Toronto is down 0-2 in their series with Milwaukee and the problem with this team has never been more evident. Relying on Kawhi Leonard too much has affected everyone and has given the Bucks the easiest scouting report of the playoffs: You stop Kawhi, you stop the Raptors. That seemed to be the idea in Game 1, as Kawhi went 10-26 in the game with only 2 points scored in the 4th quarter. As we saw in Game 2 however, Kawhi was able to have an impressive game scoring 31 points on 10 of 18 shooting. Unfortunately for this game, the Bucks were able to stop everyone but Kawhi and really, that’s all it takes.
This is a team game, and the Bucks get that. If Giannis has a bad game, guys like Brook Lopez (who basically won Game 1), Eric Bledsoe, or someone else steps up. This is what makes a championship team. Though Kawhi is an incredible upgrade from DeMar DeRozan, and puts Toronto this much closer to a Finals appearance, they still have shown the NBA that they still aren’t quite there yet. Kawhi can’t be forced to do literally everything for this team to work, but at times, especially in the Semi-Final match up with the 76ers, it seemed like Nick Nurse couldn’t take Kawhi out without fear of losing the lead. Against the Bucks, it seems like they can’t get a solid possession without Kawhi touching the ball at least once.
Too prove Nurse can actually coach, and that this year wasn’t a fluke, he needs to start making adjustments now. The biggest adjustment that needs to be made immediately, and I cannot stress this enough, put Marc Gasol back in the post. They are completely wasting his talent keeping him on the perimeter. Yes, I understand it keeps the offense flowing with his high ball screens and keeps the lane open for Kawhi and Kyle Lowry’s drives. However, if you have someone like Gasol who has lived in the post and mid-range for his entire career, and at one point was considered one of the best (if not, THE best) center in the league because of his decision making and back to the basket moves from the block, you have to let him do it. If you get Gasol in his comfort zone, this is a completely different series. Talent-wise, Gasol is the second best player on this team. Nurse needs to get Gasol going now.
The only thing they allow him to do is shoot from the three and though he can do it, he’s not a player that can go out and hit three or four in a game without some attempts down low first. He’s a big than can shoot. He’s not a shooting big. There is a huge difference. Portland’s Meyers Leonard is a shooting big, but guys like Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, and even Lamarcus Aldridge need some shots down low to get them into a rhythm, then and only then, can they step out and hit the three. Gasol went 1-9 in Game 2. That is unacceptable for a center. Brook Lopez does this all the time too with the Bucks. Fortunately for them, their offense still works despite Brook’s shooting woes. In Toronto’s case, it needs to change. Though it has worked up until this point for Toronto, this is not a recipe for postseason success. If Kawhi has a bad shooting night, they have no one to really take over the game. Could Pascal Siakam do it? Maybe in a year or two, but he’s not nearly as consistent as you would like for a second scoring option.
Right now, they need to change their game plan, and play a little inside out game with Gasol down low. It will get Brook a little more tired on defense as it would force him to work harder guarding Gasol. This could also force Brook to post up on the other end. If Gasol continuously scores on Brook, he’s going to want the ball on the other end to make up for it and that could either force Brook to shoot the Bucks out of the game or he might force a post up, which will only slow down the Bucks’ electric offense. Believe me, if Gasol was hitting the three like crazy, this wouldn’t come up, but he just flat out hasn’t. Gasol needs to be getting at least 15 a game for the Raptors to have a chance in this series, and to do that, you need to let Gasol go to work down low.
On a side note, to get more bench production, Nurse needs to seriously consider giving Jeremy Lin some minutes. I know he was a late addition to the roster so he may not be as familiar with the Raptors’ game plan, but to not use him is a real waste of a roster spot. He’s got a natural basketball IQ, can hit the three, and makes good decisions with the ball, especially with the pick and roll as that has been his bread and butter since day one in the NBA. Just with the Hawks this year, Lin was averaging 10 points a game on 46% shooting behind Trey Young. Plus, he’s only a couple of years removed from his sixth man heroics in his sole year in Charlotte. In my opinion, he’s a better option than Fred VanVleet, who almost seems nonexistent in some games. Sometimes during the postseason, it seems that VanVleet and Kyle Lowry try to compete to see who will play worse. Regardless, Toronto needs scoring from their second unit so they can give Kawhi a rest, and to do that they need to give instant offense guys like Jeremy Lin and shooters like Jodie Meeks (a criminally underrated shooter) minutes.
The Bucks play a 10 man rotation and it works. They get their guys into a rhythm and just like I said earlier, Giannis isn’t even the game-saver some nights. The Raptors need to start using their most important acquisitions in the correct way now. Otherwise, this series is ending in four.
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