Getty Images

Three things to watch in playoffs: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Toronto Raptors

1 Comment

As we dive into the playoffs, we at PBT are going to break down each first-round playoff series and give you three things to watch in each.

We start with one series that has the chance of an upset in the East — not a huge chance, but maybe the most of any series in that conference — and the series that should be the most entertaining in the conference: the Bucks vs. the Raptors. Here’s what to look for.

Who guards the Greek Freak? Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to win Most Improved Player in the NBA this season and will make an All-NBA team — he has been nothing short of brilliant. He led the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. As a 6’11” point forward, he was their Mr. Everything.

Who on the Bucks can guard him? Coach Dwane Casey said DeMarre Carroll and P.J. Tucker are going to get the first opportunities, and I particularly think Tucker could get more and more time on him as this series goes on. Their job starts with keeping him out of the paint — Antetokounmpo averaged 13.1 points per game in the paint, and he got 52.6 percent of his shots inside the restricted area, and he shot a very good 68.9 percent on those. The Raptors need to turn Antetokounmpo into a jump shooter, which is far easier said than done. Antetokounmpo is a very tough matchup and the Bucks are going to need a huge series from him to pull the upset.

Can Bucks length, aggressive defense throw Raptors backcourt off their game? Toronto’s offense flows through it’s two All-Star guards, six-foot Kyle Lowry and 6’7” DeMar DeRozan. Milwaukee will guard them with 6’5” Malcolm Brogdon, and 6’8” Kris Middleton, plus there is 6’7” Tony Snell, the pesky and aggressive Matthew Dellavedova, and occasionally 6’11” Antetokounmpo (who has a 7’4” wingspan). The Bucks play one of the more aggressive defensive schemes in the NBA, one with the goal of disrupting teams, throwing them off balance, and forcing turnovers.

How Lowry and DeRozan handle the pressure from tall, long defenders will be at the heart of this series. The Bucks tend to be aggressive, trapping and using that length to pressure ball handlers off the pick-and-roll, catching teams off guard — will the Raptors guards get more used to it as the series wears on, then start picking the defense apart?

In particular, I want to watch DeRozan, who has stepped up this season with Lowry down (the Raptors are 10-0 when he scores at least 30) — Middleton could see a lot of time on him, and is a smart and disruptive defender. The Raptors often try to run a 1-2 pick play and force a switch where the point guard is on DeRozan, then he works that smaller defender to a spot on the floor where DeRozan is comfortable and shoots over him — Brogdon’s length could make that less effective than normal.

Can the Bucks hold on in the fourth quarter? Toronto has been dominant in the fourth quarter this season, outscoring its opponents by 13 points per 100 possessions in that frame. They are a top five team on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter. The Raptors fall behind early with slow starts and come back to win games on a regular basis — the Bucks may get an early lead but can they put the Raptors away? The Raptors won the fourth quarter three of the four meetings between the teams this season.

Part of that late-game advantage for the Raptors is their improved depth — Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell are good. Coach Dwane Casey leans on the Lowry and the bench lineups to start the fourth and that’s one of the best Toronto lineups. The Bucks have struggled with depth issues and need Greg Monroe, Jason Terry, Spencer Hawes, and Mirza Teletovic, to give them something.

The Raptors also have the advantage of experience. What Buck has the most playoff experience? Tony Snell at 16 games. All five Raptors starters have at least 23 playoff games under their belt.

Prediction: Raptors in six, but this series will not be easy.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

Leave a comment

Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.

Rockets wear jersey patch to honor Santa Fe High School vs. Warriors

Getty
Leave a comment

The Houston Rockets have been supportive of the Texas community after a gunman killed 10 people and injured 10 others at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

Rockets point guard Chris Paul called NBA basketball “minor” compared to what those in Santa Fe are having to endure, and on Thursday the team took things a step further and donned special jerseys for their playoff matchup against the Golden State Warriors.

As Houston prepared to take on the reigning champs in Game 5 back in Texas, the team tweeted out a photo of the jerseys — complete with a special patch on the left shoulder — to honor the victims of the shooting.

Via Twitter:

The NBA has a lot of advocates for social and political change, not just individually but organizationally. How the Rockets responded is good to see in the face of yet another school shooting.

Andre Iguodala out for Warriors again in Game 5; Klay Thompson available

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Warriors missed Andre Iguodala in Game 4 against Houston. They don’t have a Death/Hamptons 5 lineup without him. Without his depth, the Warriors had to lean more on players such as Kevon Looney (who started), Nick Young, and others who are can be a liability at the high level of play in this series. Not having Iguodala to keep minutes down, play fierce defense, move the ball on offense, and be a stabilizing force was one of the issues that led to the Warriors fourth-quarter issues in Game 4.

Now they are without him for Game 5, too.

Having Klay Thompson on the court is huge for Golden State, although it will be worth monitoring to see how he moves.

The Warriors have gotten sucked into the switching/isolation game the Rockets want to play, if they are going to take Game 5 on the road they need to get back to “the beautiful game” they want to play. That would have been easier with Iguodala.

Two years after NBA retirement, Amar’e Stoudemire talking comeback

Getty Images
6 Comments

NBA teams seemed to have moved on from Amar’e Stoudemire. After an impressive NBA career — five-time All-NBA, Rookie of the Year, six-time All-Star — he wasn’t physically the explosive player that dazzled with the Suns. Teams were interested in getting younger and more athletic, and Stoudemire was doing neither. He retired from the NBA and played for a season in Israel where he won a league title. This summer he’s signed up to play with the Big3.

After that he’,d like another crack at the NBA. When asked about an NBA comeback, here’s what Stoudemire told CBS Sports’ Bill Reiter on ‘Reiter’s Block’:

“I am. I am. I’m definitely planning on (coming back). I’ve been training like you wouldn’t believe, my body feels great. I had an amazing year last year playing overseas and so I’m gonna definitely continue to work my way back to top shape and see if there’s a team that needs my talents.”

I’m not sure there’s going to be much demand. Maybe a team does an old friend a favor and brings him in for some workouts. However, his knees and body struggled with the physical grind of the NBA the final few seasons of his career, and it’s unlikely with age that got better. No doubt he’s worked on his conditioning and strength, but Father Time always wins the race and it already felt like this chase was over.

That said, good on Stoudemire for not giving up on the dream. His agent should be making calls, maybe he can become the second player to make the Big3 to NBA leap.