Holly MacKenzie – Raptors.com
Less than 24 hours after a disappointing 97-83 Game 1 home loss, the Raptors were back at their training facility preparing for Game 2. Like DeMar DeRozan said at the podium following Saturday’s loss, although not ideal, the core of this team has been in this situation before. For reasons DeRozan couldn’t put his finger on — “If I had the answer than maybe we would have pulled it out tonight” — Game 1’s have not gone in Toronto’s favor in recent history.
One Raptors player who wasn’t reflecting on previous Game 1 losses was P.J. Tucker. After being traded to Toronto at the February trade deadline, Tucker made his postseason debut in Saturday’s game. He wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking about the career accomplishment, though.
“I honestly haven’t even thought about that, it hadn’t even crossed my mind,” Tucker said. “I’ve just been so focused on trying to figure out Milwaukee and what we need to do to win this series. I guess quickly thinking about it, I guess it’s kind of like storybook. I went through a lot to get to where I’m at, to be in this situation, a great situation here in Toronto and being able to win. I feel like we have something special that we can make work. I think it’s just kind of a storybook tale. Everybody talks about it, starting out here, getting cut, coming back and having an effect on the team now. It’s pretty cool, I guess.”
Tucker wasn’t here for previous postseasons with the Raptors, but he was a part of some of Toronto’s league-leading 21 comeback victories of 10+ points this season. Although being the best fourth quarter team in the league was a welcomed distinction during the regular season, Tucker wondered if that history of being able to flip a switch bit the Raptors in Game 1.
“I think we’ve come back more than any team in the NBA,” Tucker said. “I think we get down and we’re still really relaxed and thinking we’re just going to turn it on every single time. And we do a lot but in this league it’s hard to do that and I imagine in the playoffs it’s even harder. So I think just our focus and intensity, every play of every minute of every game that we play in this series we’re going to have to give because Milwaukee is not taking plays off. They’re playing hard every single possession, they’re pushing it, they’re being physical, they’re setting screens, they’re doing all the little stuff. So I think for us we’re going to have to dig our heads in the dirt and get dirty.”
Tucker’s words echoed those of head coach Dwane Casey when he was asked about his team’s ability to control Giannis Antetokounmpo late in the first half and then the inability to keep him under control in the second as Milwaukee made its push.
“They did a good job,” Casey said. “They beat us. They outworked us. They out-physicaled us, they out-screened us in every area that you could possibly talk about and that’s what we showed the guys on film this morning. To win in this league we have to play at another level. You can’t play on a regular season level. You have to screen in playoff form, you have to cut in playoff form, you have to run in playoff form, and we didn’t do that long enough. We did it in some parts of the game, but not long enough.”
Casey didn’t blame the team’s ability to pull off those regular season comebacks for their slow-moving, low-scoring second half, but he did point to the easy breaks his team gave Milwaukee.
“The easy lay-ups, the transition lay-ups,” he said. “They had 28 points in transition and whether it’s scrambling, multiple efforts, next guy rotating, we didn’t do it. The reasons not important, but we can’t give them those type of sweat points, easy points, not they have their swagger, now they’re flexing and doing all the stuff that they were doing and getting their confidence level up and now everything is going in.”
Whatever the reason, the Raptors did not match Milwaukee’s effort when the Bucks turned up the intensity in the second half. Although the Raptors struggled offensively, Tucker’s focus was on the defensive end of the floor as well as cleaning up mental mistakes that led to turnovers. Toronto did a decent job taking care of the ball, only turning it over 11 times, but the Bucks were phenomenal at taking care of the ball, registering just five turnovers in the game. Milwaukee outscored Toronto 19-7 on points scored off opponent turnovers.Taking away the extra points the Bucks scored off Toronto’s mistakes will be key in Game 2.
“With each team, each series, there’s different challenges and this challenge is to get back on defence,” Tucker said. “When we set our halfcourt defence we’re pretty good. If you watched the game, a lot of it, [their scoring] was off turnovers, off long rebounds, off jabbing in the backcourt at the ball and they getting out and throwing the ball ahead and just pushing.
I think for us, the main thing for us is to get back on defence.”
With Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring a playoff career-high 28 points on Toronto, Tucker was adamant about needing to control the paint.
“We’ve got to shut the paint down,” he said. “The paint is No. 1, the paint is gold in this series.