The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, who operated in fits and starts throughout the playoffs despite cruising through two initial series, are now in firm command of the Toronto Raptors. Giannis Antetkounmpo and the Bucks beat Kawhi Leonard and his Raptors, 125-103, to take a 2-0 lead on Friday.
Milwaukee jumped out of the gate, scoring 35 points in the first quarter and limiting Toronto to just 21. On a night in which Antetkounmpo was announced as finalist for both the NBA MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year awards, the Bucks’ defense slowly took hold. The Raptors scored just 18 in the second quarter, ending the first half with a 15-point deficit.
For the Raptors, it was a night of hyperbole. Often criticized for being a squad not up to the snuff of their star, Toronto gave its haters fodder in Game 2. Leonard, who finished with 31 points, eight rebounds, and two assists, was the only productive offensive player. Kyle Lowry added 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and much of Toronto’s contributing cast could hardly be seen. Marc Gasol had a particularly difficult night, scoring two points on 1-of-9 shooting.
The Bucks were quite the opposite, with three bench players scoring in double-digits. It was a more concerted team effort by Milwaukee, who ended the night +8 in assists and +13 in rebounding differential. Antetkounmpo’s squad also finished with just seven turnovers compared to Toronto’s 13.
Antetkounmpo was the star of the night, scoring 30 points to go with 17 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal on 50 percent shooting. The leading MVP candidate was everywhere, and it appeared Toronto was in trouble right from the get-go. On the first possession of the game, Antetkounmpo bullied Pascal Siakam down low, missing his shot high off the backboard but immediately grabbing his own miss for a putback dunk.
The rest of the Bucks cast cruised off Antetkounmpo’s excellent play, but no one was more surprising that Ersan Ilyasova. The Milwaukee reserve scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, grabbing three rebounds to go with two assists and two steals. It was his best playoff game this season, and the first time Ilyasova scored more than 17 points since Oct. 29 against… the Raptors.
Folks at the Air Canada Centre will be rowdy and raucous on Sunday for Game 3, but Friday night was a statement for Antetkounmpo and the Bucks. They’re the best team in the East, and with a commanding 2-0 lead heading back to Ontario, it’ll be time for Leonard and his understaffed crew to prove the Raptors are worthy of knocking the Greek Freak off his throne.
Basically, in a week we will get another update on just how far away Anunoby is, and by that point we will be four games into the Eastern Conference Finals. I’d be surprised if he returns this series.
Anunoby is a long, versatile wing who can defend multiple positions off the bench, can get a few buckets and has to be respected from three. By the end of the last series Nurse trusted Serge Ibaka off the Raptors bench — he was the team’s second best player in Game 7 and they don’t win without him — and that’s it. Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet got a few minutes just so the starters didn’t collapse in exhaustion, but they both struggled.
The NBA playoffs are in crunch time and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Warriors three-peat dreams now depend on how Warriors respond to Kevin Durant injury. Golden State came into these playoffs with the most feared starting lineup in the league. Now, 40 percent of it is out injured. DeMarcus Cousins tore his left quadriceps muscle in the second game of the playoffs, then late in a critical Game 5 Wednesday night Kevin Durant pulled up with a non-contact injury that looked ominous.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game it was not Durant’s Achilles but that KD would not play in Game 6. An MRI on Thursday will give us more details (for the sake of watching the best player in the game today, let’s hope it’s not as serious as it looked).
How the Warriors respond to this will determine their 2019 title hopes.
The Warriors hung on to win Game 5 at home, in part because Stephen Curry stepped up. Once again Houston went at him when it had the ball and that seemed to transfer over and wear on Curry, slowing him on offense. He was 4-of-14 overall and 1-of-8 from three before Durant’s injury. After Durant went to the locker room, Curry shot 5-of-9 for 16 points including going 2-of-3 from deep. He answered the call.
The Warriors got the 104-99 victory that gives them a 3-2 series lead — meaning two cracks to eliminate the Rockets, at least one of those without Durant. Game 6 is Friday night in Houston.
Game 5 was not without its controversial ending — did Klay Thompson step out of bounds with the ball with about 11 seconds left and the Warriors up three?
A frozen screenshot makes it look like Thompson stepped out with the ball, before making a poor pass that the Warriors were fortunate to ultimately recover. I would argue Chris Paul or James Harden could or should have been called for bumping Thompson out of bounds on that sequence, but we’d need better camera angles than the ones we got to see to be definitive. The Last Two Minute Report for this ending will be interesting.
That report is ultimately moot. The bigger question is Game 6.
Steve Kerr said postgame Durant will not play, I’d be shocked if he’s even on the plane to Houston (whatever the injury is he suffered, better to stay and get treatment). Harden — who had 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting in Game 5 — and company will come out with an appropriate level of desperation on their home court. This is a prideful Rockets team that believes it would win the series, Durant or no Durant playing.
