MILWAUKEE – Kawhi Leonard left Khris Middleton in a clear pass midway through the third quarter of the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
The Raptors had only five attempts in the first period, but here's a magnificent half-court that sums up the brutal effectiveness of the Raptors when they maximize their strengths: Leonard and Kyle Lowry parting from Marc Gasol in the high post – Lowry moving to the left corner and Leonard behind Middleton. It was IQ basketball in Toronto, and the bucket gave the Raptors a 10-point lead with 5 minutes and 50 seconds left in the third period.
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In many ways, the Raptors made a huge effort on Wednesday night. They executed their defensive play plan, enthusiastically taking many of the free throws they had denied during most of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and found transition opportunities.
Yet a fatal fourth quarter canceled much of that solid work in a 108-100 loss to Milwaukee Bucks.
Wednesday night was another match of the first game for a Bucks team that had not played in a full week. A unit that counts on pace and timing, the Bucks do not manage to find their lead through much of the game. Mainstays, like Middleton, initially struggled to find solutions against Toronto's switching programs, an improper coverage for Toronto. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best rhythm player, did not have a maximum effect with the long break.
Yet, despite the absence of 29 of their first 35 attempts in the 3-point range and their remarkable goal percentage of 45.7%, the Bucks won the opening match. If the first game is proof of anything, it is that the Milwaukee Bucks are – and will continue to be – an exceptionally hard team to beat in all conditions.
"I think we did a good job staying true to what we did throughout the playoffs," said Brook Lopez, who led the Bucks with 29 points. "The shots did not go early, but we did a good job, we played an excellent defense and we stayed at that and then things started to go on our side."
This is a measure of NBA team domination: an ability to win tough matches against tough opponents despite poor performance from the best players, marginal success against defensive strategies and weak shots. On this standard, the Bucks, now 9-1 in the playoffs, are dominant, though the final result of Match 1 was not an exhibition of their best choreography.
While he was donning his iconic Disney outfit in his locker before heading to the post-match podium, Lopez debated one of the great puzzles of the post-season for a team that faces a switching defense similar to the one fashioned by Toronto on Wednesday night. Should an offensive team react by looking for the mismatches available in the half-court, or should they ignore any advantage they may or may not have and continue to manage their affairs?
"Someone will say:" Why do not you just go out in the mail? "But that's not what we are," Lopez said. "We do not want to change who we are."
Although many NBA coaches believe that not addressing inadequacies amounts to leaving money on the hardwood NBA, the position stated by Lopez has been the constant stance of the NBA. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. Although the Bucks never really broke through the offensive code in the first game, they took advantage of an opportunity on the part of Lopez in the fourth quarter, when he equalized three of his five attempts out of the bow.
"It's the Brook we all know and love," said Antetokounmpo, who said Gasol, charged with keeping Lopez, was instructed to be an active supporter of this series, which will often leave Lopez open.
Lopez's exploits all over the floor were crucial to Milwaukee's win on Wednesday night, but the game was won on the defensive side – again with Lopez as a catalyst. With rare exceptions, the Raptors simply could not qualify for the first game, trying only one fifth of their shots at close range, an extremely low frequency. Despite all Antetokounmpo's offensive gifts and Bucks' ground spacing, their ability to hide from the basket is their most consistent attribute as a team. Toronto rarely reached the limit and, on occasion, the Raptors were only a meager 9 to 17.
"You can bring your defense every night, and that's what we expect," Budenholzer said. "There will be nights when you will not shoot, and you will just have to keep doing good or defensive, if you do that you may be able to break through and find a way to win a night when you do not shoot. really good at the offensive or you do not play as well at the offensive.
This idea is consistent with the Milwaukee gospel under Budenholzer: in a league in which games are increasingly won and lost in the face of peripheral fire, defense is the ultimate insurance policy. Go 6-in-35 from 3 points in the first 36 minutes of basketball? Definitely not ideal, but no one tries to miss. But if the defense is tightening around the paint in the manner of a vise and the defenders are instantly undone, and rotators are accurate in their anticipation, it is possible to withstand the blows of cold – and large games.
That's where the challenge lies for any team that has to defeat the Bucks in a seven-game series: set aside the games that will be lost, because Milwaukee employs a transcendent superstar and competent shooters around him, what do you do When is the Bucks Defense Effort – much less variable – is it so resolved to deprive you of what you want and which you need most?