Any offense as straightforward as Toronto’s comes with clear bellwethers: As DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry go, so, too, go the Raptors. Both stars spent most of Game 3 driving headlong into a Bucks’ defense that blanketed them at every turn. Every screen hid a trap on its far side. Every isolation came against a longer, taller first line and then looming, towering help. Nothing good came from those primary engines of Toronto’s offense, as was made clear by one harrowing figure: For just the third time since 2010, DeRozan—whose 27.3 points per game ranked fifth in the league—finished a game without making a single field goal.
The last team to pull off the feat: these very same Milwaukee Bucks, in a regular season game back in January of 2015. There are some commonalities between the two games in terms of system and personnel, but to quarantine DeRozan in the playoffs is a more complicated matter entirely. It’s an effort that starts with Tony Snell or Khris Middleton, whose height and reach aid excellent positional defense. “We need to talk about Tony Snell,” GiannisAntetokounmpo noted. “I think he did a great job guarding DeRozan.” But if it were Snell or Middleton alone, DeRozan could find daylight. The shackles come in knowing that the blitz could come with any—but not every—pick-and-roll, a possibility that can make even a skilled offensive player over think his game.
DeRozan has rushed into difficult shots throughout this first-round series, seemingly from the relief of executing a move to find only single coverage on the other side. Tempting as a switch against Malcolm Brogdon or Thon Maker might be, most every Buck has played responsibly within their matchups and relative to the system. Even plays that have triggered multiple switches still ended in bothered, off-balance shots completely outside any flow of offense.
“Myself and the the staff have to sell the guys on the fact that you have to move the basketball,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “You’re not gonna dribble around ‘em. You’re not gonna outrun ‘em or out-quick ‘em.”
“The other night I thought [DeRozan] did an excellent job of finding the open person and kicking it out and the ball found him back. That’s what we’ve gotta get back to.”
Milwaukee has the length to sit on DeRozan’s pull-ups and fadeaways, the shading all over the floor to eat into his driving lanes, and the help to meet him at the basket in case of emergency. When the execution is crisp, those three layers make the basket seem small. DeRozan can knock down difficult shots, though against most opponents even those looks manifest in predictable ways. Create as often as DeRozan does and you learn the patterns of professional schemes. The cadence of the Bucks’ rotations is more distinct and, due to their collective length, more menacing. Some scorers can puzzle their aggressive strategy out in time, but none are immune.