Two games into the Toronto v Milwaukee series and it's time to take a deep dive into what trends have shown up early.
The Bucks were excellent in game one. Their offense was clicking thanks to a monster performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, while Greg Monroe and Malcolm Brogdon made strong cameos. Milwaukee's defense was outstanding and Jason Kidd's coaching performance was much better in the second half.
The Monroe effect
Coming into the series, the Raptors on paper had the edge. Jonas Valanciunas was a good matchup for Greg Monroe, as they both are low post threats but neither could change the game in other areas. Monroe has been borderline unplayable at times with his poor defense, but he seems to have stepped it up in recent weeks. The Raptors were only able to hit 5 threes in game one, with only one of those coming from Ibaka. Monroe was good enough to hold down the fort defensively, even against the Raptors stretchy lineup with Ibaka at the five. Ibaka was second in the league in points off the catch and while he feasted at times from the midrange, it was more of an issue when Spencer Hawes or Mirza Teletovic were on the floor. While he's not a great pick and roll defender, Monroe was able to get in the passing lanes to help force turnovers, and he was even able to take a couple of charges when the Raptors tried to get to the basket.
The Middleton and Monroe connection
Khris Middleton's shot was off in game one, but he continually found Monroe for assists, and Monroe was doing the same. The Bucks were able to use Monroe at the elbow in a Marc Gasol fashion, which aided the flow of the offense immensely. Kidd can take some confidence away from the opening game, knowing that the offense can be effective when running through Monroe, instead of seeing it being held up. Middleton was excellent in game two, and although he and Monroe didn't combine for as many assists together, it's clear that the entire offense opens up more when those two and Antetokounmpo are on the floor together.
Playoff Thon comes out to play, Kidd all over the place with lineups
Coach Kidd has taken plenty of flack from Bucks supporters this year with poor rotations and being too late to adjust. The Raptors attacked Brogdon and Hawes in the pick and roll in game one, and DeMar DeRozan was able to get where ever he wanted against that line up. Hawes was put on the floor to try and get Ibaka away from the paint on defense, but Ibaka was content with leaving Hawes in space, even after he hit a three.
Kidd didn't play Hawes, Teletovic or Michael Beasley in the second half. Instead, he gave Thon Maker a chance to shine. He delivered in spades.
Maker was incredibly impressive on defense, and his ability to run in transition was handy.
In game two, Kidd played Hawes and Teletovic again and it was - surprise - a huge failure. Hawes switched onto Lowry and played solid defence, but fouled Lowry while he took an ugly three. The Raptors went on a 7-0 run when Hawes was out there.
Kidd probably should have played Monroe more in game two, considering he was excellent on the offensive end. However, Maker was very solid against the Patrick Patterson/Ibaka small lineup and played for pretty much the whole fourth quarter. It's clear that Casey has told his team to attack Maker in the post and on the drive, but he's proven his worth on both sides of the ball.
Ibaka the key for the Raptors
The Bucks just don't have an answer for the small ball lineup with Ibaka at the center. Monroe did a solid job against him in game one, but Ibaka has been making the Bucks pay when he's in space. In game two, Kidd was almost forced to keep Maker on the floor after Ibaka hit two quick threes. Middleton played on Ibaka at times, but there's no clear solution in guarding a player that versatile. The Raptors went on an 18-2 run in the third quarter, on the back of some great defensive plays by Ibaka. The Bucks hit back when Monroe came back on and they were able to bring it back to a one-point deficit at the end of the third, but it was an undeniable swing that will give Raptors coach Dwane some confidence for the rest of the series. While other coaches are trying their best to stop three point attempts, Casey has prioritized clogging the lane and daring the Bucks to make them pay.
Giannis might be the best player in this series
In game one, Antetokounmpo was dunking over everyone on offense. He was getting in the passing lanes and his presence alongside Monroe and Middleton made it impossible for the Raptors to make skip passes to shooters.
He also did this.
His work was cut out for him in game two. The Raptors continued to let Valanciunas and Ibaka give Maker and Hawes plenty of space in order to clog the paint. It made things very difficult for the Bucks at times, with Antetokounmpo shooting 37% on 24 shots. The Bucks star counteracted that by being aggressive and letting it fly from midrange, where he nailed a few shots that eventually helped open up the floor.
DeRozen and Lowry break back after struggles
Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, and Brogdon knew they would have their hands full, but they set the tone early in the series defensively. Lowry and DeRozen shot 1-14 against Brogdon and Dellavedova in game one. Lowry got in foul trouble and had no real impact on the game, with a 2-11 shot chart being the most damning stat. DeRozen was aggressive and was effective in patches, but he too shot 33% from the field and 13 of his 28 points came from the free-throw line.
However, it was a different story in game two. Lowry was more aggressive and hit the perfect winner over Brogdon. DeRozen was his usual self, and the duo combined for 45 points on 50% shooting. Dellavedova and Brogdon both had chances to hit dagger threes in the final minute but missed. Dellavedova shot 30% from the field, while Brogdon was 27%. It was a mystery as to why Jason Kidd continued with Brogdon at the two with Dellavedova, whilst Snell languished on the bench despite contributing 14 points at 71% efficiency.