they’ll be in good shape.
They also used their size to their advantage. Jonas Valanciunas finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds and Serge Ibaka was brilliant with 16 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. While Valanciunas missed a few easy looks around the rim, his size and energy caused problems for the Bucks — half his rebounds were offensive rebounds helping to keep plays alive for the Raptors and gain extra possessions. Ibaka only finished with two blocks, but his presence in the paint altered many others. The Raptors are a bigger team than the Bucks, and they need to continue to exploit that advantage.
The Raptors’ bench finally showed up and outplayed their Bucks counterparts. Dwane Casey went a little deeper into the rotation, playing Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl, and the young guys gave the team solid minutes. Poeltl kept up with Greg Monroe at times and Wright made several hustle plays and acted as a facilitator as well. Cory Joseph had a great bounce back game with 11 points, outplaying Matthew Dellavedova.
The Bucks should feel good about themselves, however. If Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon didn’t miss wide open threes late in the fourth, they might be heading home up 2-0. Monroe has continued to be impressive in his playoff debut. Coming off the bench, the Bucks can run plays through him and the Raptors’ reserve big men can’t handle him. His 18 points were crucial to the Bucks staying in the game. Khris Middleton and Tony Snell continued their solid play and hot outside shooting.
They will need better production out of Malcolm Brogdon, however. Brogdon can’t be expected to outplay Lowry the way he did in Game 1, but he can’t become a non-factor either as he was in Game 2. The Bucks other rookie, Thon Maker, needs to step it up as well. He wasn’t the rim protector he was in Game 1. The Raptors guards attacked at will.
They will also need better production from the rest of the bench aside from Monroe. Dellavedova was also a non-factor. He hit only one of his four three-point attempts, and the veteran poise he showed in Game 1 wasn’t there. Jason Kidd should also probably refrain from playing Spencer Hawes the rest of this series.
Although it can be a bit of a risk, if Kidd needs some more production from his bench, he might try Michael Beasley. Beasley did average 9.4 points this season on 53.3 percent shooting and 41.9 percent from three. He can also create his own offense. It’s just a suggestion.
Game 3 Prediction
The Raptors are the better team and should win this series, but the way the Bucks kept coming at them despite it being a must win game for Toronto has to be a bit concerning. The Bucks aren’t simply satisfied to be in the playoffs; they’re here to win this series. They could’ve let up, content with stealing home court advantage, but they battled until the very end. When it comes down to it though, the Raptors are simply better. Their frontcourt is better. Their bench is better. Their stars, Lowry and DeRozan are better at being aggressive and attacking the paint. The Raptors will settle down, begin to impose their will on the Bucks, and pull out the Game 3 win. It will be close, but Toronto will come out with a 2-1 lead.
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