The Toronto Raptors have dropped Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Here are three takeaways from yet another Game 1 loss.
The Toronto Raptors have now lost Game 1 in nine consecutive playoff series. On the surface, it appears to be one of the most incredible and unlikely streaks in recent memory, as the team has had the better record and home-court advantage in the majority of those games.
However, it appears to reflect a lack of preparedness, an issue that is magnified by the struggles of their star players. In the Raptors’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday, both of those issues were incredibly prevalent.
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So let’s dive into some of the key takeaways from yet another Game 1 loss.
Milwaukee’s Length Is A Problem
The Raptors are a team that lives and dies on their ability to get to the rim. They generate their three-point looks off of drive and kick opportunities, and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry excel at getting to the rim at a very high rate.
DeRozan got off to a great start against the Bucks. With 18 points in the first half on 6-of-9 shooting, DeRozan was one of the few reasons Toronto went into halftime with the lead, along with Serge Ibaka, who was steady all game. In the second half things fell apart for DeRozan, as he went 1-for-12 from the floor and was held to 33 percent shooting for the game.
DeRozan’s ability to get to the line did provide his evening some saving grace, as he went 13-for-14 at the line and finished with 27 points on 21 attempts. Even while struggling, he maintained his aggressiveness and helped get Milwaukee into foul trouble. But it was clear that his ability to finish at the rim was hampered by the Bucks’ long wings, along with the support they received from help defenders.
Unlike DeRozan, the length of the Bucks seemed to impact Lowry’s aggressiveness. The lengthy defenders on the perimeter baited Lowry into over-handling the ball outside the three point line, as he was unable to consistently get around their length.
When he did attack the basket, it seemed that he put his head down and just went charging at the rim. Lowry is at his best when he’s probing the defense to read what they are giving him. Whether be midrange jumpers, a path to the rim, or recognizing the collapsing defense and finding an open man on the perimeter.
After having his shot blocked or altered at the rim a few times, Lowry seemed unwilling to even shoot the ball. He over-passed on multiple possessions and seemed reluctant to shoot. His 2-of-11 outing now gives him the worst playoff field goal percentage out of any active player that’s taken 500+ shots. For his career, Lowry is shooting 37.9 percent in playoffs. DeRozan is the fourth-worst out of active players with a 39.1 percent playoff field goal percentage.
The Raptors are going to need to get creative if they want to attack the rim against Milwaukee. The Bucks have too many quality perimeter defenders, as well as help defenders with length to just go charging at the rim. The team will need to improve their off-ball movement if they want generate good looks at the rim. Whether it be back-cuts, or more off-ball screens, the Raptors need to get away from their iso-heavy offense.
Raptors Failed To Attack Matchup Advantages
One of the most stunning aspects of the Raptors loss was their disinterest in attacking weak-spots in the Bucks roster.
To open the game, the Bucks went with Thon Maker as their starting center. The wiry Maker should be absolutely no match for Jonas Valanciunas in the post. While the Bucks undoubtedly would try to double in those situations, the Raptors failed to even attempt to expose Maker.
If Valanciunas can’t attack Maker in the post, or make the proper reads if a double team comes, then there isn’t much use for him on the court. Beyond that, when faced up against Greg Monroe the team failed to attack Monroe in the pick and roll.
Monroe does not have the foot-speed to get out on the perimeter and defend in the pick and roll. Instead of taking advantage of that, the Raptors stuck with an iso-heavy perimeter attack. If you aren’t going to compromise the defense and force them to collapse to defend in the post or in the pick and roll, you aren’t going to have success against the Bucks’ length.
In the playoffs, recognizing and capitalizing on matchups is crucial to advancing. You can’t rely on just having more talent than your opposition, like in the regular season. If it means abandoning your regular offense to expose a weak link, you have to do it.
On the other side, Milwaukee capitalized on their matchup advantages. They ran pick and roll between guard players to get a Raptors guard switched onto Khris Middleton or Giannis Antetokounmpo. From there they would post up the smaller guard and experienced a lot of success doing so. Which brings me to my final observation:
Casey Did A Poor Job With His Rotation
One of the largest advantages the Raptors have over the Bucks is their depth and versatility — depth that Dwane Casey did not utilize throughout Game 1. He stuck with Valanciunas for far too long, as he struggled with Milwaukee’s speed and looked unprepared to receive the ball.
When the Raptors were trying to get back into the game, they went with Cory Joseph, Lowry, DeRozan and P.J. Tucker. Against some teams, this can be a versatile lineup with playmaking and speed. But against the Bucks’ length, this was an invitation to post-up smaller guards.
With valuable defenders with length like Norman Powell and Delon Wright collecting dust on the bench, the decision to go small was incredibly baffling. The most versatile frontcourt the Raptors can produce is by playing Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and Tucker together. Yet that trio played absolutely no minutes with Lowry and DeRozan. You would figure that that lineup would be ideal against the Bucks with its size and versatility. Yet the team went small instead.
Another concerning aspect was that Lowry and DeRozan seemed to play much better when the other was off the floor. The Raptors’ two most successful lineups in Game 1 came with one of their two stars sitting.
Joseph, Lowry, Tucker, Patterson, and Valanciunas outscored the Bucks by five points in their minutes together, while Joseph, DeRozan, Tucker, DeMarre Carroll and Ibaka also outscored the Bucks by five points. Yet no lineup with the two All-Stars finished with a positive plus/minus. The Raptors’ starting five was even outscored by 11 points in their minutes together.
These numbers are obviously noisy with a small sample size, but it shows just how uncomfortable the team’s cornerstones played together. This was only the fourth game Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka have played together. Perhaps we underestimated the time needed for that trio to adjust to playing with one another.
The Toronto Raptors have been in this position before, so it’s not quite time to panic. However, this Bucks roster has the tools to make things difficult for the Raptors. If they can’t find a way to counter the Milwaukee’s length and get their stars going, they may be in for yet another playoff letdown.