It's time for the Raptors to show what they're made of

Apr 23 2017, 11:57 pm

The Raptors found out the hard way that they couldn’t underestimate the Bucks.

Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the underdog Bucks took Game 1 by a score of 97-83 in Toronto, and embarrassed the Raptors 104-77 in Game 3. The series is even at 2-2 heading into tonight’s crucial Game 5 at the ACC.

As with any team, the Raptors will need their best players to rise above the increased attention and pressure of the postseason to carry them forward.

So far, both Raptors All-Stars have seen their numbers decline from the regular season. Although DeMar DeRozan has been the best player on the team, he’s averaging five fewer points a game, while Kyle Lowry is down eight per game. Each player is shooting 40% from the field, which is more cause for concern.

With the NBA’s salary cap increasing due to the new TV deal, DeRozan re-upped for five seasons at $139 million. Lowry is going into free agency, and if he wants the Raptors to give him a similar contract, he needs to show he’s worth it when it matters most.

The point guard is coming off a wrist injury where he missed 22 regular season games, but he has insisted it is not an issue. Yet, his numbers are down in almost every offensive category, and he’s shooting an ugly 25% from the three-point line.

Some of the blame should be shifted to coach Dwayne Casey. His Bucks counterpart Jason Kidd said he wanted to force Toronto to play a “team game” meaning he thinks the Raptors are too isolation-heavy. Casey has insisted on sticking with his guns, but his play calling at crucial times has been head-scratching.

Stats back up the fact that Toronto has stunk offensively. The Raptors are averaging 88.3 points a game, which is dead last among the 16 playoff teams. They’re also second last in assists and field goals attempted. This means the team is playing too much individually and their pace has been too slow.

With the a second round matchup against Cleveland looming, the Raptors will need to improve on these numbers to even have a remote chance of competing against LeBron James and company. Toronto needs to push the pace more and get more ball movement which will equate to some more open looks.

As the Raptors rely on their best players, so too do the Bucks. Cause for concern through the first four games is how Toronto has defended Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is averaging 21 points (on nearly 50% shooting) 10 rebounds and is the sole reason the Bucks are in this series. Casey has chosen Serge Ibaka and DeMarre Carroll to guard him, but the team defence hasn’t gotten it done.

Milwaukee has surrounded Antetokounmpo with good three-point shooters, and in both losses Toronto’s defence hasn’t been able to rotate fast enough to challenge them. Although easier said than done, the Raptors have to force Antetokounmpo to be a jump shooter, the one facet of his game that needs improvement.

If Toronto thinks he’s been a handful, LeBron will do more damage in the next round (if they get there).

Casey deserves some credit for changing up the starting lineup going into Game 4, swapping Norman Powell in for big man Jonas Valanciunas. The coach hinted at more changes going forward.

“I thought Norm gave us what he was supposed to give us on both ends of the floor,” Casey said. “It’s going to be a chess match. It may be someone different the next game.”

Without Jabari Parker in the Bucks lineup, Toronto is simply the better team from top to bottom. The Raptors are deeper and more experienced. If they want to be considered a legitimate contender, they need to take care of business in the next two games. Otherwise, it’ll be déjà vu against Cleveland in Round 2.