By Vivek Jacob
Jason Kidd succeeded for the Milwaukee Bucks in a way that Dwane Casey has yet to do for the Toronto Raptors.
In a rematch of the two head coaches from 2014, when Kidd was with Brooklyn, the Bucks defeated the Raptors 97-83 in front of a packed house of 20,133 at the Air Canada Centre. It pushed Casey’s record in Game 1s to 0-5 and left a sour, familiar taste in Toronto’s mouth.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan shot a combined 9-for-32 from the field, and missed all eight of their 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Kidd’s inexperienced squad showed the poise of a veteran ball club to take the crowd out of the game early, before closing them out with ease late.
Living up to their billing as one of the best first-quarter teams (+7.1 first quarter net rating) in the league, they took a 30-22 lead courtesy of an inspired Giannis Antetokounmpo. These two monster dunks were four of the 16 points the Bucks scored in the paint in the first twelve minutes that saw the Raptors struggle to apply any ball pressure and unable to force a single turnover.
Giannis is unfair pic.twitter.com/3Gr0sXu6I7
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 15, 2017
Staying in the opening stanza, Jonas Valanciunas was held scoreless matched up against rookie Thon Maker. Valanciunas will be a key figure in the series with his ability to hurt smaller Bucks lineups inside, but instead it was Greg Monroe who carved up the Raptors interior on this night. He finished with 14 points and 15 boards on the night, including five on the offensive glass with the Raptors bigs struggling to keep up. For Toronto, it was also hard to get easy scores with them constantly taking the ball out of the basket, and it would have been much worse for them if not for DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka combining for 18.
Ibaka was incredible for the Raptors, finishing the game with 19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. He has had plenty of playoff success with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and will be depended on for his leadership the rest of the way.
Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson connected on triples around a Valanciunas three the old-fashioned way to start the second quarter, and the Lithuanian added another jumper as part of an 11-4 run that cut the Bucks lead to one. Antetokounmpo picked up three fouls and struggled against the tenacity of P.J. Tucker, helping the Raptors get back in the contest.
The rest of the quarter was fairly even, before DeRozan and Ibaka scored the last four points to give the Raptors a 51-46 lead at half.
Thon Maker opened the second half with a vicious block on Kyle Lowry (notice that this is the first mention of Lowry) and had a strong contest on DeRozan to set the tone for the Bucks. Despite struggling to score, the Raptors were able to limit the Bucks and maintain their advantage. With 4:07 to go in the third quarter, the floodgates opened, and by the 8:12 mark of the fourth, the Bucks had completed a 21-3 run to take a 14-point lead and complete control of proceedings. Yes, you read that right. Toronto scored three points in almost eight minutes.
Khris Middleton was excellent in the period, dishing out six of his nine assists and finding a way to contribute despite not having his shooting stroke. He finished 4-of-15 from the field, but showed the leadership that the Raptors lacked to find other ways to be a difference maker.
That should be cause for concern for the Raptors, who have consistently been criticized for an offensive style in the regular season that doesn’t cater to success in the playoffs. They eked out two Game 7 wins in the opening two rounds against teams they should have beat, and while many view them as a legitimate threat to Cleveland this time around, the skeletons in their closet are very much the same.
The remainder of the fourth quarter saw Lowry struggle immensely and arguably look the worst he ever has through the course of his NBA playoff career, and that’s saying something. His 2-for-11 night drops him a shade below Jamal Crawford for the worst field goal percentage among active players in NBA playoff history. DeMar DeRozan is now fourth on that list, after following up his 6-for-11 first half by going 1-of-10 in the second.
With their two all-stars going AWOL in the second half, Toronto never came close the rest of the game, and will just have to move on to Game 2. Frustration boiled over for DeRozan, after Antetokounmpo sealed the victory with a cold rejection late in the fourth.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) April 16, 2017
The referees showed poor form in giving him a tech, but his 28 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and the above block spoke much louder than his youthful exuberance.
Toronto’s slow starts should be a concern, and although head coach Dwane Casey will be likely to keep their starters the same to not show any panic, he will have to take a long hard look at DeMarre Carroll and Valanciunas. If Valanciunas is not going to get the touches he needs to punish the Bucks inside, they will be better off saving his size to give Monroe someone to contend with.
For Carroll, he has been a major disappointment since his arrival in Toronto. Norman Powell is waiting in the wings (no pun intended), and only came on as a desperation move in the fourth quarter and the game already in the bag. Casey will also have to give a long look at the potential effectiveness of third-string point guard Delon Wright, whose length and athleticism would be ideal against the Bucks.
For Milwaukee, it’s evident that Jason Kidd’s calm demeanor and poise has rubbed off on his young core. They were undeterred by one of the more hostile atmospheres in the NBA, and they’ll be hoping for more of the same in Game 2. If they can get off to another strong start in the opening quarter there, panic will be sure to set in.