MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks finished with the best defensive rating in the regular season by taking an extreme approach.
To make a long story short, the Bucks do everything possible to deny the paint. Their guards focus on preventing dribble penetration and in the event that someone slips through the cracks, Brook Lopez is always camped out in the lane ready to finish the job. Using this strategy the Bucks allowed the second-lowest field-goal percentage in the restricted area, conceded the fourth-fewest foul shots, and secured the second-highest share of available defensive rebounds.
The only concession in Milwaukee’s defense is the perimeter. The Bucks allowed the most three-point attempts in the NBA at 36.3 per game, but they’re also highly selective about who and where these shots come from. Milwaukee generally denies the shorter corner shot and instead funnels attempts above the break. Typically, the Bucks are mostly encouraging bigs to try their luck from distance.
The Raptors are well-aware of this strategy and adjusted accordingly during the regular season. Serge Ibaka’s attempts skyrocketed from 11.9 against everyone else to 18.5 per game against the Bucks, while Pascal Siakam also bumped his scoring average eight points from 17 to 25 per game versus Milwaukee. On paper, the Raptors have the type of perimeter-oriented bigs that should capitalize.
Marc Gasol, however, is a question mark. The Philadelphia 76ers largely ignored Gasol above the arc, just the same as the Bucks, but Gasol was more focused on swinging the ball and making plays that weren’t available elsewhere. His refusal to step into open shots was one of the main reasons that the Raptors were so labored on offense against Philadelphia.
Marc Gasol really shot none of these. A critical component of spacing is a player actually presenting conscious threat to the defence to shoot, he's not making Philly feel that at all with decision making like this. pic.twitter.com/iFlLzPWZIS
— Vivek Jacob (@VivekMJacob) May 3, 2019
For his part, Gasol understands that this series is different. Calling his own number isn’t being selfish - it’s the right play. His plan is to take the shots available to him.
“Shoot it with that confidence. It has to be five, six, seven, eight threes. That’s what the team needs. You have to play to what the team needs and not what you need. You have to play to what the team needs you to do,” Gasol said at shoot around before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s not as if Gasol is incapable. The 7-foot Spaniard is a 36 percent shooter from deep over the past three seasons and is 39-for-93 (42 percent) with the Raptors between the regular season and the playoffs. Gasol should have licence to step into every look that comes his way, but his character is to be unselfish.
Part of his hesitancy speaks to being with a new team. When Gasol was the first option for the Memphis Grizzlies, he attempted a season-high 12 threes against Milwaukee in November. But on the Raptors, he’s at best the fourth option with the starting lineup, as his new role is to facilitate with his passing and screening.
Toronto squeaked by Philadelphia in Game 7 with 92 points, but that won’t cut it against Milwaukee. The Raptors must regularly get to 110 points to have a chance, and it’s on the bigs - Gasol especially - to step up their scoring.
News and notes
Concern: Kyle Lowry sported a protective mitt on his left hand to shoot around, the same one that he flashed coming off the team plane yesterday. Lowry’s left thumb popped out in Game 7 against the Sixers, and he explained that the glove helps increase circulation. And as always, Lowry was quick with a joke as he said it also helped him with cooking.
Kyle's oven mitt is glorious. pic.twitter.com/ufqtA4eWku
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) May 15, 2019
Confidence: When asked about if stress intensifies according to the stakes, Siakam brushed off the question. “I always refer to Damian Lillard. There’s no stress,” Siakam said with a laugh.
Sportsmanship: Everyone reacted differently to Kawhi Leonard’s shot. Most players mobbed him, but Gasol did a silent prayer, hugged the Raptors mascot, and then immediately went to console a tearful Joel Embiid. He expanded on that moment on Tuesday: “I care about him. As a big man, I understood how he felt. We share the same agent, before he even got to the NBA he was living at (the agent’s) place, so I heard a lot of stories about Joel growing up, and I’ve always been a big fan of him and his personality,” Gasol said.
Corny: A local Milwaukee DJ has temporarily issued a ban on Drake for the conference finals. By that logic, they should also slash Justin Bieber, Alessia Cara, Jesse Reyez, Daniel Caesar, The Weeknd, PND, Shawn Mendes, and so on and so forth. Toronto stations should respond in kind by ... wait when was the last popular song that came out of Milwaukee? It’s been a while for Eric Benet.
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