10 things: Giannis watches as Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas torch Bucks

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·5 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 114-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the sixth of eight seeding games ahead of the 2020 NBA playoffs.

One — Throwaway: This was a bit of gamesmanship on the part of both the Raptors and the Bucks, who have clearly circled each other as a potential Eastern Conference Finals rematch. Milwaukee sat out Giannis Antetokounmpo over a toothache, while the Raptors rested Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet on the second night of a back-to-back. Neither side wanted to show their hand, especially since the Bucks and Raptors are both locked into their seeding as No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the conference. Still, it made for a fun and quirky game, as it was competitive right through the end.

Two — Deadly: Matt Thomas lit up the Bucks for a career-high 22 points, and was legitimately the go-to scorer for prolonged stretches. Thomas entered the game early in both halves, both times replacing the struggling Terence Davis around three minutes in, and was lights out from three. He was so dangerous that the Bucks assigned their best perimeter defender in Eric Bledsoe to check Thomas, and even still Thomas was able to shake free. To end the first quarter, Thomas faded out of bounds to nail a ridiculous leaning three over Bledsoe, and remained hot throughout.

Three — Viable: Thomas should get serious consideration against the Bucks in a playoff setting. The Bucks’ entire defensive strategy revolves around dropping their center deep into the paint at all times to deny shots at the rim, but that leaves the perimeter open. Thomas was able to consistently step into open looks around screens from Marc Gasol, and the Bucks failed to adjust. Thomas is the type of shooter where even if he’s taking the midrange look, he’s accurate enough to make the math work. Defensively, because the Bucks usually have a static catch-and-shoot threat on the floor at all times, there are places for Thomas to hide.

Four — Active: Chris Boucher also set his career-high with 25 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. It was clear from the jump that Boucher was ready, as he swished two threes immediately upon checking into the game. Boucher makes his share of mistakes, but he usually settles in when he knows that he’s going to get consistent minutes. Boucher registered one of his signature blocks at the three-point line, and constantly beat the Bucks on the offensive glass for putback chances. If that three falls at a consistent clip, Boucher is another option to throw at the Bucks, especially if the Raptors want to go big with two centers on the floor.

Five — Nasty: Boucher’s two-handed poster over Ersan Ilyasova deserves its own point. The broadcast showed it at least a dozen times, and quite frankly, that wasn’t enough.

Six — Crisp: The most encouraging part of this game was seeing Norman Powell regain his rhythm, as he finished with 21 points in 27 minutes. With both Lowry and VanVleet sidelined, Powell got extended looks as a de facto point guard, and delivered in his role. Similar to Thomas, Powell was able to attack off the high pick-and-roll and find space with the Bucks’ centers dropping back for midrange shots, floaters, and pull-up threes. Powell also continues to share a great connection with Marc Gasol, who spaces the floor, sets massive screens, and always passes to Powell to initiate the attack. Nurse needs to find a way to tweak his rotation so those two can share more minutes together.

Seven — Developing: The Raptors made a point to find OG Anunoby in the post as a source of offense. On one play, Anunoby had Khris Middleton in isolation and blew past him easily with a spin move before finishing with a two-handed jam. Shortly after, the Bucks doubled Anunoby down low, but he outsmarted the defense by finding Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on a cut to the rim for two free throws.

Eight — Clever: Maybe this was just a temporary solution for this unique circumstance, but the Raptors were clever in how they guarded Brook Lopez. Each time Lopez went to screen, Gasol would call for one of his forwards to follow Lopez to the perimeter instead of sticking with his assignment. This allowed the Raptors to switch more of those actions to keep Milwaukee’s guards out of the paint, and Lopez wasn’t able to punish the mismatch when he got to the ball. On one play, Lopez had the rookie guard Davis on him, and still he settled for a jumper.

Nine — Flaw: Middleton is a nice player having a very efficient season shooting the basketball, but he remains weak in handling the ball. With Giannis resting, it was up to Middleton to create more of the offense, and the Raptors neutralized him by pressuring the ball and making him retreat. It’s reminiscent of the defining moment of the Raptors-Bucks series, where VanVleet and Lowry hounded Middleton on a behind-the-back dribble to set up Kawhi Leonard for a poster finish in Game 6 as part of a 26-3 run.

Ten — Intriguing: There’s something there with two-way forward Paul Watson Jr. He’s quick on his feet and a bouncy finisher. He got to the rim after faking a dribble hand-off, and drove it all the way to the basket for another finish through contact. His three-point shot was elite at the G-League level (he made 42 percent on seven attempts per game) and it remains to see if that carries over, but the tools are there. He could be yet another diamond in the rough for the Raptors’ scouting and development staff.

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