Milwaukee Bucks: 5 Reasons They Defeated The Toronto Raptors
The Milwaukee Bucks pulled the Game 1 upset in Toronto. What are 5 of the reasons they beat the Raptors?
For the Milwaukee Bucks, Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors was a chance to get their feet wet. For many of the rotation pieces — Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker, Greg Monroe — this was their first taste of the NBA postseason.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was seeing the postseason for the first time as the unquestioned No. 1 option.
Facing a Toronto team that was supposed to be stronger at both ends of the court since midseason trades, this game was supposed to go much differently. Kyle Lowry was too strong for the Bucks’ guards and Jonas Valanciunas was too big inside.
The Raptors had the plethora of large wings that could shut down a “one-dimensional” Antetokounmpo.
In fact it was the third-seeded Raptors that were being discussed as the most likely challenger to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers — not the top-seeded Boston Celtics. The 42-win Bucks were not going to stop that second-round showdown.
Milwaukee was not supposed to pull off the upset, in this game or in this series.
The Milwaukee Bucks have been, at times, the surprise and disappointment of the league this season.
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From a devastating preseason injury to Khris Middleton, to a strong start, to a terrifying midseason slump — capped off by Jabari Parker‘s season-ending injury — to finally a late-season push into the postseason, the Bucks and their fans have been changing their trajectory with ferocity all season.
Saturday they seized their own trajectory and pointed it skyward. Not only did Milwaukee pull off the 97-83 win, they did so by absolutely smothering Toronto in the second half.
The Raptors averaged 107 points per game in the regular season, but could only score 32 in the second half in Game 1.
Looking deeper, there are specific ways that the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Toronto Raptors, stealing home court and setting themselves up for a chance at the franchise’s first series win since 2001.
What are five that stand out?
Giannis Antetokounmpo Was Aggressive — And Unstoppable
Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the midst of a breakout season, rising from exciting young player to a lock for the All-NBA team. Over the course of the regular season he was the best player either Milwaukee or Toronto had.
But against a playoff-tested Toronto team fielding an All-Star backcourt, Giannis was supposed to take a backseat and learn.
Instead he did the teaching, dominating the Raptors and dropping 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting. While Toronto stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan struggled to find their shots, Antetokounmpo got to his spot again and again, both in transition and the half-court.
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For all of his success this season, the “Greek Freak” is not an outside shooter. He hit just 27 percent of his three-pointers this season, totaling just 49 made three-pointers in 80 games.
Forcing him to shoot — and walling off the paint, his preferred work space — was supposed to be the key to shutting him down.
The problem with that strategy is that Giannis is built to destroy it. Playing off of a shooter often “dares” them to shoot. Against the 6’11” Antetokounmpo, it simply gives him an easier path to deep post position. Back off and he backs down.
Once he is nestled in deep, his impossibly long arms make dunks and layups a thing of ease.
Even doubling Giannis was difficult, as he has worked on a series of up-and-under moves that give him the crease he needs to explode to the rim. The Bucks are not flush with long-distance shooters and multiple times Antetokounmpo ended up with the ball in a crowded lane.
He simply gathered, pumped, pivoted and then roared to the hoop for a vicious dunk. The Raptors had no answers.
Toronto certainly will try throwing different things at Antetokounmpo and the series is far from over. But for those wondering whether his game would translate well to the postseason, the question has been answered.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a monster and the NBA has been put on alert.
Bucks’ Backcourt Lockdown
Kyle Lowry is a three-time All-Star, averaged 22.4 points per game this season and entered the series well-rested after recovering from a wrist injury.
On Saturday, Lowry could muster just four points on 2-for-11 shooting, his lowest scoring output in a playoff game since arriving in Toronto.
Prior to the game, it was expected that Lowry would use his combination of strength and speed to overcome the pesky defense that Milwaukee provided in their backcourt.
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Rookie Malcolm Brogdon and free agent addition Matthew Dellavedova had successful defensive seasons, but most nights they didn’t get the challenge of guarding a player such as Lowry.
It turns out they were up for the challenge, harrying Lowry all game and preventing him from reaching his spots. They fought over screens, trusting the Bucks’ aggressive scheme to wall off an easy path to the paint for the split second until they regained position.
Lowry was unable to adjust.