The question is how the Warriors respond. Golden State needs MVP-level Stephen Curry and big nights from Klay Thompson on offense and Draymond Green on defense. Can Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and the rest of the role players step up for a night. Do the Warriors have one 2015-style, pre-Durant night in them?
The team has leaned heavily on KD these playoffs, how they respond without him will define their 2019 title chances.
2) Boston’s disappointing season ends appropriately at hands of improving, impressive Milwaukee. Too much of the aftermath of Game 5 in Milwaukee has focused on the Celtics — their poor play, their sad effort, their obvious lack of cohesion and trust as teammates that has gone on all season, and what the future now hold for Kyrie Irving and that Boston roster. With good reason, it’s compelling.
However, let’s stop a minute to praise the Milwaukee Bucks.
One year ago, a Celtics team without its two star players eliminated the Bucks in seven games in the first round. Milwaukee took those lessons and adapted — Jason Kidd was out as coach, Mike Budenholzer was in (note to the Lakers… that’s how you run a coaching search). GM Jon Horst knew Coach Bud’s style and went and got him shooting in the form of Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks changed their systems on both ends of the court, evolved and grew up, and became the best regular season team in the league this year.
Plenty of fans and pundits questioned if the Bucks style could translate to the postseason (*meekly raises his own hand*) but they have been dominant. On both ends. It has translated just fine.
In a closeout Game 5 Wednesday, the Bucks held the Celtics to an offensive rating of 82.7 and 31.2 percent shooting for the game. Milwaukee contested shots in the paint — the Celtics shot 6-of-19 in the paint for the first half — and chased Celtics off the arc. Boston played right into Milwaukee’s hands with Irving and his desire to play hero ball. Irving shot 5-of-16 with zero assists in the first half and finished the game 6-of-21 from the floor for 15 points.
Milwaukee had a balanced attack. As expected, Antetokounmpo led the way with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.
However, the Greek Freak had only had 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, the Bucks won this game because Milwaukee played team basketball. Khris Middleton had 19 points and 8 rebounds for the game, Eric Bledsoe had 18 points, and George Hill had another impressive night off the bench with 16 points.
Milwaukee looks like contenders, they deserve all the praise for that.
We’ve got all summer to watch what Boston does next.
3) Tyronn Lue moves on from the Lakers, which says all you need to know about the Lakers right now. Coaching LeBron James is hard. It’s not that he does not want to be pushed and coached, but he is as high IQ a player as we have seen in the game, and a coach has to earn his trust. It’s not just given. Tyronn Lue has that trust and respect. He can get in LeBron’s face and call him out — and have LeBron come back at him — and their relationship is not damaged.
Which is why Lue as the Lakers’ coach made sense — the man is one of six coaches alive today who have won an NBA title. He may not have been an ideal choice for Lakers fans, but he can coach LeBron and was eager to do it again — and win again.
Rob Pelinka and the Lakers treated Lue like a first-year coach in negotiations. The Lakers would offer no more than three years on the contract — lining it up with LeBron’s deal — while Lue demanded five years. Also, the Lakers were pushing assistant coaches on him, and every experienced coach wants to pick his assistants. Frank Vogel was not someone Lue knows well, but that fit made some sense. Then Pelinka tried to push Jason Kidd as well — no coach with options is going to let a GM put his potential replacement right next to him on the bench and create a power struggle (and Kidd loves a good power struggle).
Pelinka didn’t think Lue had another option, there were no other offers on the table.
Lue did have an option — walk away. Do another season of NBA TV, spend more time with family and friends. Live his life.
Lue wanted the Lakers job but he didn’t need the Lakers job. Pelinka — and Kurt Rambis, and Jeanie Buss, and the entire Laker management team — misread the room and made a mistake.
Now the Lakers are reportedly looking at Frank Vogel, Lionel Holins, and Mike Woodson. Good luck with that.
All that with Kurt Rambis gaining power within the Laker front office. That would be the Rambis who was 32-132 as a coach in Minnesota, and was equally unimpressive as the interim coach in New York (granted, that was a tough situation, but he talked about playing Kristaps Porzingis at the three). Rambis has his skeletons. However, owner Jeanie Buss trusts him, and his wife Linda and Buss go back a long way and she is a trusted advisor.
Buss has stuck within her comfort zone as owner. She has gone with the people she knows, she trusts, people within the Laker family who do things the “Lakers way.” Except, that way has missed the playoff six years in a row and looked a mess the past couple of years. That way had the Lakers mishandle the very public Anthony Davis trade negotiations where they not only didn’t get their man but also fractured their locker room in the process. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ co-tenant at Staples Center looking like the much better run organization, the one that elite free agents are seriously considering this summer (the Clippers are the first choice before the Lakers for a number of them).
The smart play here is for Buss to realize what is not working, step back, and make a major change to the organization. Go hire a top-flight president of basketball operations, give him the power, let him choose the coach and, more importantly, round out the roster around LeBron and said coach. (Tim Connelly in Denver reportedly is making only $2 million a season in that role, well below market value, and is considering a leap to Washington… and notice the Nuggets are young and still playing.)
