Five Thoughts: Bucks vs. Raptors Game 3
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Coming into Sunday night, it was a must win scenario for the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Anyone who’s followed NBA history knows that no team has come back from an 0 - 3 hole in the NBA Playoffs. Additionally, the Raptors needed something positive after getting blown out by the Bucks last Friday night in Game 2. It took two overtimes, but the Raptors walked away with the win and some semblance of momentum for the next game. Here are five thoughts on Game 3.
1. The Bucks couldn’t overcome a bad Giannis game
The Bucks’ system is built around Giannis Antetokounmpo and his freakish blend of athleticism, length, tenacity, and playmaking. Yet in Game 3 he struggled to leave his mark on the floor, especially in the scoring department. Averaging 26 points per game in this year's Playoffs, Giannis finished with only 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting. It certainly helped that former back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard was the primary defender on Giannis, as did the wall that the Raptors put up every time he tried to enter the paint. He grabbed a ridiculous 23 rebounds, 20 on the defensive end, but for the most part wasn't as usually impactful before fouling out in the second overtime period. Look to see the Greek Freak bounce back in Game 4.
2. Kawhi played through injury to secure the win, but for how long can he sustain it?
Early in the first quarter, Leonard went up for a layup and landed awkwardly on his leg, a scary sight for any Raptors fan. He’s been their lifeline throughout these Playoffs and the superstar player that allows Toronto to go at the best of the best. The injury robbed him of a lot of his jump and burst, which limited him to 5-for-13 shooting in the first three quarters. From the fourth quarter on though, he came back alive, playing all 12 minutes and shooting 6-for-12 from the field. Ultimately, Leonard ended his night after playing a career-high 52 minutes and, as previously stated, was the primary defender on Giannis, delivering a true iron man performance. After the game, both Leonard and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he’d be fine and ready to go by Game 4. For Raptors to even this series, having Leonard is a must.
3. The supporting casts shined
As far as the superstars were concerned, neither one had a typically dominant game. Instead, it was the supporting casts that stepped up for each team. The Bucks went nine players deep, with each playing at least 10 minutes and six of them scoring in double digits. Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, and George Hill had particularly terrific games for the Bucks while Giannis and Khris Middleton struggled. The Raptors technically also went nine deep. Jodie Meeks played almost a full minute and Toronto had five players score in double digits. Marc Gasol and Norman Powell were the key contributors while Leonard battled injury and Kyle Lowry had a quiet 11 points before fouling out.
4. Foul trouble and free throw shooting was significant for both teams
Game 3 ended up being a very physical confrontation, resulting in a lot of fouls called by the refs on both sides and a few key players fouling out. For the Bucks, it was Giannis fouling out early in the second overtime period. For the Raptors, it was Kyle Lowry and then Norman Powell fouling out in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the Bucks ended up going to the line 33 times but only knocked down 22 of their freebies, an abysmal ratio for a close Playoff game. The Raptors, meanwhile, went to the line 26 times. And even though they knocked down a good 21 of those attempts, Pascal Siakam missed two free throws at the end of the fourth quarter that would have prevented the game from going to overtime.
5. The Raptors need to build on momentum going into Game 4
When all is said and done, this was still just one game in a best-of-seven series. The Raptors did a great job gutting it out and taking the win, but their work is only just beginning. The good news? They have an opportunity to tie up the series on their home court tonight and truly get back into it. The bad news? It took everything they had, a bad Giannis game, and two overtime periods just to take one game. Still, being down 1 - 2 is a world better than an 0 - 3 death sentence. Now it’s up to the Raptors to capitalize on home court and even up the series. Failing tonight would give the Bucks a chance to end the series on their home turf in Game 5.