Specifically when guarded by “The President” (Brogdon) or “Delly,” Lowry missed all eight of his shot attempts, including six from behind the arc. Lowry’s teammate, DeMar DeRozan, got some momentum in the first half, primarily against Tony Snell.
That led Kidd to deploy double-point guard lineups in the second half, as Brogdon and Dellavedova played side by side and spread the defensive pain.
Overall, Toronto players shot just 3-for-23 when guarded by one of those two players, a key piece of Toronto shooting just 32 percent for the game.
With Snell, Khris Middleton and their pesky backcourt, the Bucks have a seemingly endless supply of defenders to throw at the Raptors. If Toronto can’t find a way to break free, this upset could come to fruition in a hurry.
Jonas Valanciunas Did Not Dominate
The Toronto Raptors were supposed to have a cheat code of their own, a not-so-secret weapon that the Bucks would be powerless to stop. The length of Milwaukee’s wings would not help them against the post brutality of Jonas Valanciunas.
For a brief stretch in the first half, that looked to be true. Valanciunas scored and drew the foul, draining the free throw. The next time down the floor the defense pulled to the post to stop him from repeating, leading to a wide-open Toronto three-pointer.
Possession three and Valanciunas was dropping in another basket.
But Milwaukee adjusted, pulling Mirza Teletovic from the game (he totaled just six minutes in the game) to insert a faster Michael Beasley at the 4. For the remainder of the game Kidd asked his wings to stunt towards Valanciunas and then recover to the outside.
That adjustment combined with Greg Monroe’s hard-nosed game kept Valanciunas from finding a rhythm again.
The Toronto center would not make another shot from the field that night, only scoring from the foul stripe. He finished with nine points, nine rebounds, and a minus-14 net rating.
Whether Dwane Casey and the Raptors can find new ways to deploy Valanciunas will have to be seen, but Milwaukee won Game 1 inside.
Greg Monroe Cleaned The Glass
The Milwaukee center affectionately known as “Moose” is not known for being an elite rebounder. Only once in his career has Greg Monroe averaged double-digit rebounds and this season he collected just 6.6 rebounds per game in his sixth-man role.
He is a solid, but not elite, rebounding big.
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Against the Raptors, Moose went to work. With the Bucks’ perimeter defenders forcing misses from Toronto’s stars, Monroe was there to clean up the glass. Playing in the first postseason game of his seven-year career, he pulled in 10 defensive rebounds.
Add in another five on the offensive glass, and Monroe’s 15 rebounds were not only a game-high, but tied for the highest number in the postseason thus far.
Thon Maker started the game and put in a solid 15 minutes altogether, going 2-for-2 from the field and chipping in three rebounds and three highlight blocks.
But it was the steady presence of Monroe off the bench — 14 points to go with his 15 rebounds — who turned in a plus-15 net rating.
Whether Moose can keep this up over the course of a series is a question that cannot be answered. But the fire Milwaukee played with Saturday coursed through their sixth-man center as well and he came through.
Raptors missed corner threes
The Milwaukee Bucks play an aggressive, swarming style of defense. When opposing teams run a pick-and-roll — and all but Phil Jackson‘s Knicks do with regularity — the Bucks “show” hard, having the man guarding the screener step up to block the ball-handler from getting downhill.
To cover behind him, the weakside defenders move down into the paint, walling off easy movement. What this opens up is the corners, and on-target passes or quick ball movement around the court can find an open shooter.
Corner three-pointers are one of the most valuable shots in the NBA, because they are closer than three-pointers shot from higher on the arc. Often the mark of a good, conservative defense is how low the frequency of corner threes they give up is.
For Milwaukee, they would rather give up the occasional “good shot” to limit the primary action a team is running, trusting in the length and speed of its defenders to recover in time.
Against the Bucks Saturday, Toronto had a number of open shots outside the arc, including those juicy corner threes. But they were unable to knock them down. The Raptors’ starters shot just 1-for-13 from beyond the arc and as a team they hit only five, shooting just 21.7 percent.
Jason Kidd is not going to change his defensive scheme now, not after three seasons in Milwaukee. That means those corner threes will continue to be there for the taking. If Toronto wants to right the ship in this series, they should start there.
Then focus on rebounding, scoring and somehow stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo.
No small task after the Milwaukee Bucks announced to the world they belong in the NBA postseason. Game 2 is Tuesday night.