Just as he did in last year’s playoffs, Norman Powell has saved the series for the Toronto Raptors. Powell started his second consecutive playoff game, leading the Raptors in scoring with a playoff career-high 25 points as they rolled to a 118-93 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.
Inserting Powell into the starting lineup has been the biggest adjustment that Dwane Casey has made since the Raptors trailed 2-1. Offensively, the Raptors have struggled to consistently hit their open three point shots. It isn’t just Powell’s outside shooting, however. He doesn’t settle, and his aggressive play keeps the Bucks defense on their heels. Defensively, he’s completely locked down Khris Middleton. Gone are all the easy looks Middleton was getting off screens. It was Powell’s defense on Paul George that changed the series one year ago; it will be his defense on Middleton, and overall aggressive play this series, that will put the Raptors in a great position to close out the Bucks.
The Raptors defense overall has taken a big leap since Game 3. Serge Ibaka has been a one-man wrecking crew in the paint. He seemingly challenges almost every shot the Bucks get near the rim when he’s on the floor. He’s averaged 2.4 blocks this series and altered many more. His quickness and mobility have enabled him to keep up with Thon Maker. His offense has suffered a little bit as a result, but the Raptors have other guys who have stepped up and can score. What the Raptors need is for Ibaka to continue to be a defensive menace.
It’s already been said, but it could bear some repeating: no matter how much the other guys step up, the Raptors will only go as far as their All-Star backcourt takes them. For the second game in a row, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been in sync and firing on all cylinders. In Game 4, it was DeRozan who came out hot, and Lowry who took over in the second half. On Monday night, it was Lowry who got going first, then DeRozan who helped blow open the lead. That’s a welcoming sign for the Raptors and a trend that needs to continue. They’re tough to beat when Lowry and DeRozan are in step like this.
For Milwaukee, they can take solace in the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo has been downright unstoppable. Whenever it looks like the Raptors might have him figured out a bit, he comes right back and unleashes havoc on them. He was out of sorts in Game 4 due to P.J. Tucker’s suffocating defense, but he dropped a game-high 30 points on 12-19 shooting in Game 5. He’s a legit franchise player and one who probably will lead the Bucks to many playoff wins in the near future. It’s just probably not this year.
The Bucks’ rookies have also done a tremendous job this series. While inconsistent at times, both Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker are not in awe of the big stage. They’ve both shown remarkable poise and confidence against a veteran team that was favored to win the series from the get-go. It’s a credit to the two of them that the Bucks put themselves in a position to pull off an upset. Brogdon’s had his hands full with Lowry and Maker with the Raptors frontcourt, but they haven’t backed down one bit. They both have very bright futures in the league.
Game 6 Prediction
We’ve seen this before from the Raptors. Last season they had inspiring Game 5 wins over the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, only to come out looking unprepared in Game 6. Milwaukee is going to come out swinging, they know this. Now is the time to get over that hump. It’s been a fun and entertaining ride for the Bucks, but it ends here. The Raptors close out the series on Thursday night and set up a second-round date with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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