The Laker organization needs a shake up. If not, the kind of success that Buss wants — and Lakers fans expect — will remain elusive, the victories fleeting. The Lakers need an organizational identity, right now they are just a brand.
Deep and dominant Bucks give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time
Usually, that’s the signal a player is ready to begin his postgame interview.
The swarm of reporters in the visiting locker room barely even turned his direction.
“No media?” Antetokounmpo asked rhetorically as he feigned leaving. “OK.”
That the MVP favorite was an afterthought in the Bucks’ 119-103 Game 3 win over the Pistons on Saturday is a tribute to Milwaukee’s strength as a team. Four Bucks outscored Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee again crushed Detroit to take a 3-0 series lead.
All 132 teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have won the series – most of them by sweep. The Bucks – who haven’t won a playoff series in the previous 17 years – can close this one in Game 4 Monday.
“It’s going to be a nice feeling, winning my first playoff series,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting back down. “And it’s going to be a nice feeling, the team getting out of the first round. And it’s going to be keep going. Whoever we play in the second round, I know it’s far away from here – six, seven days away – but whoever we play, we’re going to try to win.”
Forgive Antetokounmpo for looking ahead. Even for a team up 3-0, Milwaukee has looked particularly dominant.
The Bucks have outscored Detroit by 72 points so far – the second-largest margin through three games of a best-of-seven series. Here are the biggest combined margins through three games of all series (game scores in parentheses):
Antetokounmpo (14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five fouls, four turnovers,) just never got got in a groove. The Bucks even got outscored by seven points with Antetokounmpo on the floor.
Detroit’s best and most important player surprisingly played through knee pain that sidelined him the first two games. Griffin (27 points and six assists) had his moments, but he was clearly hobbled. Though the Pistons’ offense flowed far better with Griffin, their defense remains no match for the Bucks’ elite attack. Especially with Griffin slowed.
In a skid dating back to 2008, the Pistons have now tied the Knicks (2001-2012) for longest playoff-game losing streak at 13 games.
Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the only current Pistons who played in a 2016 sweep to the Cavaliers. Nearly everything – arena, ownership, front office coaching staff, players – has changed since a 2009 sweep to Cleveland, which was preceded by dropping the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals the year prior against the Celtics.
But this record now falls on the franchise.
Here are the longest playoff-game losing streaks of all time:
With a deep supporting cast he truly seems to enjoy and a win, it was easy for Antetokounmpo to brush off his lackluster game.
“Hey, there’s going to be nights like this,” Antetokounmpo said.
For Detroit, a lot of them.
Spurs to waive veteran Pau Gasol, who will sign with Bucks for playoffs
The Milwaukee Bucks are thinking NBA Finals — as they should, they have been the best team in the East all season — but for a team that hasn’t done it before, it never hurts to add a guy with a couple of rings to the locker room.
He had fallen out of favor in San Antonio, so the Spurs agreed to waive him just in time for the March 1 deadline (allowing he to sign with another team for the playoffs), and the Bucks lept at the chance. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.
The San Antonio Spurs and center Pau Gasol have agreed on a contract buyout, clearing the way for the six-time All-Star to join the Milwaukee Bucks, league sources told ESPN…
Gasol, 38, has seen his role diminished with the Spurs this season, partly due to him missing 26 games with a stress fracture in his foot. Gasol was guaranteed $6.7 million of his $16 million salary in 2019-20. He is earning $16 million this season.
Gasol himself has confirmed it.
Today, I bid farewell to @spurs. It’s been a dream to play for 1 of most storied franchises in @NBA history, an honor to be part of Spurs family. To all the staff, my teammates, the coaches, RC, Pop and, above all, the fans, thank you for making this place so special. #GoSpursGo! pic.twitter.com/PCw7Ez9PpP
What the Spurs do is save some money, and they open a roster spot to add someone who likely would play more for them than Gasol.
Pau Gasol had roughly $10.3M remaining on his contract with San Antonio; $3.6M for the remainder of this season and $6.7M guaranteed in 2019-20. The Spurs will still incur a cap hit for next season but at a reduced amount.
With the Bucks, Gasol will not see the court that much. Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova split the minutes at the five, while the four spot is Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Mirotic. Gasol can get some scattered minutes behind them, but he’s not going to be a significant contributor on the court because that’s not who he is anymore. Gasol is smart and can still be efficient, but father time is winning the race with the 38-year-old. He gets 45 percent of his shots around the rim, but is hitting just 53 percent of them, according to Cleaning The Glass.
What he brings to an inexperienced team is a guy who has titles and the Kobe Bryant stamp of approval. While the Bucks are loaded with talent and there are veterans on the roster, nobody has a ring. Nobody has been on a team that has faced the kind of pressure Gasol has in his career. That’s the kind of voice teams want for the playoffs.