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NBA Playoffs Final Score: Bucks’ Late Surge Falls Just Short in Game 2, 106-100

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Giannis’ fourth quarter theatrics not quite enough to upset Toronto

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

If game one was a lazy, round ten uppercut from Toronto, game two sure looked like a haymaker, and the Bucks very nearly emerged victorious despite playing like a team on the ropes all game. The 106-100 defeat feels more like a moral victory than a spirit-sapping loss, and the ferocious flurry by Giannis Antetokounmpo down the stretch felt like an entirely different coming-out party for the Bucks’ star.

Giannis, for his part, had a putrid night in terms of efficiency. He shot just 9-24, but managed 24 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. More importantly, he was the man willing them to a potential win down the stretch. Khris Middleton responded from game one to get 20 points and five rebounds, and Greg Monroe again delivered a solid 18 points.

Kyle Lowry snapped out of his funk, hitting the pull-up dagger over Brogdon late in the game, and 22 points and five assists. DeRozan played more efficiently too, going 9-18 to hit 23 points and seven rebounds.

Toronto was deadly sharp from deep all night, ending at 14-29 (48.3%) to Milwaukee’s 47.1% on 11 makes. Both teams had identical points in the paint (30) and fast break points (12), and nearly identical turnover marks. Toronto snapping back from deep helped offset Milwaukee’s advantage with 12 offensive boards and 10 more shot attempts than the Raptors. Unfortunately, the late game work of Giannis wasn’t enough to overcome some of the ludicrous shotmaking DeRozan and Lowry had down the stretch.

Toronto opened the game by attacking Maker down low with Valanciunas, but a 3-3 start from downtown gave Milwaukee an 11-10 lead after Middleton broke up the deluge from deep with a pull-up in the lane. Giannis got a rolling feed from Brogdon for a slam, and Greg Monroe got his “and-one” pretty soon after entering. However, DeRozan started getting a little separation from Snell, scoring unimpeded in transition and skipping by the sleeping Buck on a cut to the rim. Middleton sunk a three and found his way to the line with Giannis getting a rest to end the first. Toronto led just 28-25 after one despite Giannis starting 1-6 from the field and Milwaukee shooting 36% overall.

Toronto’s three-point reversion finally kicked in to start the second, with Joseph, Patterson and Tucker splashing in a trio of triples to go up 36-27 in less than two minutes. Toronto promptly followed those up with some errant attempts, and Milwaukee stormed to within two behind Monroe attacking Ibaka in the post and getting a breezy slam after the Raps lost him in transition. Lowry seemed to shake off whatever plagued him in game one, attacking the basket relentlessly against the questionable rim protection of Spencer Hawes down the stretch. The two exchanged unpleasantries at one point, but I think this was Lowry’s way of thanking the long-maned center for giving him his confidence back. After an inconceivable Brogdon offensive rebound against Valanciunas, Hawes tipped in a basket at the buzzer to send Milwaukee into half trailing 55-52.

Giannis shot just 4-14 in the first half for eight points, but he managed 10 rebounds and four assists to contribute in alternative ways for Milwaukee. Middleton looked back in gear, tallying 11 points. Same story for Monroe, who delivered 11 as well to keep it close despite just 39.1% shooting for the Bucks. Their 10 offensive boards gave them enough second chances to not fall further behind Toronto. For their part, the Raptors may’ve only shot 41.5%, but they also went 8-17 (47.1%) from deep. Kyle Lowry found his game late in the half to reach 17 points, and his dance partner, DeRozan, had 12.

Milwaukee came out humming to start the third, with Tony Snell meandering to the hoop and Middleton converting a four-point play. Toronto slapped back though, with Choo-Choo finding success low against Maker and Ibaka coming up with huge blocks against Thon and Giannis at the summit, although the latter did appear a bit suspect. The Raptors leaped ahead, 68-60, and the Bucks’ halfcourt offense looked stalled out.

