7:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Bucks -1.5, Over/Under: 195.5
One team looks to stave off elimination while the other has designs on advancing, as the Milwaukee Bucks host the Toronto Raptors in Game Six of their First Round Series from the BMO Harris Bradley Center, in Wisconsin. After splitting the first four games of the series, the Raptors (51-31, 3rd in Eastern Conference) now have the opportunity to put away their opposition, which is something that they’ve struggled with over the past few Postseasons; in last year’s Playoffs, Toronto needed seven games to eliminate both Seventh- Seeded Indiana and Third-Seeded Miami, before falling to eventual NBA Champions Cleveland in six games. Needless to say, Dwayne Casey’s charges have rarely played at a consistently high level befitting a team of their seeding. Making their recent string of performances all the more puzzling is the fact that this is a team that for all intents and purposes appeared to be geared specifically for the Playoffs; they acquired the likes of Serge Ibaka (14.2 PTS, 45.9% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 1.4 BLK) and PJ Tucker (5.8 PTS, 40.6% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.3 STL) at the Trade Deadline to tighten up their play on the defensive end, while affording All-Star Point Guard Kyle Lowry (22.4 PTS, 46.4% FG, 41.2% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 7.0 AST, 1.5 STL) the opportunity to rest down the stretch, which was particularly significant given how worn out he looked this time last year. Not to mention the fact that they closed out the campaign winning thirteen of sixteen contests, and one would figure that few teams would be better prepared to make a run at dethroning the Cavs. And then Game One happened… After getting embarrassed at home (97-83) and barely surviving Game Two (106-100), Casey’s outfit didn’t even bother to show up once the series shifted back stateside, getting blown away in a 104-77 dumpster fire. Simply put, these guys were getting punked BADLY. However, things turned around in Game Four, as Toronto earned a sorely-needed victory on the road, staving off a furious Bucks rally en route to an 87-76 victory in which the visitors a poor shooting performance thanks to smothering defense, relegating the home side to a miserable 37.0% shooting from the field, while forcing twenty turnovers. Game Five’s 118-93 triumph served as proof that this team may have finally emerged from their malaise, jumping on Milwaukee early, establishing a 31-20 lead at the end of the First Quarter, and outscoring them 61-45 in the Second Half. After both teams struggled to throw the ball into the ocean in the previous affair, Monday Night’s encounter turned out to be a shootout, with the hosts netting a white-hot 57.7% of their attempts from the field, including 12-of-227 from beyond the arc (44.4%), all the while assisting on a healthy twenty-eight of their forty-one field goals. For the second straight Game, the Raptors took advantage of the Bucks’ careless ways, turning fifteen turnovers into twenty-eight points, and getting to the Free-Throw Line twenty-six times, knocking down all but two, nine more than their counterpart. Casey had to have been thrilled with the balance that his troops exhibited, as six different players scored in double-figures, led by (drum roll please…) Norman Powell (8.4 PTS, 44.9% FG, 2.2 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.7 STL), who scored a personal postseason-best twenty-five points on 8-of-11 shooting (72.7%), including 4-of-4 from downtown (100.0%), with four rebounds, and three assists. Despite starting just eighteen games in the Regular Season, Powell was thrown into the fire midway through the Game Three Debacle providing boundless energy on both ends of the floor in the past two outings. Toronto can exorcise a few demons tonight, for Game Six has not been kind to them in recent history; as we mentioned before, each of their first two series in 2016 Playoffs went seven games, with them failing to seal the deal on their opponent’s floor before the Cavaliers eliminated them in six on their own floor.
Meanwhile, the Bucks (42-20, 6th in Eastern Conference) have effectively gone from having the Raptors on the ropes to now being on the verge of getting knocked out by their prehistoric counterpart. Pardon our poor boxing analogies, but this series has to be a Rope a Dope if we’ve ever seen one. Milwaukee absolutely stunned them at Air Canada Centre in Game One, and put together one of the most lopsided victories in Playoff History in Game Three, before everything slowly started to fall apart over the course of Game Four. So what exactly has gone wrong for the deer, you ask? Well, you may want to take a seat… As mentioned earlier, Jason Kidd’s charges couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end in the fourth installment of this Series, amassing a scant seventy-six points on 37.0% shooting from the field, including 5-of-21 from beyond the arc (23.8%), while totaling more turnovers (twenty) than assists (sixteen). In a defensive slugfest where possessions must maximized, the hosts simply failed to make the most of their opportunities; in addition to giving the ball away wholesale, they managed to sink just eleven of their eighteen free-throws (61.1%). And then there was All-Star Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (22.9 PTS, 52.2% FG, 8.7 REB, 5.4 AST, 1.6 STL, 1.9 BLK), who experienced a heavy dose of growing pains, finishing a miserable night with fourteen points on 6-of-19 shooting (31.6%), with seven turnovers. The Greek Freak turned things around in Game Five, ripping Toronto for thirty points on an much more efficient 12-of-19 shooting (63.2%), while cutting the turnovers to two, but unfortunately, he and his teammates forgot to show up on defense, because the Raptors were simply unconscious at times when in possession. It’s not often that you shoot 50.0% overall and get blown out by twenty-five points, but that precisely what happened to the Bucks, who were manhandled on the glass, as they were outrebounded by a staggering seventeen boards. With that said, if you’re looking for a reason for their struggles of late, look no further than the Supporting Cast, which has really left a lot to be desired in the latter stages of this Series. In Game Four, Milwaukee’s Bench scored just twenty-four points, followed by twenty-one on Monday Night, which is all the more problematic when three-fifths of the Starting Five is scoring in single-digits. This is where Kidd and his charges really miss the presence of Jabari Parker (20.1 PTS, 49.0% FG, 36.5% 3FG, 6.1 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.0 STL), who missed the final thirty-one games of the campaign after tearing his ACL in early February. The third-year Forward was coming into his own this year, and would have provided some much-needed balance on the wings for a team in dire need of it. Sure, Tony Snell (8.5 PTS, 45.5% FG, 40.6% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.7 STL) and Malcolm Brogdon (10.2 PTS, 45.7% FG, 40.4% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 4.2 AST, 1.1 STL) both have potential, and at this point of his career Michael Beasley (9.4 PTS, 53.3% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 0.9 AST) is little more than just a dude, but moving either into the Starting Lineup only serves to deplete an already thin unit of reserves. Though it may be too late, one would have to wonder if moving Greg Monroe (11.7 PTS, 53.2% FG, 6.6 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.1 STL) back into the Starting Lineup wouldn’t give these guys a necessary boost. While the 6′-11″ Center has accepted coming off the Bench this season, his post scoring and passing skills could be a boon to this floundering unit. Granted, he’s not much of a deterrent in the Paint, and almost guarantees that you’re going to be playing at a slower pace, but everything else that Kidd’s tried at this juncture has failed. The Playoffs are all about adjustments, and the Bucks are sorely lacking in this department, which could spell their undoing tonight.