Bucks down against Toronto, but not out

MILWAUKEE — Oh no, the Bucks were defeated in Game 5 105-99 and have lost three consecutive games for the first time all year and now trail the Toronto Raptors three games to two in the Eastern Conference finals. What are they going to do now? Is their season doomed?

Well, no, and echoing the famous phrase once spoken by Green Bay Packers quarterback and Bucks courtside superfan (and minority owner) Aaron Rodgers, “R-E-L-A-X.”

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Milwaukee achieved the best record in the NBA this year with 60-wins, and it did it by way of having the top records both at home (33-8) and on the road (27-14). If the Bucks play a complete game to their 2018-19 standards and win Game 6, they would have Game 7 back at Fiserv Forum.

Winning on the road and winning at home has been their formula to success all season and there is no reason why they can’t do it again with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line.

“We know as a team that we’ve lost three straight and it’s something new for us, but we’ve got to go in to Toronto and get Game 6,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with a team-high 24 points. “We’ve got to fix anything we’ve been doing wrong right now and just try to play winning basketball.

“We’ve created great habits all year long so hopefully it comes out in Game 6 … it’s a must win; everybody knows it. We’re going to go in there and do everything we can do. We’ll leave it all on the court, make shots and play hard and give out energy and hopefully we can get a win. It’s not just another game, we need to go in there and get a win.”

The Bucks’ outshot the Raptors 45.2% to 36.9%, outrebounded them 53 to 45 and had 26 assists to Toronto’s 19, but their poor perimeter defense was the most critical factor in the game. The Raptors shot 18-for-43 from long distance, which included game-high scorer (35 points) Kawhi Leonard shooting 5-for-8 and Fred VanVleet 7-for-9, which accounted for all his 21 points off the bench. Leonard also had a playoff career-high nine assists and every single one of them was an assist for 3-pointers to fellow Raptors.

“Tonight, a little bit of a strange box score,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said after Game 5. “Obviously VanVleet from the 3-point line and them in general from the 3-point line was a huge impact on the game… to get 7-for-9 from the 3-point line (by VanVleet) is just killer.

“We talk about the character of the group, the toughness and competitiveness of the group. It’s first to four (wins), we got to go to Toronto and get a game and I think the group will be ready. They’ll fill their cup up and be ready to go.”

The Bucks showed a new-look playoff starting lineup for Game 5, with positive results. It was the spark that helped get them a 14-point lead in the first half. Guard Malcolm Brogdon started instead of forward Nikola Mirotic, who had opened the game for the Bucks in the four contest of the series.

In that set, it’s Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt with All-Star Khris Middleton at point-forward running the faster-paced offense, which led him to getting a new playoff career-high 10 assists along with 10 rebounds. Brogdon also recorded a double-double in his starting role  with 18 points and 11 rebounds while Bledsoe chipped in 20 points.

The downside of altering a starting lineup this late in the season is the effect it may have on your rotation and bench-scoring rhythm. Mirotic as a reserve played just nine minutes and went scoreless throughout the game. In fact, other than George Hill’s 12 points off the bench, the only other player to score was Pat Connaughton on a 3-pointer.

“For us it’s pretty good for us to be in uncharted territory. A lot of NBA teams have lost three games in a row,” Connaughton said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s coming in the Eastern Conference finals when we had a 2-0 lead, but at the end of the day, we need to look at film, dig deep, look at each other, and see what we’re made out of. That’s what it’s going to take. … We’ve got to look in the mirror and make sure we have each other’s backs just like we have had all year.”