There’s only one way to say this, so let’s come out and say it: The Milwaukee Bucks blew it in Game 5.
In a series where each team protected their home floor through the first four games, the Bucks had one job: protect home court again in Game 5. Instead, Milwaukee fell apart down the stretch and forfeited their advantage in a 105-99 loss to the Toronto Raptors Thursday. The Bucks went from having a 2-0 series advantage to losing three in a row. Now, they face elimination in a Game 6 that will supply the most hostile environment they’ve seen all season.
Game 5 was particularly concerning for a Bucks team many had pegged as shoo-in winners of the Eastern Conference.
After jumping out to an early double-digit lead, the product of an abrupt lineup change that moved an ice-cold Nikola Mirotic to the bench in favor of sharp-shooting Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks couldn’t keep their foot on the gas. They couldn’t stop Kawhi Leonard, who ripped off 35 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter. They couldn’t get Khris Middleton going — the All-Star forward finished with just six points on 2-of-9 shooting. In truth, they couldn’t execute in the fourth quarter, where they committed four of their 11 total turnovers versus Toronto’s zero giveaways.
Most importantly, Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t get going. Yes, he had 24 points on 50 percent shooting, but Milwaukee was outscored by 10 points in the 11.5 minutes he played in the fourth quarter. That’s not the kind of impact we’re used to seeing from the dominant force who some believe is this year’s Most Valuable Player.
Some of his struggles are a product of growing pains. This is the highest-pressure basketball Antetokounmpo has ever seen, since he had never even won a playoff series before this season. The Bucks went from the seventh-best record to the top East team in the span of one season.
It’s been a joy ride all year, but Antetokounmpo now has to get used to this. Many times in the fourth quarter, he forced shots where they did not exist instead of kicking the ball to an open teammate.
whine all you want about foul calls but giannis really tries a layup here instead of passing it out pic.twitter.com/Y4ccAwMBOq— William Lou (@william_lou) May 24, 2019
Toronto’s defense deserves a lot of credit. Nick Nurse spoke after Game 4 about taking the straight line drive away from Antetokounmpo, and the Raptors have this by using their length to take away the gaps Antetokounmpo sees and is usually able to exploit.
It didn’t help that Middleton, a candidate for a max contract extension this summer, was invisible on the court after starring in Game 4. TNT’s Charles Barkley believed Middleton’s ineffectiveness was a product of the lineup change that moved Brogdon into the starting lineup, taking shot attempts away from the all-star forward. He also noted the lineup change hurt the Bucks’ bench. Toronto’s second unit outscored Milwaukee’s, 35-15. Whatever the issue, the Bucks will not make it back home for a Game 7 if Middleton does not find his rhythm.
Worse, Milwaukee looked and played like a completely different team in transition versus the half court. This has been a trend all series, but nowhere was it more glaring than in Game 5. According to Cleaning the Glass, a subscription stats site run by former NBA executive Ben Falk, the Bucks averaged more than 173 points per 100 possessions in transition in Game 5, but just 83.1 points per 100 possessions in half-court situations.
A month ago, Brooklyn Nets forward Jared Dudley made waves by saying Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons was great in transition, but “average” if forced into half-court situations. It’s almost as if he was really speaking about the Bucks.
This might be because Nurse decided to switch Leonard, arguably the best perimeter defender in the league, onto Antetokounmpo after Game 2. The Raptors haven't looked back since.
Toronto has also done a masterful job limiting the number of transition opportunities Milwaukee has gotten. Antetokounmpo, much like Simmons, and much like LeBron James, is absolutely unstoppable when he gets a head full of steam and attacks downhill. But in the fourth quarter especially, Toronto limited those chances.
The Bucks have their work cut out for them. They’ll head to Jurassic Park, where their role players will need to go above and beyond if they want to extend this series and bring it back home for a Game 7. That’s a tall, tall order.