Here’s 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 108-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
One - Exhausted: The Raptors roared out of the gate, but they just ran out of steam in the second half. Milwaukee started off sluggish, were caught off guard by the Raptors’ intensity on defence, leading to easy transition baskets and an eight-point edge at half. The script completely flipped in the second half, as the Raptors were caught on their heels and gave up way too many open looks to hold the lead.
Two - Attrition: Part of that just speaks to Milwaukee’s advantage in depth. The Raptors struggle to find even five positive contributors on most nights, whereas the Bucks got a shot in the arm from Ersan Ilyasova and Malcolm Brogdon off the bench. Having more rest also favours the Bucks - Milwaukee has been off for nearly a week after dispatching Boston in five, whereas Toronto was pushed to the limit in seven games and had to play Game 1 on the road after just two days off.
Three - Worn: Fatigue manifested itself in two forms - offensive rebounds and transition baskets. After missing so many open looks, the Bucks made a concerted effort to win the offensive rebounding battle 15-8, which translated to 24 second-chance points. Tired legs also led to Milwaukee getting out on the break for 25 fast-break points, with most of those coming from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe in the second half.
Four - Encouraging: However, the Raptors were fairly successful in their halfcourt defence, and that should keep them competitive going forward. Their rotations were crisp, they contested or rushed most of Milwaukee’s threes, and successfully built a wall each time Antetokounmpo drove the paint. They just need to do a better job of blocking out, which is mostly a test of endurance after flying around for 24 seconds before forcing a miss.
Five - Wasted: We might never see another performance like this from Kyle Lowry ever again. Lowry exploded for 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and he single-handedly kept the Raptors afloat in the second half. Not only was he splashing threes like a Splash Brother, but he also made his usual assortment of game-changing defensive stops at key times, such as stepping in for a charge, diving out of bounds to save a wayward pass, and ripping Khris Middleton at half court. Lowry’s hustle will always be there, but odds are his scoring will tail off.
Six - Squandered: It’s on Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to pick up the slack on offence. The two of them need to total something close to 30 points for the Raptors to have a chance, and tonight they combined for 10. Milwaukee is hanging back and clogging the paint, so it’s imperative for Gasol and Ibaka to capitalize. Gasol, in particular, was misfiring on the easiest of shots in the second half, and that’s despite the Raptors trying to make life easier for him by mixing in a few rolls to the basket for easier looks.
Seven - Exhaustion: Nick Nurse should rethink his minutes distribution, because Gasol shouldn’t log 40 minutes, and Ibaka should see more than 17. Gasol’s heavy usage was more palatable against Orlando and Philadelphia when there was a slow post-up center for him to match-up, but it’s a track meet against the Bucks because their fives are all shooters. It’s not realistic for Gasol to maintain his endurance and effectiveness in this matchup, and quite honestly, this type of game is more suitable to a more mobile player in Ibaka.
Eight - Thwarted: Brook Lopez was just a killer on both ends, but especially on offence. Lopez bailed the Bucks out of so many broken possessions with either his 3-point shooting or his work on the offensive glass, and he finished the night with a team-high 29 points. You can live with some of Lopez’s 30-footers, but the Raptors must do a better job of denying his putbacks and drives. Lopez really poured it on in the fourth when Gasol completely lost his legs.
Nine - Smarter: The Raptors have to be smarter with their shot selection because hammering the paint just isn’t smart against the Bucks. Toronto shot just 44 percent in the restricted area, and that’s largely because Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam were often playing 1-on-3 in the paint against capable shot-blockers. In the case of Leonard, he needs to try a few more midrange shots to buy himself more space and keep trusting the pass, and with Siakam, he needs to get some corner threes to fall.
Ten - Costly: This is a series where the Raptors absolutely need something out of both Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell. Both players missed pivotal shots - a bricked layup for Powell and a shanked three by VanVleet - during the fourth quarter that swung momentum in Milwaukee’s favour. The Raptors are light on wings with OG Anunoby out of the lineup, and so without Powell or VanVleet, there is no flexibility with the Raptors going to a smallball look.