Regardless of the outcome of this first round series, Toronto Raptors fans have to understand that the Milwaukee Bucks are a very good team and this was never going to be a cakewalk. This team is for real and if the Raptors take even the slightest pressure off the gas pedal, the Bucks will make them pay. This series may turn out to be more about what the Bucks are than what the Raptors aren’t. That shouldn’t be too surprising or upsetting to the local fan base as the fans of the Washington Capitals are finding out the very same thing about a young, upstart Toronto Maple Leafs team. So as much as fingers were pointing at Kyle Lowry in Game 1 or lamenting a less than 100% Serge Ibaka, some time must be taken to look at the Bucks themselves and why they are such a difficult matchup.
First and foremost is that his team plays like its coach, Jason Kidd. They are solid on the defensive end and they never, ever quit. A couple of times the Raptors have had a large lead only to find Milwaukee crawl its way back in the game. In the history of the Toronto Raptors, they have rarely, if ever, been a team that can take a large lead and then add to it to crush an opponent. That combined with how well the Bucks battle gives this team very little opportunity to relax. The Raptors must compete for the full 48 minutes to be able to win.
The next item that makes Milwaukee dangerous is their length. It’s not only that they are tall but they have also have long arms. This impacts the game in many different ways and for the Raptors to win they will need to find a way to deal with it. The arm length not only helps block shots but it also forces players to change their shots which leads to failure more often than not. If that wasn’t enough, it also disrupts the flow of the Raptors offence as ball movement and passes are being altered, deflected or even stolen because of it.
The two players that stand out in this regard are Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker. The Greek Freak has come into his own this year and he isn’t just a regular superstar anymore, he is rising far above it. Giannis led his team in 5 different categories this year (points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals) and, I believe, is the first person in NBA history to be in the Top 20 in each of those categories. If he has a bad game, the Bucks lose. Period. He is that valuable to them and despite Giannis being the main reason the Raptors could lose this series, he is a ton of fun to watch, isn’t he?
One other player that may not be getting as much attention but certainly has plenty of interest in these parts is Thon Maker. It was exactly a year ago when I first wrote (http://fredi.ca/betting-on-thon-money-maker/) about how an Orangeville high schooler who was thinking about foregoing a year of college to head straight to the NBA draft. Considering he is contributing to a playoff team, it seems like his decision was the correct one. Not much was expected from the South Sudanese rookie this year when he was drafted 10th other than to play a few minutes each game and get acclimatized to the NBA. Early on this season he was being the prototypical rookie big man by continually getting into early foul trouble. The lanky 7’1” kid with the 7’3” wingspan though has worked extremely hard and has played well enough to force himself into the rotation. His 3 blocks (personally, I counted more than 5) in Game 1 helped limit the Raptors to the poor 83 points they scored.
If both teams play at their best, it is still the Raptors’ series to lose as they definitely have the edge in talent. The problem is that Milwaukee’s length and work ethic does an excellent job of making other teams play under par. That is why each game and this series in total will continue to be a roller coaster of a ride. Take time to enjoy it, but you better hang on.
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