Rising Bucks leave Raptors with a broken feeling in Game 3
MILWAUKEE -- If the Milwaukee Bucks haven't turned the Eastern Conference completely upside down (you could say the Bulls are handling that with the Celtics), they're at least resetting the order. On Thursday night, it wasn't just the dark jerseys -- normally the sign of a higher seed on the road in a Game 3 -- that seemed out of place, it was their utter domination of the more experienced, more accomplished Toronto Raptors. It was a 104-77 beatdown so convincing, it left you wondering how the Raptors managed to win one game so far in this series and doubting if they can get another.
How best to summarize it?
Kyle Lowry had plenty of time to think about it, sitting back while teammate DeMar DeRozan answered the first two questions at the postgame news conference, before Lowry was finally asked to share his thoughts.
Lowry leaned forward and said: "We got our ass busted."
The Busting Bucks are in accelerated growth mode, maturing ahead of schedule and at the exact wrong time for the Raptors.
The lineup the sixth-seeded Bucks sent out for the opening tip had started a total of 18 playoff games in their careers before Thursday night. The Raptors who returned from last season's squad each played 20 games in the 2016 playoffs alone. It made no difference. The young Bucks took control immediately and led 32-12 after one quarter.
What drags down Milwaukee's experience curve is the presence of two rookies, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. Well, the worst thing you could say about them in Game 3 was they had the lowest plus/minus of the starters, at plus-10 and plus-13 respectively. And the only indication of the Bucks' youth in this series is that they drew back the curtain just enough to let some light shine on the Raptors in Game 2, a game Milwaukee realistically could have won to put it in position to sweep.
Doesn't it give Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd heart palpitations to roll out such a young lineup?
"I'm a young coach, so I think we all fit with the experience level," said the 44-year-old Kidd, who played in the NBA as recently as 2013.
"The guys on the floor and on the bench support them, and the coaching staff has done everything to prepare them for this moment. It's up to them to be basketball players, and they're very comfortable with doing that. We try to keep things simple and have fun with it, and they do all the work."
And what has made the Bucks come so close to realizing their potential?
"I think we're starting to do it with our defense more," Khris Middleton said. "Learning to play smart basketball and use our length."
Milwaukee switches one condor-wingspanned player for another on defense, and a Raptors offense predicated on DeRozan and Lowry beating their man off the dribble couldn't get around them. Nor could the Raptors shoot over them, missing 16 of 22 3-pointers. DeRozan went 0-for-8 overall, making him the first 25-points-per-game scorer to go 0-for-3 or worse in a playoff game in the same season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He didn't get a point until he made two free throws midway through the second quarter. Lowry wasn't much better, with 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting.
"I still think we can win the series," Lowry said. "It's a terrible feeling, the way we got our ass beat. It's a terrible feeling. [But] our confidence is not changed. We'll be fine."
What if it's not a matter of confidence? What if there's nothing the Raptors can do about it? What if the series is happening to them more than it's happening with them?
They were destroyed Thursday and the Bucks didn't even get a monster game from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who still made 7 of 10 shots, grabbed eight rebounds, scored 19 points, and blocked a shot with his elbow -- seriously.
The Bucks just looked so much better. Deep into the fourth quarter, the game well in hand, the Bucks were still playing sharply, moving the ball all over with an everyone-on-the-floor-touches-it kind of possession that resulted in a wide-open 3-pointer by Matthew Dellavedova.
The only thing the Raptors did well and convincingly was show frustration. Serge Ibaka slammed the ball to the ground so hard it bounced higher than the shot clock above the basket after he was called for goaltending. And Lowry took exception to Dellavedova crowding him as he called timeout, and Lowry raised his elbow to send a message.
It was Toronto's lowest playoff score since the Raptors scored 63 in Detroit in 2002. Meanwhile, the Bucks had their biggest home blowout in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which suddenly is hosting one of the best crowds in the NBA. The were at full volume from the outset, with the "Cream City Clash" fan group singing chants like a college student section.
"The crowd was unbelievable," Antetokounmpo said. "It was fun."
Fun at the Raptors' expense. Worrisome for the other denizens of the Eastern Conference.