It’s hard to remember now, after the carnage and "Raps in six!" cacophony and visions of nuclear Norman Powell slam dunks left the Bucks’ Game 5 hopes in smoldering ruins on Toronto’s Air Canada Centre court, but Milwaukee actually had a lead at one point during Monday night’s debacle. No, really! Four minutes into the first quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo made one of two free throws – that would be a theme, but more on free throws later – and the Bucks went up 11-9, appearing competitive.
Then, after a Thon Maker block, a missed shot and a couple Toronto offensive rebounds, DeMarre Carroll tipped in a basket to tie it. And from there, it was all Raptors, who went on a 17-0 run, blitzkrieging the Bucks to go up 31-20 at the end of the first quarter. Milwaukee would never get within seven points the rest of the way, and by the time it was all over, Toronto had a 118-93 victory and a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
For one night, at least, it was dinosaurs > deer. And for the first time in five games, the Raptors looked like the legitimately superior squad, playing like a 51-win outfit that had beaten the Bucks 10 of the last 12 times they’d met in the regular season and was considered a difficult matchup for Milwaukee when the seedings were finalized. Toronto shot 57.7 percent from the field, outrebounded the Bucks, 47-30, and overpowered them, playing faster, stronger and smarter.
Now the teams head back south – but just barely; you’re only mere minutes further north than us, Toronto! – to Milwaukee, where the Bucks will host a pregame pep rally outside the BMO Harris Bradley Center and hope to have a crowd that’s "rowdy, loud and proud," as Jason Terry would say, for the do-or-die Game 6.
In the meantime, though, here are three somethings I took away from Game 5:
1. Something I liked
After a putrid, 76-point performance in the Game 4 dud, Milwaukee actually looked pretty good on offense Monday. Led by Antetokounmpo, who scored 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting, the Bucks made half of their field goals, including 10 of 22 3-pointers (45.5 percent). They took better care of the ball, returning to a positive assist-to-turnover ratio (22-to-15), and got their first big Malcolm Brogdon night (19 points, 5 of 7 on 3s) since Game 1. Backup center Greg Monroe (11 points) scored in double figures for the fifth time in as many games.
That said, there were still plenty of problems. The rest of the bench contributed just 10 points in a combined 49 minutes, Khris Middleton’s struggled continued (3-of-8 shooting, including 0 for 2 on 3-pointers) and the team again wasted opportunities at the free-throw line. Milwaukee made just 15 of 26 free throws, compared to 24 of 26 for Toronto, which wasn’t the difference in the game but extended a troublesome trend from Game 5, when the Bucks were 11 of 18 and the Raptors went 16 for 17 from the charity stripe.
2. Something I learned
In Game 5, Toronto head coach Dwayne Casey put Powell into the starting lineup for plodding center Jonas Valunciunas, a move that made the Raptors’ first unit smaller, speedier and more perimeter-oriented. After that loss, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said his team played too slowly, suggesting Milwaukee needed to push the tempo to better exploit its advantages against a more experienced, physical opponent.
But that hasn’t really seemed to be the problem. Since the All-Star Break – especially during their strong play down the stretch, including 14-4 record in March – the Bucks have played at one of the league’s slower paces. Because of Antetokounmpo’s prowess in transition, Milwaukee seems like a team that thrives going quickly; but actually, they struggle to execute offensively up-tempo when they’re not simply running the fastbreak. The Raptors’ All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has been comfortable, efficient and effective operating at a high speed, and Milwaukee hasn’t had a defensive answer for Powell or brutish big man Serge Ibaka. The last two games have sometimes appeared to be going too fast for the Bucks, as evidenced by turnovers, forced shots and isolation offense.
3. Something I’m looking forward to
The atmosphere at both Bucks home playoff games was fantastic – the pep rallies, the pregame shows, the noise and engagement and intensity, fans hanging on every play, every call. Of course, the results of those contests were very different, with Milwaukee’s blowout win in Game 3 exhilarating the fan base (and emboldening team’s social media staff) and the ugly loss in Game 4 bringing everyone back down to earth.
Now, with "Bucks in six" no longer on the table, Thursday is a must-win elimination game for the home side. Young, talented and often-overlooked underdogs, Antetokounmpo and Co. get up for big games, and none will be bigger than this one. They have to show up. You could argue that, even after leading the series 2-1, if sixth-seeded Milwaukee forces a Game 7 at third-seeded Toronto, the postseason experience was successful, an accomplishment for an up-and-coming squad without one of its best players. But a Game 6 loss at home, in front of a recently revitalized fan base, after the excitement and optimism built up a week ago, would be a dispiriting failure, ending the season on a sour note.
Thursday's Game 6 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center will tip off either at 7 p.m. (if a Game 6 is necessary in the Houston-Oklahoma City series) or 6 p.m. (if a Game 6 is not necessary in the Rockets-Thunder series). The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and locally on FOX Sports Wisconsin, and can also be heard on 620 WTMJ and the Bucks statewide radio network. Fans can check ticket availability by visiting www.bucks.com/playoffs.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.