The Game 1 Debacle: Who's to blame?
The Raptors played the Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night. It was the first opening series game for the Raptors that was not being played on their home floor. Many may look at this with dismay, however, I pictured this to be an underappreciated advantage. Considering how bad the Raptors tend to be during series-openers at home, I imagined the experience mixed with the change in scenery would bring forth a more free-style of play. Our guys would be playing with no pressure against the favourites in their gym, who haven’t tasted a conference final in over a decade. I developed underlying confidence that we would steal game 1 in Milwaukee and although things looked to be headed that way in the first half, the Raptors gave up a 7-point lead to the Bucks in the 4th quarter after leading for most of the game. Milwaukee came back to son the Raptors and crush our hopes of winning game 1.
The simple question is quite frankly, what went wrong? To begin, a lot went right. The Bucks were missing many shots they usually make, going 6/32 from 3-point range at half time. Kawhi was progressing and Lowry was having a monster game. Although the positives were on display, the Raptors still showed signs of shakiness when Milwaukee would go on their runs. The keys to this loss rest on what has been our Achilles heel all playoffs; the bench plus Danny Green. Although both Siakam and Lowry have shown signs of inconsistency, they have equally made massive contributions and have effectively given Kawhi a helping hand. When it comes to Serge Ibaka, aside from his impressive game 7 heroics vs Philly, has been atrocious offensively and a foul-machine defensively. Don’t get me wrong when Serge comes to play, he's phenomenal, but these playoffs he's been anything but his usual self. Do you remember when Norman Powell was in his contract year and became a fan-favourite and surprise starter? Neither do I. That Norm Powell is no more and the new Norm is a “hot once, cold every other day of the week” kind of player. Fred VanVleet has taken it upon himself to tarnish his playoff legacy with repeated disappointing performances and confused decision making.
The bench has been an overall disappointment and every championship team has a group of “others” from the bench, that is able to come into the game and assert themselves as real role players do. The fact our bench, our depth, which is something the Raptors have historically boasted about has become a complete irrelevance, shows how deep these holes are in the Raptors camp. Its as if we're literally trying to act like nobody notices we play only 2 bench players per night. Part of this is Nurse’s fault for not instilling the confidence in these players to go out and perform well, however, can you blame him? Should you have to motivate a professional NBA player to get excited about a conference final? How about an NBA champion; how about, Danny Green. The Green Ranger has gone from being a steal in the Kawhi Leonard trade to a player I can’t wait to depart. Danny Green has been the biggest disappointment for the Raptors this playoffs, and that is saying something. Green contributed a measly 6 points against the Bucks, piling on the list of bad performances he has had recently.
The veteran only took 3 shots and was seemingly a nuisance defensively. He's managed to make some big mistakes for the Raptors during these playoffs as well, missing the game-tying 3 vs Philadelphia in game 2 and giving up possession within the last minute vs Milwaukee on Wednesday evening. Green has carefully and effectively contributed to one of the worst playoff pushes of his career. With this type of support, Kawhi will only be able to take us so far. Changes are required, gameplans must be revisited and players must be prepared. Without players like Siakam, Green, Ibaka and VanVleet executing their roles, the Raptors will end up being the proverbial “deer in headlights.” Without key role players stepping-up instead of just talking about it, we will become Giannis’ dinner very shortly. The Raptors need to get their act together for game 2, all we can do now is hope.