Sloppy play by Toronto ensued, and the Raptors let Milwaukee back in it with several turnovers leading to wide-open Bucks’ threes from Snell and Middleton after Greg Monroe put in yeoman’s work against a running out of steam Choo-Choo. Giannis finally punctured Toronto’s interior with a stirring slam dunk, and a Middleton midrange special against Carroll brought the Bucks to within 77-75. Getting to the line several times down the stretch, the Bucks made it an 84-83 game heading into the fourth.

Giannis started the fourth on the bench, and Toronto exploited Teletovic immediately, with Serge Ibaka nailing two three-pointers that staked Toronto a nine-point lead. The Bucks’ star returned after just two minutes, and the Bucks rebounded - what a surprise... - with a run. Perhaps more amazingly, Thon Maker actually had the opportunity to play in the fourth quarter, and a Giannis to Thon alley-oop made it 95-90 with a little over five minutes to go. After missing two free throws, Giannis responded by twirling past Tucker for a cotton-soft lay-in, hitting the and-one opportunity to cap a 10-1 scoring run for the Bucks. DeRozan answered with a jumper, but Brogdon bullied through Lowry for a layup and Giannis jammed home a Delly lob to pull the Bucks within one.

Once more, Giannis delivered the Bucks a gift, pulling up for a late shot clock three that tied it at 100 as onions dispersed from his shorts. Both Malcolm Brogdon and Delly missed wide open threes on successive possessions, as Toronto pulled ahead by two on a DeRozan jumper. A Kyle Lowry pull-up with Brogdon’s hand palming his face swished through to put Toronto ahead by four with eight seconds left. Brogdon’s ensuing corner three on the inbounds rattled out, and the Bucks lost narrowly, 106-100.

Thoughts:

  • After only shooting it five times in the previous game, the Raptors went to Choo-Choo Valanciunas to start the game. He immediately took it to Maker, hitting a hook shot for an and-one. It was a smart adjustment after avoiding their strength advantage inside against the Bucks rookie. They did the same to start the second half, and basically played him off the court to begin the third.
  • Thon Maker had a pass from one corner to Tony Snell on the opposite wing where he cracked in a three. He’s shown little visionary passing ability this year, and certainly few with a cross-court look. His actual passing mechanics looked a little pained, but hey it got there and Snell delivered.
  • Khris Middleton, after struggling in Game one, delivered with a promising sequence to end the first quarter with GIannis on the bench. He got to the line twice after attempting just two in the first game, and hit a three-pointer on a swift dribble handoff with Greg Monroe. Any sequence when Giannis is getting a breather will be pivotal, and staving any Toronto runs by having their second star step up is necessary. They kept it close at the end of the first quarter last game too.
  • Greg Monroe’s been a boon in his first playoff stint, and in particular he led a sequence in the second quarter while Middleton was on the bench and Milwaukee trailed by nine. Following the Raptor’s clawing surge to start the second, Greg Monroe tallied eight straight points by attacking the rim and finding pockets in Toronto’s defense to exploit them in the paint. His contributions, particularly when the Bucks’ stars are staggered, are pivotal, and something that was sorely missing down the stretch of this season.
  • One of Dwayne Casey’s more obvious adjustments was heading deeper into his bench in this game. After getting little to no run in Game one, both Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl got some minutes in the first half, eight and four respectively. Milwaukee didn’t exploit Poeltl in the post too much during his stint, and his rim protection numbers are actually quite serviceable. After how last game went, Casey didn’t have much to lose.
  • Kyle Lowry thrust himself back into this series by abusing Spencer Hawes during his late 2nd quarter stint. First, Lowry drew an egregious three-point foul on Hawes at the perimeter, but more importantly, Lowry started taking it to the rack to draw fouls and finish. For much of the game before that, Lowry had been traveling through the forest and shivered at the sight of the trees, dishing the ball back out to the perimeter while stalling under the basket. When Hawes entered, that script flipped. It’s getting harder to justify those minutes outside of, “well that’s what we’ve been doing.”
  • Toronto played off Giannis plenty tonight, daring him to shoot. Rarely was he able to find a modicum of space in the entrenched paint, and it oftentimes took one of those VICIOUS screens or his man getting lost in traffic to free up enough space for the lane. He got a few feeds as the roll man tonight, but for the most part, Toronto was asking him to shoot jumpers, and he obliged until taking it to the post in the final quarter. With Toronto’s considerably better shooting tonight too, there were less opportunities to push off the miss. As such, his game looked a little neutered compared to game one, but the fact he didn’t stop shooting or probing the Raptors’ interior was an encouraging sign.
  • Tony Snell is a quiet, steady man. He hit two wide open transition threes tonight that are certainly easy shots, but they both came with Milwaukee trailing and needing to stave off a rampaging Raptors team. He is the epitome of calm, and his 4-6 night from deep was supremely important.
  • Giannis was a beast on the boards tonight. He viciously grabbed several rebounds away from the Raptors in the second half, and looked to attack whenever he got it. With Toronto going small plenty of times tonight, it was even more imperative Giannis block out his man and ensure the Raptors wouldn’t have second chance opportunities.
  • Marques Johnson referred to Jason Kidd as the riverboat gambler to start the fourth quarter, referencing his decision to run with Mirza Teletovic to start. Turns out Kidd bet on 18 and turned up a queen, as Teletovic’s impotent offensive game and non-existent defensive presence gave Serge Ibaka a chance to rattle off pure threes from deep. His sole offensive contribution? A pump fake and drive into the lane that felt like an experimental art show exhibit. Thankfully, Kidd pulled him after two minutes for Giannis, but it gave Toronto the juice they needed to take this one.
  • Thon Maker played admirably down the stretch, and provided a fitting counter with the Raptors sticking to their small lineup without Valanciunas on the floor in the fourth. Kidd going back to his rookie was the right move, and while we’ve complained plenty about his reticence to put him back in, let’s just hope this gives him the confidence to do so more going forward. Hey, let’s go nuts and maybe even play him in that second quarter instead of Hawes!
  • Let’s talk briefly about Delly. In the fourth, he hit a three that helped snap a Raptors run. He even had a nifty wraparound bullet pass to and a lob to Giannis. Those were both apt plays. They also could’ve probably been performed by Malcolm Brogdon. We’ve seen him do that plenty this year. Dellavedova proceeded to miss a wide open three that would’ve given Milwaukee a 103-102 lead with under a minute to play (to be fair, Brogdon missed one too). Now, anyone could’ve missed that shot, but Tony Snell had also been hot from deep all night, bucketing two aforementioned clutch transition threes. Not to mention the fact Snell got subbed in for the final possession for defensive purposes on DeRozan. If you know Snell is “the man” to guard DeRozan, wouldn’t you want him in there in the waning minutes of another potential road win? Perhaps that could’ve helped prevent his go-ahead jumper late? Not to mention the fact wing threes are Snell’s hottest shot locations all year. Delly deserves minutes, but I don’t think the rationale necessarily matched up with the scenario tonight.

Many discussions will revolve around how this was not even a stellar game from Giannis given his subpar shooting numbers. Few would say this was his “coming out party,” a phrase that’s probably overused and unnecessary given the amount of coverage he’s garnered all year. However, I am here to tell you this was a different type of Giannis game. This was highlighted most on a fourth quarter possession airball, where he whirled into the lane and threw up a shot that missed badly. His most memorable clutch moment to this point remains his game-winner at MSG. Tonight felt different from then though. Tonight, he didn’t defer. He didn’t waver. He wanted the freaking ball. Passes to teammates were a tacit agreement that their possession was temporary, the ball was to be returned to him before a possession ended. He wanted this game, and he wanted to be the one who won it for Milwaukee. So remember the three he knocked in over Patterson, the alley-oop from Delly, the snarl after another particularly vicious dunk. But most of all, remember that whirling piece of junk shot he threw up in the lane. He didn’t care; this was his game to win.