The 2017 Postseason kicks off for the Toronto Raptors on Saturday at 5:30 P.M. on the Air Canada Centre floor when they take on the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their first round series. The Raptors come into the postseason having won 12 of their last 14 games while the Bucks won a league-best 14 games in March before closing out the season with an 8-6 record over their final 14 games.
Tip-off: 5:30 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: ESPN, SN1 / TSN1050
The Raptors won the season series against the Bucks 3-1, with their lone loss coming in the fourth meeting between the two teams. Kyle Lowry was sidelined in the loss, rehabbing from wrist surgery. Toronto also lost DeMarre Carroll in the third quarter of the loss after he sprained his ankle. The Bucks were led by Khris Middleton’s 24 points while Serge Ibaka led Toronto with 19 points as DeMar DeRozan was held to just 11 points.
In three victories against the Bucks, the Raptors notched a 102-86 victory, a 122-100 victory and a 105-99 victory. DeMar DeRozan missed one of those games because of a sprained ankle, but had a 30-point performance and a 26-point performance in the other two wins. Giannis Antetokounmpo has played well for the Bucks in each of the match ups against the Raptors and that’s expected to continue in the postseason as the All-Star leads the Bucks in all five main statistical categories.
DeRozan eager to get started
After leading the Raptors in the regular season — while having his best season as a professional in the process — DeMar DeRozan is ready to get the postseason show underway. In the last 12 months DeRozan has helped the Raptors to their first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history, re-signed with the Raptors organization, represented the U.S. National team in Rio where he won a gold medal in the Olympics (alongside teammate Kyle Lowry), appeared in his third All-Star game (also alongside Lowry), and now, will lead the Raptors, once again, in the playoffs.
“Now for me the real thing starts,” DeRozan said. “This is what I worked all summer for. This was the only thing during the Olympics on my mind – getting back to April, May and playing in those moments again. Pushing myself to get myself in that mindset for those games. For me, my measuring stick doesn’t happen until Saturday.”
The Raptors did a solid job during the regular season of focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about what was ahead. That changed when Game 82 concluded with Toronto picking up a victory in Cleveland to close out the regular season.
“We kind of felt it last night on the plane coming home [from Cleveland],” DeRozan said. “Everybody is just excited, couldn’t wait to come in today. A couple of guys came early, I know I came in early just to get some work in and get completely locked in and embrace this feeling because everybody doesn’t get this opportunity to prepare for playoffs consecutive years. For us to do it again, it’s definitely an honour.”
Lowry’s focus firmly on this year
While much of the conversation following Thursday’s practice session was about all that Toronto had accomplished a season ago, point guard Kyle Lowry was focused on the present. Looking at this year’s team, first round opponent, and opportunity, Lowry wasn’t giving too much attention to last season’s playoff run.
“The playoffs are a different beast,” Lowry said. “No matter what you’ve done last year or the year before, this is a completely new slate. We can’t take what we did last year and bring it into this playoffs besides experience. We’ve got to go out there put our foot down, play basketball, lace ’em up, tie ’em up, go play up and down. Run basketball plays.”
After a seven-game series against the Indiana Pacers, another seven-game series against the Miami Heat, and then six games against the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, the one thing much of the Raptors roster did get was postseason experience. More than they’d ever had before. As they face a Bucks team making a return to the postseason after a one-year absence, the Raptors expect they’ll be fired up.
“We know they’re going to play hard,” Lowry said. “We know they’re going to come out aggressive. They’ve got one of the best players in the NBA in Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and we have to go out there and set the tone and play our game and not worry about anything else but make sure we do and execute the things we’ve worked on. Execute our game plan.”