TORONTO – The ball is in the Toronto Raptors’ court.
The Milwaukee Bucks held service at home and won the first two games of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals, so now the Raptors must reciprocate starting in Game 3 on Sunday night.
The two games in Milwaukee were different. The Bucks, showing rust after a week off, needed a fourth-quarter surge to win Game 1 108-100 on Wednesday. In Game 2 on Friday, they dominated from the tip in a 125-103 victory to take a 2-0 series lead.
“Game 3 is going to be way tougher than Game 1 and Game 2,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led the Bucks with 30 points and 17 rebounds Friday. “We’re playing at their home now, but I think we’re going to be prepared. We’re going to make sure we go (Saturday), watch some clips, try to get better. But at the end of the day, it’s all about us. If we do our job defensively, move the ball offensively and just do our job, generally we’re going to be fine. But definitely they’re going to come out, try to set the tone, try to play hard, try to protect home.”
The Raptors are 5-2 at home this postseason and were 32-9 during the regular season.
“Now we’ve got a chance to go home and protect home court and do what we’re supposed to do,” said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who scored 15 points on Friday.
Led by two opening dunks and a blocked shot on Marc Gasol by Antetokounmpo, the Bucks scored the first nine points Friday and never looked back. A key for the Bucks was playing improved defense.
“I thought we got better in Game 1 toward the end,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “The fourth quarter, our defense got better. And I think some of that carried over into the first half (Friday). You get a little bit of a rhythm. Our guards on the ball, taking individual pride doing what we need them to do. And then the activity from the bigs. Just all that kind of working in concert. Making every shot they take tough, whether it’s a 3, a 2, in the paint. No matter where it is, we want them taking tough shots.”
The bench was again a big factor for the Bucks on Friday, contributing 54 points — only 10 fewer than Toronto’s starters in significantly less playing time.
The Raptors, after trailing by 28 points Friday, made a push to draw to within 13 in the third quarter. Raptors coach Nick Nurse feels that surge offers encouragement for Game 3.
“Well, yeah, I think, again, going back to some keys to our series, we’ve got to continue to work the offense for shots,” Nurse said. “And again, I sound like a broken record, but we had our share of wide-open shots that could have at least stymied a little bit of the breakout in the score. But we’ve got to make sure we continue to work for them.
“We just weren’t quite physical enough. We weren’t getting our screens set good enough. We weren’t getting them off their screens good enough as well. We’re going to have to be better or they’re just going to look bigger and stronger than we are, and I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. We’ve got to play a little tougher.”
–By Larry Millson, Field Level Media