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NBA Playoffs Game 3: All the Small Things

A collection of tiny joys and thoughts from a gargantuan win

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee’s 104-77 game three win against the Toronto Raptors was a hellacious beat down, exacerbated down the stretch by Dwayne Casey and Jason Kidd’s brinksmanship over when to pull their starters. After their rolling momentum in the first, the Bucks gently tipped the boulder over the peak and the Raptors ran from it all game. Amidst all that excitement though, there were any number of delightful small notes to savor in the glistening splendor of a flawless victory. Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • Rashad Vaughn made two threes during his garbage time stint. That alone is enough cause for joy, but the latter came with the clock winding down and when most players would just take a shot clock violation. Instead, Vaughn grabbed his metaphorical victory cigar and flicked it into a nearby pile of gunpowder. Chuckers gonna chuck I suppose. Good on you ‘Shad.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player in this series and heir to the Eastern Conference’s best player throne according to one Brian Windhorst, scored 19 points in this game. That is not only below his season average, but it’s now the second game in a row where one could look at his performance, nod in acknowledgement of his greatness, and still expect plenty more in the next contest. I don’t think Toronto’s taken Giannis’ best shot yet, and the Bucks still lead 2-1. That’s terrifying.
  • Speaking of terrifying, Norman Powell will be seeing Giannis in his nightmares for days to come. Pretty sure this means the Raptors have to give back that Clippers pick they got as part of the Vasquez deal.
  • Thon Maker has shown an incredible amount of growth this season, and tonight he put several of those additional skills into a cohesive, impactful performance. In the first quarter, he got a dump off from Giannis in the lane, and he muscled through contact for a ferocious finish at the rim against Ibaka. In December, he’s bouncing off those guys as the ball falls feebly to the floor. Later, he drove baseline past and attempted a freaking reverse layup. It missed, but by George. It’s irresponsible to get irrationally high on Thon’s ceiling, but it’s also irresponsible not to acknowledge he’s taken massive strides from the days when his three-point shooting was about the only reliable thing he did on the basketball court.
  • In stark contrast to the Dellavedova and Brogdon three point attempts that rattled out, Milwaukee got several big hits from their bench contributors in the opening stanza. Dellavedova looked entirely comfortable jacking away, and hit several threes to keep the momentum rocking as the first closed. Michael Beasley, in his first extended performance, even had a three that miraculously rattled in after popping out. Thank you Karma.
  • Milwaukee assisted on 29 of their 39 field goals. Their ball movement was sublime, repeatedly making the extra pass to find another open man. The 74.4 assist percentage would’ve been their fifth-best of the entire season.
  • Team A: 19 fast break points; Team B: 6 fast break points. Any guesses on who is who? Surprise, Milwaukee is Team B. The fact Milwaukee pounded Toronto so soundly despite not scoring much on the run is yet another fearful sign for a Raptors squad searching for answers.
  • Not that a second half start when your team’s down by thirty is indicative of much going forward, but Dwayne Casey did opt to bring Jonas Valanciunas off the bench to start the third quarter and inserted Cory Joseph in his spot. It begs the question whether Casey will opt for that look earlier given their relative success in game two while going small. The decision to insert Joseph was a curious one though, as I would’ve presumed he would put Tucker or Patterson in to add another capable defender. The absence of Terrence Ross has seemed particularly glaring this series though, as the Raptors backcourt seems like it’s one man short of a full deck, and Joseph’s theoretical potential to offset the Bucks’ trapping scheme with his ball-handling and dribbling seems like a worthwhile gamble. Still, the defensive issues present with that three-man backcourt makes it easy for the Bucks to get Middleton switched onto the smaller Joseph, who he’s eyed like a sizzling steak whenever they’re matched up. Casey may look to match up Valanciunas with Monroe’s minutes more often, and I wonder whether he’ll go so far as to shake up the next game’s starting lineup.
  • Toronto shot 30 free throws tonight. One shudders to think where they would’ve been without that semblance of efficient offensive production. They’re also third in the playoffs so far in terms of free throw attempt rate, while Milwaukee’s ranked third to last. Toronto won’t keep shooting at a fifth grade level from the field, but the free throw attempts for both teams should start to normalize slightly. For a Milwaukee team that’s leading the Playoffs in 3-point percentage (46.4%), hopefully that can buoy their offense should their Midas touch start to abandon them.
  • Aaron Rodgers showed up to the game, bringing newly acquired Martellus Bennett and the annual preseason event of the year in Wisconsin: Brett Hundle...wait a second, the god Steve Novak was in attendance!

In unrelated Packer news, Donald Driver is a Wisconsin treasure and should still be remembered as such:

One last thing, turns out this was a pretty fitting representation of the Raptors’ play tonight. Way to call it Bucks game ops: