ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have more than held their own against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton so far in these Eastern Conference finals.
Other than some pretty boxscores, the Toronto Raptors have nothing to show for those efforts.
The supporting cast hasn’t supported much for Toronto, and with what is almost certainly a must-win Game 3 of the East title series looming on Sunday night at home, Raptors coach Nick Nurse is weighing lineup tweaks. Nurse suggested Saturday that Serge Ibaka may start at center over struggling Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell may get minutes that would figure to come at Danny Green‘s expense.
“We’ve got to be better, man,” Nurse said Saturday. “We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to hustle more and we’ve got to work harder.”
He may as well have punctuated that by adding “or else.”
In this playoff format that was put into play in 1984, teams that win the first two games at home of a best-of-seven series have ultimately prevailed 94% of the time. And that’s the luxury Milwaukee has right now, leading the series 2-0 after rallying to win the opener and then controlling Game 2 start to finish.
“We can’t rest,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We can’t relax. We can’t assume anything.”
So the odds are stacked against the Raptors. Nurse was told the lack of success teams have when down 0-2 in a series, and insisted he doesn’t care.
“I don’t really give a crap about that,” he said. “I just want our team to come play their (butt) off tomorrow night and get one game and it changes the series.”
Leonard and Lowry are outscoring Antetokounmpo and Middleton 107-77 – which would figure to have been a boon to Toronto’s chances.
It hasn’t worked that way.
Add up everyone else’s scoring in the series, and it’s Bucks 156, Raptors 96. Rebounding has been one-sided in both games, with Milwaukee controlling things on the backboards. Bench scoring has tilted heavily toward Milwaukee as well.
“We’re just trying to be us,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “We’re not playing any differently, regular season or postseason. We’re just trying to go out there and play Bucks basketball. It starts with our defense. Getting stops. Getting out. Playing in transition. Playing with pace. Sharing the ball and being aggressive and attacking the basket.”
The Raptors don’t have to look at the history books to know this series isn’t over.
All they need to do is recall the 2012 Western Conference finals. Leonard and Green were with top-seeded San Antonio, and Ibaka was with second-seeded Oklahoma City. The Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home – then lost the next four, and the Thunder went to the NBA Finals.
“We have another chance to bounce back on Sunday,” Gasol said. “That’s all that matters right now. That’s all that matters.”