After they came just a couple of missed wide-open 3-pointers shy of bringing a 2-0 lead back from Canada, the question was: how would the Milwaukee Bucks deal with prosperity? Returning to Wisconsin with home-court advantage, having looked like the better team through 96 minutes in their matchup with the third-seeded Toronto Raptors, how would Jason Kidd’s young Bucks respond to playing with the expectation that they’d keep giving the veteran Raptors fits?
The answer, as it turns out? Pretty freaking well.
Milwaukee led wire-to-wire at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Thursday, jumping out to a 9-2 lead and never looking back. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton starred on both ends, Greg Monroe brutalized the Raptors’ bigs off the bench, the defense choked Toronto out and the Bucks absolutely rolled, leading by as many as 34 en route to an utterly dominating 104-77 win.
Middleton led six Bucks in double figures with 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go with seven assists, three rebounds and two steals in 34 1/2 minutes of work. All-everything All-Star Antetokounmpo added 19 points on 7-for-10 from the field, eight boards, four dimes, two steals and two blocks, including one in which he skied to snuff out a layup attempt by Raptor reserve Norman Powell with his elbow:
Giannis Antetokounmpo out here sending shots into the first row…with his elbow! pic.twitter.com/iHgsNAboZf
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) April 21, 2017
Kyle Lowry, Game 1’s goat and Game 2’s hero, scored 13 points for Toronto, who shot just 33.8 percent from the field as a team in an absolutely dismal performance in which scarcely anybody in Raptor red seemed capable of consistently doing a single thing well.
They ambushed and there's no part of our game that we executed … – Casey.
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) April 21, 2017
DeMar DeRozan, the NBA’s fifth leading scorer during the regular season, was held to just eight points in 31 minutes, all of them coming on free throws. That’s the first time the All-Star shooting guard has been held without a made field goal in a long, long time:
The last team to hold DeMar DeRozan to zero FGs in a game, playoffs or otherwise: Milwaukee, 1.19.2015.
— Rob Mahoney (@RobMahoney) April 21, 2017
This was about as one-sided as postseason affairs get. Toronto trailed by double figures from the 5:15 mark of the first quarter on and by 20-plus after a Monroe layup with 10:14 left in the second. Despite running out a starting five ranging in age from 20 to 25, including a pair of rookies in point guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, Milwaukee looked to be the more poised and prepared team from Jump Street, while the Raptors — the veteran-led team with the All-Star backcourt that made the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago — seemed to be scrambling, flustered and overwhelmed throughout.
The Bucks slung the ball around the floor early, racking up 11 assists on 14 first-quarter field goals, with six different players dropping a dime. After missing 15 of his 24 field-goal attempts in Game 2, Antetokounmpo stepped confidently into his shots; when he drilled a pair of early 3-pointers, you kind of got the feeling that, if he was going to start hitting those, it was going to be a very long night for the visitors. And it was.
Raptors swingman P.J. Tucker summed it up well:
PJ “They kicked our ass. They kicked our ass. Period. They came out and played harder, more aggressive, did everything they wanted to do."
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 21, 2017
He went on to say “They kicked our ass" about five more times.
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 21, 2017
After taking looks at how Mirza Teletovic and Spencer Hawes might look as spread fours and fives against the Raptors through the first two games of the series, and not liking what he saw, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd excised the two big men from his rotation in favor of the inimitable Michael Beasley and more minutes for guards Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry. The move paid off swimmingly, as the Bucks bench moved the ball, stroked jumpers and kept the pressure on a Raptors team that never quite seemed to have its bearings.
Beasley’s first bucket of the night, a triple off a Dellavedova feed, put Milwaukee up 32-12 with just over a half-minute left in the first quarter. Over the past couple of years, when they’ve started halves slow, the Raptors have tended to make pushes early in the second and fourth quarters behind small-ball units featuring Lowry and a combination of shooters and ball-movers off the bench. This time around, though, it was the Bucks that put the hammer down early in the second, hunting mismatches with Middleton in the mid-post or Monroe at the rim, collapsing Toronto’s skittish defense and finding open shots all over the floor. A pair of Monroe finishes at the rim, separated by Beasley’s second 3, made it a 31-point game midway through the second, and the Raptors just didn’t have it in them to get off the mat.
Monroe strong-armed his way to 16 points with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block off the bench, while rookies Brogdon (four points on seven shots, but nine assists and seven rebounds against just two turnovers in 27 1/2 minutes) and Maker (11 points on 3-for-5 shooting, increasingly impressive defensive work) kept holding their own, and then some, against the likes of Lowry, DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. The Bucks now lead two games to one, and can take a commanding 3-1 advantage in front of what promises to be a raucous hometown crowd in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. If they turn in another performance like this, they’ll be just one win away from securing Milwaukee’s first playoff series victory in 16 years.
And if the Raptors can’t stop them … well, with Lowry, Ibaka, Tucker and Patrick Patterson all potentially hitting the free agent market this summer, let’s just say getting dominated by a lower seed in Round 1 for the second time in three years might lead to some changes north of the border.
If the Raptors don't come back in this series, this is the kind of game that could blow up this era of the franchise. No exaggeration.
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) April 21, 2017
Through three games, though, this series is less a story about a team falling than it is about a team rising. With so many young players just starting to scratch the surface of their talents — and with Jabari Parker recuperating from ACL surgery — the Bucks aren’t yet what they could become. What they already are, though, is getting pretty damn exciting.
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