By Ben Browne
The Toronto Raptors are coming off being embarrassed by the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first round series. They scored but 12 points in the opening frame and 30 in the first half, and were down by as many as 34 points at several points during the game.
They just simply didn’t have it.
That happens from time-to-time. During the course of a season where many teams play upwards of 100 games counting the post-season, there are bound to be a few duds sprinkled in along the way.
However, the most concerning aspect of this series so far from a Raptors’ perspective has been the lack of productivity from their second unit. The Raptors’ bench has combined to score them 81 points through three games, while the Bucks reserves have piled up 103 points on the Raptors. Doing the math, the Raptors are -22 in bench points so far through three games, two of which have gone in favour of Milwaukee.
That gap needs to narrow itself in a hurry.
In the NBA, perhaps more than any other league, you need quality performances from your reserves on a regular basis. This has not happened for the Raptors in this series as of yet. The Bucks bench has badly outplayed the Raptors bench, which is a major reason the Raptors are trailing in this series and facing a virtual must-win Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee.
Let’s take a look at some of the point totals from the Raptors’ main bench players. These are the total number of points through three games from each player and what they are averaging per game:
Joseph: 16 (5.3 PPG)
Patterson: 14 (4.7 PPG)
Tucker: 12 (4.0 PPG)
*Powell: 17 (8.5 PPG)
*DID NOT PLAY IN GAME TWO
Looking at those numbers, you see that Cory Joseph is the highest-scoring player off the bench for the Raptors thus far in the series, averaging 5.3 points a game. That isn’t good enough. Delon Wright played 27 minutes in Game 3 and netted 13 points and was the Raptors’ co-leading scorer for the game along with Kyle Lowry.
It might be time to see Wright on the floor for more extended minutes, given that Tucker, Patterson, Powell, and Joseph haven’t got the job done. As Jack Armstrong pointed out on the broadcast last night, a coach’s only loyalty is to winning, especially in the playoffs and especially given the position Dwane Casey’s club finds itself in. It will be interesting to see what kind of combinations Casey uses to try to spark his group in Game 4.
If the Raptors’ bench keeps underperforming as they have through the first three affairs in this series, they may be heading for the golf course very soon. Yes, last night was an anomaly in terms of how the team as a whole played, but the one consistent (and not the type of consistent you want in a playoff series) has been poor showings from a number of key depth pieces. The entire starting five can’t play a whole 48 minutes, and you have to be able to rely on the likes of Joseph, Patterson, Tucker and Powell to provide you with high-energy, consistent play while they’re on the floor. If you can’t, there are going to be spots in a game where you are overmatched and outplayed, and eventually that will lead games to slip away. That’s exactly what we’ve seen so far in this series.
It’s obvious that everyone needs to improve on their game three outings for Toronto. However, if the Raptors’ bench continues its lacklustre play and are unable to at least hold their own while on the floor, the series will be over in a hurry. Dwane Casey may shake things up to get his team going, but moving forward, this team is going to need solid play from the names we’ve discussed. Delon Wright can’t be the top-scoring bench player for the Raptors if they are going to escape the first round.
If you look at some of the top teams in the NBA, they all have outstanding 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th men that they can rely on to provide stable play off the bench on a game-by-game basis. The Raptors have high-quality pieces off their bench, but they need to play as they are capable of playing for the Raptors to have any hope of making another deep playoff run. If they don’t, this season will be seen as a major step back for this team, and all the questions people had about them for the last three seasons will once again lead the offseason narrative.
Ben Browne also writes for Canada Football Chat. Find him on Twitter here.