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SportsBruce Arthur: Raptors must share the load to have a shot against Bucks

07:35  15 may  2019
07:35  15 may  2019 Source:   thestar.com

Bruce Arthur: Leonard bounces home biggest shot in Raptors history to reach Eastern final

Bruce Arthur: Leonard bounces home biggest shot in Raptors history to reach Eastern final Bruce Arthur: Leonard bounces home biggest shot in Raptors history to reach Eastern final

But as the Raptors open the Eastern Conference final against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night, the same fundamental questions have to be answered. Technically, Toronto is halfway to a title: eight wins down, eight to go. But the Raptors are only about halfway to determining

Bruce Arthur : Raptors centre Marc Gasol meets migration problem with open arms: Bruce Arthur : Raptors It was emotional. But as the Raptors open the Eastern Conference final against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night, the same fundamental questions have to be answered.

Bruce Arthur: Raptors must share the load to have a shot against Bucks© Steve Russell Kawhi Leonard had a hand in a whopping 45.5 per cent of the Raptors’ offensive possessions in Sunday’s Game 7 against the Sixers — which ended well.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

The shot changed everything, right? It changed everything. Kawhi Leonard hit The Shot and the Toronto Raptors won Game 7 and it felt to Raptors fans like the world was reborn anew. It was emotional.

But as the Raptors open the Eastern Conference final against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night, the same fundamental questions have to be answered. Technically, Toronto is halfway to a title: eight wins down, eight to go. But the Raptors are only about halfway to determining their proper identity, too. See: Kawhi.

Bucks rally to take Game 1 from Raptors

Bucks rally to take Game 1 from Raptors Brook Lopez scored 13 of his career playoff-high 29 points in the fourth quarter and Milwaukee closed the game on a 10-0 run to beat the Toronto.

Bruce Arthur : Raptors come to Kawhi’s rescue, even series with Bucks : Bruce Arthur : Leonard bounces home biggest shot in Raptors history And finally, the Toronto Raptors had to be the ones to pick him up. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks was basically

Bruce Arthur : Leonard bounces home biggest shot in Raptors history to reach Eastern final: Team effort leads Raptors to 125-89 rout of Philly, and a © Rick Madonik Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard celebrates after his buzzer beater falls to give the Raptors a 92-90 win in Game 7 against the

“We really lean on him a lot,” said Raptors centre Marc Gasol, whose offensive reticence was an issue in the 76ers series. “Sometimes maybe a little too much, obviously.”

Toronto is clearly an elite defensive team. In Game 7 they often suffocated the 76ers, and there were no obvious weak points. They switched, doubled, recovered, helped, and became at their best a multi-limbed amoeba that devoured whole possessions. For most of the game, and especially down the stretch, it was magnificent to watch.

“We just were doing it all,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after Game 7. “We were pressuring the ball, we were corralling the right guys for a split second with two, we were either rotating or hustling back to our own, so just because we put two on the ball it didn’t mean something was automatically open. And then we rebounded it after we contested. Those possessions defensively were awesome.”

Bruce Arthur: Blown chance might haunt Raptors after Game 1 loss to Bucks

Bruce Arthur: Blown chance might haunt Raptors after Game 1 loss to Bucks MILWAUKEE—Against Philadelphia, sometimes the Toronto Raptors offence looked scared. Maybe scared is the wrong word: spooked, squirrelly, vexed. The 76ers were huge. Joel Embiid was terrifying. The series concluded in Game 7 with Kawhi Leonard all but shouldering the whole thing. Then Toronto escaped, and it was a new chance, and for a while it looked like they were free. They defended the galactic Giannis Antetokounmpo as well as you can. They held the other Bucks back from three. And for a while, they absorbed every Milwaukee run, and pushed back. Kyle Lowry, it seemed, couldn’t miss. And they still couldn’t grab this chance, and it may come back to haunt them.

Bruce Arthur : Kawhi vs. Giannis is the series for Raptors and Bucks : In a dark time, Kawhi Leonard is the hero we need We needed that. It changed everything. Kawhi Leonard hit The Shot and the Toronto Raptors won Game 7 and it felt to Raptors fans like the world was reborn anew.

Bruce Arthur : Raptors must share the load to have a shot against Bucks . “There you go. I’m good. The 34-year-old’s shooting is down over previous post-seasons — he’s connecting on just 28 per cent of his three-point shots , compared to 44 per cent last season.

And at the other end, that connection cracked, and the offence often became Kawhi. Despite sitting for 21/2 minutes after halftime, the 27-year-old superstar took 23 of Toronto’s 48 second-half shots, all five of their free throws, had two of their 10 assists and two of their three turnovers. He wasn’t afraid. He hit the shot.

