Five Thoughts: Bucks vs. Raptors Game 4
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Tuesday night was the pivotal Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. Following Game 3’s double-overtime win for the Raptors, the Bucks were still up 2-1 in the series. Milwaukee was looking to bounce back from the loss to set up Game 5 as a chance to close out the series on their home court. Meanwhile, the Raptors were looking to build upon the momentum from their Game 3 win to tie up the series. In the end, the Raptors blew out the Bucks to even it up. Here are five thoughts from Game 4.
1. Giannis started strong but was quickly contained
Giannis Antetokounmpo came out the gate looking to take control of this game. He scored in four of his first five attempts, most of which were dunks. Yet Toronto weathered the storm and was able to limit the Greek Freak from then on, holding him to 5-for-12 shooting afterwards. As in Game 3, Kawhi Leonard was the primary defender on Giannis and pestered him whenever he tried to drive to the rim. When that failed, the Raptors quickly built up a wall around Antetokounmpo in the paint, limiting his layups and kick-out opportunities. Giannis and the Bucks will need to find a way to adapt if they hope to regain control of this series.
2. The shots weren’t falling for the Bucks
Milwaukee’s system can be summed up as the following: put as much shooting around Giannis as possible. The purpose is to not only give Giannis more space to operate inside the arc, but to also limit the amount of help defense that can be thrown at him, lest he kick the ball out to an open shooter. The downside to this approach is when their shots aren’t falling, as the defense collapses on Giannis and the offense stalls. Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton were effective from deep, shooting 2-for-3 and 4-for-7, respectively. But outside them, the shooting was pretty poor. Nikola Mirotic went 2-for-8, Eric Bledsoe went 0-for-2, Malcolm Brogdon went 0-for-3, Ersan Ilyasova went 0-for-2. Overall, the Bucks shot 31.4% from three, nowhere near the level they need to properly space the floor.
3. Leonard’s injury forced him to take a step back
One of the key developments from Sunday night’s Game 3 was the injury Kawhi Leonard suffered in the first quarter to his right leg. It limited him for the remainder of that contest and carried over into Game 4, where Leonard was still noticeably limping on the court. Not one to shy down, the Klaw did an incredible job defending Giannis but had to take a step back on the offensive end. He went 6-for-13 from the field, with some of his made buckets coming off cuts to the basket rather than 1-on-1 isolations like we’ve grown used to seeing from him. Toronto hasn’t released an official statement on his injury, so there’s no telling what impact it could have on this series or in a potential Finals appearance.
4. Kyle Lowry is rewriting his Playoff narrative
The narrative around Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry over the last few years has been how he’s a great regular season player that drops once the Playoffs start. The first two series this year against the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers served more to reinforce that idea than to disprove it. Yet in the Conference Finals, Lowry has come alive and returned to All-Star form, averaging 20.3 points per game while shooting 52.2% from the field and a blistering 48.4% from three. Toronto squandered his 30-point performance in a Game 1 loss, but capitalized on his 25 points on an efficient 6-for-11 shooting in Game 4 to even the series. Lowry was one of the x-factors for Toronto coming into this series, and provided he can keep up this level of play, the Raptors can make it to the Finals.
5. Toronto’s bench was the main reason for this blowout win
The biggest takeaway from Game 4 has to be Toronto’s bench, which outscored Milwaukee’s 48 to 23. That disparity alone was the difference between Toronto going back to Milwaukee tied 2-2 versus down 1-3. Serge Ibaka dropped 17 points off 7-for-12 shooting. Normal Powell went an inefficient 6-for-18 but still added 18 points. Fred VanVleet had a strong bounce-back performance with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Functionally, the bench picked up where the starters left off and kept the Bucks from ever going on a serious run and crushing their spirits. The Raptors' depth and bench were always an asset in years past but had taken a hit due to the trades that brought Kawhi and Marc Gasol. Game 4 was a reminder that the Raptors still have a deep bench that can step up and contribute. While it’ll be much harder to replicate those results on the road in Milwaukee, the production was still good enough in this game to help even things up.