By Ben Browne
The Toronto Raptors finally put it all together in Game 5.
They led, essentially, from wire to wire, and went on to blow out the Bucks on home court, 118–93, to take a 3–2 series lead and move within one win of a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The best player for the Raptors in Game 5, without a doubt, was Norman Powell. He registered a team-leading 25 points, along with 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Since entering the starting lineup in place of Jonas Valanciunas in Game 4, Powell has averaged 18.5 PPG, 4.0 APG and 4.0 RPG.
His presence in the lineup has changed the complexion of the entire series. After not seeing the floor in Game 2, he has become one of the Raptors’ best players in the last two games. We knew coming off the Game 3 blowout loss at the hands of the Bucks that Head Coach Dwane Casey needed to do something to mix things up. Well, the ‘something’ he did has turned out to be a stroke of genius.
That said, the great part of the Raptors’ Game 5 performance, and what they’ll hope to maintain in Game 6 Thursday night in Milwaukee, was the excellent offensive flow throughout the entire game. The Raptors had 6 players––Powell, DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Cory Joseph––reach double-figures in scoring. They also recorded 28 assists on 41 field-goals––their highest assist output of the series. In the Raptors’ three wins thus far in the series, they’ve piled up a total of 68 assists on 108 combined field-goals. In their two losses, they have put up just 26 assists on 51 field-goals. These numbers are a prime example of the importance of sustaining offensive continuity for a full 48 minutes, and if they can duplicate this in Game 6, they will close a series out in six games for the first time in franchise history.
Another key aspect of the Raptors’ Game 5 victory was their defensive intensity. Although Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points and shot 12 of 18 from the field, the Raptor D was quite good for the second consecutive game. The Bucks did shoot 50.7%, but, other than Antetokounmpo, did not have a player record 20 points. P.J. Tucker was especially solid on the defensive end of the floor in his 24 minutes of action, and although he has struggled to score all series long, has played well defensively in all but Game 4, where, frankly, no Raptor played well on either side of the ball.
The most important defensive statistics for the Raptors in Game 5 were these: rebounds (40), fast break points allowed (11), and second-chance-points allowed (0). The Raptors’ effectiveness in these three categories forced the Bucks to play a half-court game against an organized defence, limited their opportunities to get out and run (a game at which they excel), and took away their ability to score off second and third chances. A half-court game drastically favours Toronto, and if they can ratchet up the defensive energy on the road in Game 6 and take a boisterous Milwaukee crowd out of the game early, they will win this game.
Of course, these things are much easier to say than do, especially on the road in what has been a hostile environment in Milwaukee in the two games played there thus far. It will be critical for the Raps to get off to a good start offensively and keep “The Greek Freak” at bay on the other end of the floor. The Bucks are going to make their runs; it’s just part of the game of basketball. The key for the Raptors will be responding to the runs Milwaukee makes and impose the killer instinct they showed in Game 5. The Bucks made a couple different runs in that game, but each time, the Raptors answered back and closed quarters well, not allowing the Bucks to feel as if they were ever back in the game. They must do this again in Game 6, because if they allow the crowd to take over the game, the Bucks will feed off that and get themselves right back into the game.
Sustaining for a full 48 minutes can be difficult, especially away from home. But the Raptors did just that in Game 4, limiting the Bucks to just 76 points on home court. If they play well offensively, play strong defence and not allow the Bucks to make any extended runs, there is no question they will come out victorious and move on to face LeBron James and the 2nd-seed Cavs in Round 2.
Ben Browne also writes for Canada Football Chat. Find him on Twitter here.