But with Toronto missing shots that were falling down the stretch of the regular season, Kawhi’s gravity has pulled more and more possessions into his orbit, and that won’t work. In the regular season, Leonard used a superstar-appropriate 30.3 per cent of Toronto’s offensive possessions, meaning he ended them with a field-goal attempt, a turnover or by getting to the free-throw line.

Against Philadelphia it was 35.6 per cent. In Game 7 it was 45.5. Only Houston’s James Harden uses a higher percentage of offensive possessions than Kawhi in the playoffs, and Harden is a great passer. Kawhi, for all his gifts, is not.

Bruce Arthur: Raptors need a better way to manage the load in Game 2

Bruce Arthur: Raptors need a better way to manage the load in Game 2 MILWAUKEE—It was just one game, but of course nothing is just one game. To get to where the Toronto Raptors are, most of the mountain has to have been climbed already. You can reduce the seven-month burden with load management, as the phrase goes. You can stop practising. The Raptors still practise once in a while, sure. But they may not again. This is partly because Toronto is loading minutes on their main players like minutes are an all-you-can-carry shopping spree. And they are doing this because, well, somebody’s got to play.

Bruce Arthur : Raptors drop Game 2 after Sixers exploit Leonard’s weakness. It has become fashionable, and not entirely inaccurate, to say that James Harden of Houston has Bruce Arthur : Raptors must share the load to have a shot against Bucks . The shot changed everything, right?

Bruce Arthur : Raptors must share the load to have a shot against Bucks . The shot changed everything, right? But as the Raptors open the Eastern Conference final against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night, the same fundamental questions have to be answered.

So yes, The Shot. But against Milwaukee, the ball needs to move. It’s the chicken and the egg, and the mystical connections of the game. When players touch the ball, when the ball moves with rhythm, shots come easier. Kawhi doesn’t create that, but it has to be created.

“Hundred per cent,” said Nurse, asked about increasing ball movement. “Hundred per cent. I think all the way leading into the fourth quarter of the game the other day we were trying to keep more people involved offensively. I think somebody told me in the first eight minutes of the game the other night we had 22 uncontested shots and we made eight of them, which isn’t good. So we need to keep creating those and spread those around a little bit and make some of those. I’m hoping that we do.”

It should help that while the Bucks are big, they are not as big as the 76ers, who spooked Toronto’s perimeter shooters at times, and still had Joel Embiid eating up so much of the floor within 15 feet of the basket.

Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet should be able to play in this series. Danny Green should be able to get more than the three shots he attempted in Game 7. One thing that struck terror in Philadelphia for most of the series was that since acquiring Gasol, the Raptors were the top three-point shooting team in the NBA. Well, Toronto is shooting 32.7 per cent in the post-season, and shot a miserable 29.8 with Philadelphia’s giants flying at them.

Bruce Arthur: Kawhi vs. Giannis is the series for Raptors and Bucks

Bruce Arthur: Kawhi vs. Giannis is the series for Raptors and Bucks Bruce Arthur: Kawhi vs. Giannis is the series for Raptors and Bucks

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Opinion | Bruce Arthur : Raptors graduate to Eastern final after Leonard hits shot for the ages. Milwaukee is a bit freewheeling; the Bucks shoot often and from wherever they like, they have the ridiculously talented Giannis Antetokounmpo at the helm and are full value for their No. 1 ranking.

“I’m probably most surprised that we just haven’t shot the ball better,” said Nurse, late in the Sixers series. “I really believe we’ve got a good shooting team.”

He’s right. He just hasn’t been right. Nurse said at one point that his team’s identity is “to play our butts off, to guard ya and to move the ball.” Maybe the chicken and the egg works that way, too. Kawhi needs to trust the pass; the Raptors need to trust their shots; if they defend like demons and find a working balance, it’s a series.

But when Milwaukee came to Toronto in late January, their all-star forward Khris Middleton said, “We know who we are.” And in that game Kawhi played poorly, and not enough other Raptors made shots, and he said, “I was saying at the beginning of the season we need to get better. We still need to get better. But it’s not about the first unit. It’s about the whole team. That’s how you win games. Everybody being connected, linked together, having the same mindset, the same goals, the same energy. You can’t have your first unit clicking and have the second unit come in and play bad, or vice-versa. Or even three guys. Everybody has to be linked together.”

That was the Philly series, and it will be this one. They’re at least halfway there. It’s just that the Bucks have known who they are all season long, and the Raptors will have to catch up.

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

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Bruce Arthur: Raptors fans, take a tip from Kawhi and savour the moment.
Bruce Arthur: Raptors fans, take a tip from Kawhi and savour the moment

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