The Toronto Raptors almost pulled off a miraculous 26-point comeback but it was simply not to be as the Milwaukee Bucks pulled away late for a 115-105 victory at the Fiserv Forum Saturday.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks with 36 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four blocked shots while Kyle Lowry was sensational with 36 points of his own on 18 field-goal attempts. There just wasn’t enough help around him on this night.
Here are some takeaways from the Eastern Conference Finals rematch.
Siakam fails to impress in Giannis showdown
This was Pascal Siakam’s first opportunity to showcase his superstar aspirations against elite competition this season and it turned into a valuable learning lesson. While the league’s MVP wreaked havoc early on with double-digit scoring in the first quarter, Siakam was completely invisible with zeroes all across the box score. He missed a couple of midrange shots and a 3-pointer before being forced to leave the game about halfway through the first quarter with two fouls.
Firstly, in games like this where the Raptors are struggling to find a groove and fall behind by as much as 12-1 early on, it has to be Siakam who finds a way to influence the game and get his team going. It was Lowry who stepped up in his absence and drained a couple of triples while looking to get involved, but Siakam’s path to being a superstar starts with carrying his team on nights like this.
Secondly, the foul trouble remains a concern. It’s only been six games, but five of them have seen Siakam pick up early fouls, forcing him to manage the game from there. He was able to bounce back with strong second halves against the Pelicans and Celtics, but Giannis showed his defensive worth as well on this night. After Siakam picked up his fourth with five minutes remaining in the third, Antetokounmpo punctuated his dominance over the Most Improved Player on this night with a ridiculous block into the Milwaukee bench after Siakam made his way to the rim.
Siakam fouled out with 1:41 remaining in the game with the Raptors trailing by four.
Kyle Lowry remains elite
This was a masterful performance from Lowry, and much like Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors wasted his special effort. As mentioned earlier, with Siakam absent, Lowry did a tremendous job of leading the team on the road and put on a shooting clinic to boot.
The pull-up 3s were in full force but what continues to be oh-so-encouraging is his rediscovered ability to get to the line. This is something that seemed to have been lost from his arsenal as his drive game cooled, but this was Lowry’s third game with at least eight free-throw attempts this year after a grand total of seven all of last season.
We know the defensive acumen in terms of taking charges, poking the ball away or defending bigger players in the post is going to be there, but this level of scoring from Lowry is refreshing and absolutely necessary for a team looking to make up for the absence of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. His 36-point night means he’s now averaging 24 points over six games while still contributing 6.8 assists and five rebounds. He’s made 39.3 percent of his 56 attempts from beyond the arc.
OG proves his worth, but where was he in the fourth?
While Giannis was given plenty of room to operate early on, Anunoby having to pick up the assignment because of Siakam’s foul trouble was an opportunity for him to show what he can do against the most dominant force currently in the game, and he can be very proud of his effort.
Anunoby did a tremendous job of picking up Antetokounmpo early and using his strength to wear him down. The biggest part of picking Giannis up as early as possible is that it takes away from his ridiculous transition game and minimizes the chances of him seeing an opening for his long, barely legal strides to take advantage of.
Offensively, OG continues to show a very good understanding of what he brings to the table, taking open 3s and seeking out cutting opportunities to finish at the basket. He made his first midrange jumper of the season off some screen-and-roll action as the ball handler, which was obviously very encouraging to see.
Surprisingly, with the Raptors having gone big and playing zone with moderate success in the fourth quarter and Serge Ibaka also seeing minutes on Giannis, Nick Nurse failed to turn back to Anunoby until there were under three minutes remaining in the game. There were opportunities to get him in sooner with Ibaka clearly looking gassed.
Listless at centre for too long
Marc Gasol has been largely MIA for the start of the regular season. There was no play more representative of his performance thus far than when the Raptors had to inbound the ball with only 0.7 seconds remaining on the shot clock. The Spaniard received a clean look but took way too long to release and the result was a shot clock violation.
His importance in games like this can’t be understated. Going back to last season before the trade to acquire Gasol, Milwaukee did an excellent job of trapping Lowry in pick-and-roll action and daring Ibaka to be a scorer. The Bucks were more than happy to concede those midrange twos because of everything else it took away from the Raptors’ offence. The Gasol trade changed all that as having him as a starter gave Toronto a respectable perimeter threat but also another vital facilitator. Problem is, Gasol’s playmaking only truly goes to another level when he presents himself as a threat to score.
Ibaka started the game 0-for-5 and while he’s done a good job of providing the scoring punch and defensive intensity that has generally been lacking at the centre position through the first five games, this wasn’t his night for far too long. By the time he came to life, the Raptors had expended a tonne of energy just trying to get back in the game.
NEED rotation depth
The downside, once again, is that Lowry and Fred VanVleet combined for 79 minutes. In the here and now, it isn’t such a bad thing because the Raptors had two days off and don’t play again until Wednesday, but there is no way this can be sustained for 82 games if the team has any hopes of having its two starting guards perform at this level in the post-season. At the very least, this may even have to come down to trading some regular-season wins for freshness come playoff time.
With Siakam in foul trouble and Gasol having his issues, too, Nurse tried to turn to Chris Boucher for a little bit at the four alongside Ibaka but the results were less than impressive. Nurse talked before heading out on the road and once again before the game about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson potentially factoring into the game because of the matchup, but the fact that he wasn’t willing to go to them with all the foul trouble suggests they are a long way away from seriously cracking the rotation.
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