TORONTO — Jason Kidd didn’t flinch on the sidelines as Malcolm Brogdon’s shot went up, down … and out.
“Ball goes halfway down, comes out, that’s just basketball,” the Milwaukee Bucks head coach said later. “It can be nice or it can be cruel.”
The Bucks said all the right things after their narrow loss to the Toronto Raptors Tuesday in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final. Mostly, it was what they didn’t say. Sure, there was talk about looking forward to getting back on their home court and Brogdon made some comment about the team having a chip on their shoulder, but mostly the Bucks seemed to reflect the tone and tenor of Kidd, whose been down this playoff road a couple of times both in uniform and civvies. Yeah, they had all the never-say-die stuff happening and they once again exposed the Raptors’ sometimes annoying inability to close out a quarter whatever combination Dwane Casey uses.
But they also knew that the Raptors had a sequence of shocking defensive breakdowns late in the game that left Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova with open three-point attempts that failed.
The Bucks didn’t say they should be up 2-0 in this series, and you can never say that if this shot or that shot went down the next play would have played out exactly the way it did. There is no predetermination in sports; different events create different responses. But the Bucks did acknowledge that in a game in which they lost by six points, they’d left that many on the table in the final two and a half minutes – and, you know, draw your own conclusions.
Ball goes down; ball spins out.
“There was no one there,” Brogdon said, referring to his three-point attempt. “No one. I definitely had time to square up and everything … just didn’t make it.”
Predictably, the Bucks agreed with the notion that splitting the first two games of a series on the road isn’t the worst thing a team can do. And Kidd acknowledged that since the Raptors making their shots cut down on the ability of his team to free-wheel and forced the Bucks into a half-court game, he needed to sit down and go over the videotape to figure out how in particular his club could get Giannis Antetokounmpo into games when the Raptors made their shots. In other words, he wasn’t counting on another ham-handed performance like the one the Raptors delivered in Game 1. This game – this loss – was more reflective of the team the Bucks will face the rest of the way.
Antetokounmpo was hardly a non-factor: he led the Bucks with 24 points and had playoff-career highs of 15 rebounds and seven assists. But he also missed a couple of free throws and was worked over effectively by the Raptors, admitting as much after the game. He was frustrated at times, and looked perplexed when he was whistled for travelling in the third quarter when the Raptors’ Delon Wright broke up a transition by simply cutting in front of Antetokounmpo as the loped down the floor.
If the Bucks needed to take a little something away from the failed late-game flurry, it might well be the favourable officiating they received. That, too, involved Antetokounmpo, who pushed Kyle Lowry out of the way as he cut in with less than a minute left and the Raptors leading by two – knocking the all-star to the floor in front of a screaming Raptors bench – before flicking a pass to Brogdon who found Khris Middleton, who choked off an 18-foot jumper.
It’s nice to know that you’ve become a big enough star that in the skewed world of NBA officiating you can get the benefit of the doubt just like LeBron and the others. Maybe some time Lowry will get that love, too.
“We definitely gained some things out of these two games,” said Antetokounmpo. “I think we got the rotation … we did what we were supposed to do and played hard. They had some leads and we came back; we had a chance to take the lead and the ball didn’t go in. But at the end of the day, I think we did the right things; we had the right plays.”
Somebody asked Greg Monroe, the Bucks centre who had another superb game with 18 points in 22 minutes, whether or not a player such as Brogdon and even Antetokounmpo, who really hasn’t been around all that long, could learn from these two games. He chuckled. “A lot of guys on our team are learning a lot of things,” he said. “We just want to get home.”
In the end, it is perhaps best to leave things with Brogdon – give the last word to the guy whose shot could very well have been the last word on the game.
“We knew they were going to come out hungrier and we needed to be hungrier … but we just didn’t do it,” said Brogdon, who defended the hell out of Lowry on the jump shot that clinched the win. “They were the more desperate team … and we needed to be the more desperate team.
“We didn’t play with the energy we needed to,” he added. “And yet we still had a chance to win the game. So that’s encouraging for sure.”