The Toronto Raptors entered their game in Milwaukee Thursday night with the best road record in the East during the regular season. But, in countless ways, the playoffs are a different demon. A hostile environment at the Bradley Center propelled the Bucks to a hot start, while the Raps seemed content to ease into the game and were down double-digits early in the first quarter.
Two hundred and eighty miles away in Indianapolis, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers mounted a 26-point comeback over the Pacers. It could have been a theme on the evening — the night of comebacks — but the Raptors never even threatened to make a game of it.
Here are some takeaways from a 104-77 Game 3 loss the Raptors and their fans would like to swiftly forget:
Lack of ball movement stalls offence
It may be plainly obvious when looking at the final score, but it doesn’t do justice in explaining just how putrid the Raptors offence was on Thursday.
Not only did they allow 32 points to the Bucks in the first quarter, but they managed only 12 of their own.
It took until the five-minute mark in the 2nd quarter for Toronto to reach 20 points. They were down 30 when it happened (not Milwaukee’s biggest lead mind you, that was 34 points), a historically bad performance when the Raptors needed to come into enemy territory fighting yet did anything but.
The Raps didn’t reach the 50-point mark until 10:42 of the fourth quarter.
They shot 33.8 per cent from the floor in Game 3, and have now already recorded two of the five worst shooting performances in franchise playoff history after hitting just 36 per cent in Game 1.
Like Game 1, the Raps struggled from beyond the arc (near halftime they were shooting 10 per cent from deep, compared to 60 per cent from the Bucks).
But the real culprit in Toronto’s offensive woes was their lack of ball movement. That the Raptors generate their offence on isolation-type plays and pick and rolls is hardly news. This season the team posted the lowest assist rate in the NBA in 27 years.
After coming out of the gate slow, the Raps were left playing catch-up early, but because they weren’t able to swing the ball and figure out how to navigate the Bucks’ effective defensive trap, they couldn’t get clean looks to start stockpiling points.
As the third quarter drew to a close, Toronto only had six assists. They’d finish the game with just 11. By contrast, the Bucks put on a ball-movement clinic, making a point to find the extra man all night and finished with 29 assists as a team.
Cory Joseph led the Raptors with three helpers. Kyle Lowry registered two, despite doing a good job throughout the game of getting into the lane, drawing the double-team, and attempting to find trailing open teammates.
The Raptors’ two all-stars, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan struggled mightily on Thursday thanks in part to an effective defensive game plan from Bucks head coach Jason Kidd that his lanky, active players executed perfectly.
DeRozan saw double-teams and traps all night long and was taken out of the equation. He attempted only eight shots all game. He made a total of zero of them, finishing the game with just eight points (a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line).
It was both DeRozan’s lowest-scoring output and his fewest shot attempts in a game this season.
Lowry wasn’t much better, tying backup PG Delon Wright to finish with a team-high 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting to go along with the two assists. Lowry was -18 on the night while DeRozan was -23.
The Bucks’ star tandem of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, on the other hand, stepped up when it mattered most. Middleton wound up with a game-high 20 points and finished +17 while Antetokounmpo posted 19 points (on 7-for-10 shooting) eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks and a game-high +29.
As the game got uglier and uglier for the Raptors, Casey stuck with his players. The Raps’ regular rotation remained on the court through the majority of three quarters, relatively unchanged until the end of the third when Norman Powell checked in.
Powell was instrumental in their last memorable playoff comeback, erasing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of their first-round series versus the Indiana Pacers this time last year. Thirteen points is one thing but 30 is another, and no spark off the bench could erase that kind of deficit in time.
The Raptors second-year guard checked into the game and proceeded to get his shot blocked by Antetokounmpo’s elbow. It was that kind of night. When Powell sliced through the Bucks defence for an emphatic dunk, the Greek Freak promptly rushed the ball down the court, spun into the post and answered with a thunderous slam of his own.
While it had no impact on the final score, Powell and fellow second-year player Delon Wright were the lone bright spots for the Raptors. Powell played 14 minutes and finished the game with 12 points, three rebounds, one steal, and one block. Wright grabbed six rebounds in addition to his 13 points.
Whether Thursday was a night you want to just pretend never happened — to forget and regroup heading into Saturday’s Game 4 — or a loud and clear message that the Raptors are in serious trouble this series remains to be seen. If I were to bet, I’d imagine the Raps bounce back this weekend after being thoroughly embarrassed, which is almost just as frustrating as losing this ugly in the first place.