The 2016-17 Toronto Raptors will look to build on the success achieved by last years squad, who made an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. The next step for this team, logically, is to reach the NBA Finals and capture the organization’s first-ever world championship. The quest starts Saturday, April 15 when the Raptors host the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The team had some troubles throughout the year, which prompted President of Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri, to trade for Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker. Since bringing in both, the Raptors boast the second-best record in the entire league, only behind the Golden State Warriors. What’s even more impressive is that star point guard Kyle Lowry has only been active for 4 of those games, all resulting in wins.
With that being said, the Raptors finally have finally addressed their power forward situation in the form of Serge Ibaka, a defensive-minded stretch four who adds a factor of toughness to the team. With the youthful Bucks in town, the Dinos have their work cut out for them. While inexperienced, a squad with talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Khris Middleton should not be cast away so easily.
It’s amazing to see how the Raptors are the now the experienced group of veterans against such a young and upcoming team like the Bucks. This is exactly the type of situation that Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker were brought in for. Defense and toughness needs to be motto for the Raptors in the playoffs. Toronto and the rest of Canada will be cheering when game 1 tips of at 5:30PM in the Air Canada Centre.
Season Series Breakdown: Raptors win 3-1
Game 1: Nov. 25, 2015, Raptors win 105-99
This game was the closest contest between the 2 teams all season long. DeMar DeRozan contributed 26 points, 7 boards and 4 assists, followed by Kyle Lowry who had 19 points, 5 boards and 6 helpers. The Raptors functioned much like a well-oiled machine making 46% of their field goal attempts and 44% from 3 while taking care of the ball, only committing 9 turnovers.
Being that it was early in the season, the Raptors didn’t have Ibaka or Tucker but were still able to overcome any efforts made by Milwaukee. Even with the win, Toronto didn’t do a great job of containing the ‘Greek Freak’, as he finished with 29 points, 6 boards and 11 dimes.
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is how the Bucks were without their best defender, Khris Middleton, meaning that there was no legitimate option for shutting down DeMar DeRozan. Overall, this was an early season game and both teams stayed competitive.
Game 2: Dec. 12, Raptors win 122-100
This contest wasn’t as close as the first meeting with Toronto dominating Milwaukee by 22 points. Collectively, the Raptors shot 52% shooting from the field, 56% shooting from 3, and out-rebounded the Bucks 46-37. The Dinos also held the Bucks to 47% shooting from the field and 17% shooting from beyond the arc.
The star studded back court shined once again as DeRozan logged 30 points, 3 boards, 3 assists and made all 15 of his free throw attempts. Lowry tallied 18 points, 3 rebounds and 7 assists. Terrence Ross (traded to Orlando later on in the season) did a fantastic job contributing 25 points and 5 rebounds while Jonas Valanciunas scored 11 points and pulled down 12 boards.
The defensive efforts could’ve been a lot better as Antetokounmpo filled the stat sheet with 30 points, 9 rebounds, 5 helpers and 3 steals, followed by Jabari Parker who poured in 27 points. The Bucks’ 2 young stars took over but the supporting cast was no where to be found.
Game 3: Jan. 27, Raptors win 102-86
The Raptors made an exceptional defensive effort against Milwaukee, holding the Bucks to 86 points on 39% shooting, 30% from 3 point land, winning the battle of the boards 47-43, all while forcing the opposition to turn the ball over 19 times.
Offensively, the glaring issue for Toronto was the field goal percentage of 44%. The other numbers cannot be deemed totally inefficient as the Raptors shot the 3-ball at a clip of 40% and assisted on 20 of their 37 field goals.
DeRozan sat out this game with an injury, leaving Kyle Lowry as the undisputed first option. DeRozan’s absence was not an issue as Lowry poured in 32 points, 3 boards and 6 assists on 50% shooting from the field and on 3 pointers. Sophomore swingman Norman Powell continued to show flashes of brilliance as he contributed 19 points and 6 boards.
For Milwaukee, Parker contributed 21 points and 13 boards, while Antetokounmpo tallied 19 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal. Once again, the Bucks’ supporting cast was essentially non-existent.
Game 4: Mar. 4, Bucks win 101-94
This was the first meeting between the two teams since the Raptors had acquired Ibaka and Tucker. However, Lowry was out due to a wrist injury and his value to the team became that much more apparent. Khris Middleton also returned, which boosted the Bucks on both ends of the court. Neither team did outstanding on either side of the ball but the Dinos still fell 101-94.
The Raptors as a team shot 47% on field goals, 33% from the 3 point line. Ball movement was in full effect too as the team racked up 20 assists on 35 of their field goal attempts. The Bucks, on the other hand, shot 44%, 22% from 3 and out rebounded the Raps 42-36. The main issue with the Raptors was taking care of the ball. Toronto let the ball slip 11 times compared to the Bucks’ 6.
Serge Ibaka scored 19 points to go with 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, while Canadian native Cory Joseph chipped in 14 points, 5 boards and 8 assists. DeRozan relied too much on his isolation plays and without Lowry present, the Bucks were able to plan their defensive scheme around him.
