The Milwaukee Bucks were in must-win mode on the road in Toronto in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Raptors. A loss here would signify the end to an otherwise magical season in Wisconsin.
Knowing full well they were playing with their backs to the wall, the Bucks came out with a flurry and took a 13-point lead into the second quarter.
Relying on the hot shooting of Fred VanVleet, Toronto made it a game heading into the half. It was down just seven after being 15 points behind Milwaukee early in the second.
This is pretty much where the game changed. Milwaukee had opened up another double-digit lead in the third quarter before Toronto rallied big time to take the game and the series by the score of 100-94.
Here’s what we learned from a franchise-altering win that now pits the Raptors against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Raptors’ lack of urgency hurt early
One would think that a team on the brink of the NBA Finals would show a sense of urgency in front of its home crowd. Unfortunately, that’s not what Raptors fans in Toronto saw early Saturday evening.
It seemed that Milwaukee got to every loose ball in the first half, leading to a 25-13 rebounding advantage as the game headed into the half. This included seven extra offensive possessions for the Bucks. Toronto was able to overcome this due to an extensive run spanning the end of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter. Even then, it’s something to watch moving forward.
Giannis still showing lack of aggressiveness
Following a brutal display in Game 5, the hope was that Giannis Antetokounmpo would up his game with the Bucks on the brink of elimination. At least initially, it did not happen. The first half saw Giannis look to pass before shooting. It led to just seven field goal attempts.
Giannis ultimately finished the game connecting on 7-of-18 shots. We fully understand attempting to get your teammates involved, but he needed to be more aggressive down the stretch. This cost Milwaukee big time as the team’s offense found itself bogged down late in the game. That’s on Giannis.
Marc Gasol’s struggles continued
Marc Gasol entered Saturday’s game averaging a robust 16 points at home in this series. It really has been a tale of two series for Gasol. At times, he’s proven to be completely unplayable on both ends of the court.
Saturday was a prime example of this. Gasol scored exactly six points and took three shots in 26 minutes. He failed to show the same aggressiveness we saw in Game 3 and 4. It didn’t cost Toronto Saturday evening, but it’s something to watch heading into the Finals.
Bucks bench does work
Ersan İlyasova and George Hill were both staples throughout this game. Each of them connected on three-pointers in the first half as Milwaukee hit 9-of-18 from distance in the first two quarters. Meanwhile, Pat Connaughton did the dirty work on both ends of the court.
Even with Nikola Mirotic out of the rotation, Milwaukee’s bench was able to rebound from a tough Game 5 outing to stay with Toronto’s second unit. This group helped spark a late run in the first quarter that gave Milwaukee an early 13-point lead. It can’t be said enough just how good this trio was. Unfortunately, it was not enough for the Bucks.
It’s Fred VanVleet’s world
After connecting on 7-of-9 from distance back in Game 5, VanVleet continued to catch fire from distance Saturday night. He hit on 3-of-4 three-pointers in the first half, giving the Raptors much needed scoring as the rest of the offense seemed to be bogged down.
Van Vleet ended the game with 14 points on 4-of-5 from distance. He’s now shooting an otherworldly 83% from distance over the past three games. Toronto will need this in the Finals. That’s for sure.
Kawhi Leonard does it again
It wasn’t a great shooting performance from Leonard Saturday evening. In fact, he connected on just 1-of-8 shots from distance and 9-of-22 from the field. However, the series best player came through with a tremendous overall game.
Leonard nabbed 17 rebounds and dished out seven assists in the game. He kept multiple Raptors possessions alive with offensive rebounds late in the final stanza. That was pretty much the difference in a six-point Raptors win. This dude is legit playing out of his mind heading into the NBA Finals against Golden State