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Inevitable? Bucks Hold Serve at Fiserv Forum against Raptors

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With Game One won, Milwaukee holds a strong grip over their series against Toronto.

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

Check this out.

This is what happens when a city buys in to a team that has a shot, a real shot, at winning. And check this out:

This is what happens when you play some of the worst basketball you can for a full two quarters, and come out of halftime recentered and reenergized, and you know that you’ve got the horses to pull away and they don’t.

The Milwaukee Bucks may have won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, but it cannot be overstated just how much the Raptors needed to come out of that game with a win.

Milwaukee shot 39.8% from the field and 25.0% from three (11 makes on 44 attempts). I mean, look at this:

Brook Lopez made hay on putbacks and preposterously-long range threes (as usual), but hasn’t taken 21 shots since he was a Laker. Giannis Antetokounmpo was only OK overall, and while Malcolm Brogdon looked like his old self, the same could not be said for Nikola Mirotic, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, or George Hill.

Meanwhile, while Toronto fared no better from the field overall, they did a far sight better from deep (15/42, 35.7%) thanks to the heroics of Kyle Lowry. Lowry has historically struggled in the postseason, but he was unconscious last night (30 points on 10/15 shooting, including 7/9 threes and 8 boards). Kawhi Leonard provided his customary excellence, and nobody else on the relatively-shallow Raptors roster played particularly poorly. Pascal Siakam perhaps shot worse than he will again (0/7 on corner threes), Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol were effective mostly in fits and starts, and Danny Green wasn’t as involved as he could have been. Still, the Raptors played their game relatively well.

It was the fourth quarter that showed why the Bucks are more likely to escape this series with four wins than the Raptors are. Milwaukee has played 10 playoff games now (9-1), while Toronto has played 13 (8-5). The Bucks are fresher, deeper, and can play faster than the Raptors can. Toronto only had three players score in the second half last night, allowing Milwaukee to nearly double them up on fourth quarter points (32-17). From RaptorsHQ:

And things looked positive in the first half! Every Raptor scored, and Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka combined to shoot 8-for-16 for 24 points. It looked like putting the massive bodies of the 76ers in the rearview mirror was freeing the Raptors up to play loose, to get space to step in to their shots, and let fly with confidence.

It is, of course, too early to say with any certainty...but last night may have been the beginning of the end for Toronto’s postseason run. They hit their threes, and the Bucks did not. Lowry stepped up in a big way, whereas Giannis had his struggles. They came in to a hostile environment and carried a lead into the fourth quarter. Things generally went right for the Raptors and wrong for the Bucks.

And the Bucks ended up a bucket away from yet another double-digit win.

What’s the adjustment for Toronto to make? If you’re Nick Nurse, what can you do differently? Your team defended the presumptive NBA MVP remarkably well, made smart reads and crisp passes, found openings to exploit while allowing very few. All in all, last night was a game that Toronto could not afford to drop, and the Bucks just brute-forced their way into a win while the Raptors ran out of gas.

Game 2 is on Friday night. Can Toronto make a pit stop and retool in time to even the series, or will the Bucks continue to be a buzzsaw from which there is no escape?