While Antetokounmpo has played point guard in multiple situations, Milwaukee has rolled with Matthew Dellavedova as their traditional 1 for most of their line ups and if it’s him versus Lowry, this positional breakdown doesn’t need much explanation.
Out of the 76 games he played, Dellavedova started 54 of them with season averages of 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. Lowry, played 60 games and started every one of them, averaging 22.4 points. 4.8 boards and 7 assists.
There’s not much of a comparison as Lowry indefinitely has the advantage in this match up, as long as it’s Dellavedova that he’s facing.
This match up could very well be the one that determines the outcome of the series. DeMar DeRozan is an offensive star, but his defense needs improvement. With averages of 27.3 points, 5.2 boards and 3.9 assists, DeRozan is one of the best offensive players in the game.
Khris Middleton, on the other hand, is one the leagues premier defenders and is pretty good offensively, scoring 14.7 points on a nightly basis. Both players are young and athletic, but DeRozan is the more experienced player, giving him the edge in this match up.
Kyle Lowry is the obvious choice in the point guard match up and there’s an obvious choice for small forward as well. Giannis Antetokounmpo versus DeMarre Carroll is a no-brainer. While Carroll provides the Raptors with defense and toughness at the 3, the Greek Freak is the foundation for the Bucks.
Here’s a comparison of their season stats:
Antetokounmpo: 22.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 52 FG% 77 FT%, 27.2 3PT%
Carroll: 8.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 40 FG%, 76.1 FT%, 34.1 3PT%
After comparing the numbers, it’s not hard to see why the clear favourite is Antetokounmpo.
The Raptors finally have an answer at power forward with Serge Ibaka now on the team. However, the Bucks future at the 4 is surrounded by question marks since Jabari Parker suffered an ACL tear back in February. there’s no sure fire starter for Milwaukee.
With that being said, the Bucks have a plethora of talent and seem to be playing ‘small ball’. Consider Greg Monroe an option. While he hasn’t played his best basketball this season, he definitely has the ability to impact the game. Known more for his offensive repertoire, Monroe can still play and create offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates.
It’s clear that Ibaka and the Raptors have the advantage in this one as the Bucks continue to search for a suitable line up to put around Antetokounmpo.
Jonas Valanciunas is more experienced and polished than any big man the Bucks have. The closest player that Milwaukee may have to a starting quality is rookie Thon Maker.
Valanciunas has proven to be a beast in the playoffs as he averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds in 12 games. Valanciunas also never shies away from high-pressure moments as he’s played in various international competitions.
Maker has tons of potential, being touted as a 5-star prospect coming out of high-school. However, this is his first season as an NBA player. He’s still too raw and unpolished to compete with veterans like the Raptors
The Raptors bench is one of the best in the league. A supporting cast of Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell, PJ Tucker, and Cory Joseph is nothing to scoff at. This is a second unit capable of bringing it on both ends of the floor. What many considered to be a minor move, the acquisition of PJ Tucker has made a significant impact for Toronto.
Aside from Greg Monroe, there’s not much behind the Bucks’ bench. Due to injuries, Milwaukee has had to deplete their bench in order to fill spots in the starting lineup. With so much uncertainty, Milwaukee needs to be cautious with the fatigue of their players, especially considering their dependency on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Jason Kidd is still young in his coaching career but has earned a lot of credit due to the development of the Bucks. His offense runs through Giannis Antetokounmpo and with Jabari Parker missing the rest of the season, Milwaukee will have to depend on Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for their offense. With the lack of options of offense, Kidd will need to find a way to out coach Dwane Casey.
The Raptors, on the other hand, have several different options on offense and defense. Masai Ujiri has done a masterful job crafting a roster based on the system Dwane Casey runs. With players like DeMarre Carroll, PJ Tucker, and Serge Ibaka, the defense will be hard to maneuver around. Casey’s defensive scheme is the same system that helped the Dallas Mavericks defeat the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Cage’s Keys to the Series
Throughout the season, Toronto has excelled at not turning the ball over. The Raptors are fourth best in the league in that category, averaging only 12.7 turnovers a game. The Raptors are also fourth best when it comes to stealing the ball from their opponents. If Toronto can continue making good choices on defense, the offense will come that much easier.
Crash the Glass
The Bucks ranked second-worst in rebounding this past season, conjuring a total of 40 rebounds a night. The Raptors have some tenacious players that are gritty and tough as nails. Players like Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Serge Ibaka and DeMarre Carroll will scratch and claw to ensure a win. Rebounds will be one of the biggest factors in this series so it would be wise for the Raptors to box out and be aggressive.
Attack the Rim
The Raptors are one of the top 10 teams when it comes to drawing fouls. At a rate of 20.3 per game, Toronto needs to take advantage of the inexperienced Bucks. Milwaukee’s young players will not get as much pull when it comes to referees and therefore, Toronto needs to be aggressive in attacking the rim, forcing the Bucks to foul them. That will put the Raptors at the free throw line, where the team shoots 80%.