LOS ANGELES — The Toronto Raptors have the momentum, but the Milwaukee Bucks will be playing on their home court Thursday night in the pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Raptors will try to maintain the energy they showed in winning the past two games at home to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
“Each game is its own entity,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Let’s see. … if we can go do it in Milwaukee, we need to take this challenge of playing in a hostile environment, right? We’re going into a tough, loud place to play, and let’s see if those guys can bring that same pop and focus, determination on the road.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, will be trying to find the defense that was lacking in the Raptors’ 120-102 Game 4 victory on Tuesday.
“I think (Tuesday) is probably the first night defensively where I don’t feel like we were close to where you need to be to give ourselves a chance,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “So, credit to Toronto. They obviously played well, had a lot of guys step up and play well. Their bench was very good.”
The Bucks started the game aggressively — led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored the first five points of the game — and led 12-5. But Toronto eventually took over and led 32-31 after one quarter and dominated the rest of the way.
“We had a great start the first few couple of minutes, we started aggressive — especially Giannis,” said Nikola Mirotic, who scored 11 points. “But then I think we allowed a lot of points, especially that first quarter after those few minutes … our defense was not the way we should be. We’re going to learn from it and try to bounce back next game.”
Mirotic said the defensive problem “was a little bit of everything.”
“Rotation, defensive transition as well, we didn’t show the crowd as we usually do,” the Bucks forward said. “They beat us on the boards (44-40), a lot of offensive rebounds (10) so it was just not the best game. But listen, nobody said it was going to easy. We’re 2-2. We need to go back to Milwaukee and do the same what they did with us. They punched us here and we’re going to do the same there.”
“We just came out in the third quarter flat,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s something we can get better at, it’s something we can fix, it’s something we’ve been doing all season. Usually in the third quarter we come out and we’re aggressive, we’re making shots, we’re moving the ball. … Hopefully when we get back home we can shoot better in the third quarter and throughout the whole game.”
With Kawhi Leonard favoring his left leg after playing 52 minutes in Sunday’s double-overtime win by Toronto, others stepped up. Kyle Lowry scored 25 points in Game 4 and the bench — led by Fred VanVleet (13 points), Norman Powell (18 points) and Serge Ibaka (17 points, 13 rebounds) — was vital.
“It was big time,” said Leonard, who had 19 points, seven rebounds and four steals. “Everybody contributed, knocking down shots, playing great defense. (Ibaka was) making plays, getting rebounds, blocking shots and making shots on the other end. You know, when he does things like that everybody just gets energy and just the whole team flows at that point.”
Leonard played 34 minutes Tuesday.
“I feel good,” he said. “Keep going and keep fighting and we have a chance to make history.”
LEONARD ‘FEELING GOOD,’ LOWRY ‘NOT GREAT’
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard’s health is just fine, while point guard Kyle Lowry is fighting through significant pain, head coach Nick Nurse told reporters Wednesday.
“He’s feeling good,” Nurse said of Leonard, who has shown an occasional limp during the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. “No concerns at this point. He’s good.”
Leonard had his workload managed during the regular season and did not play on back-to-back nights, but he has logged 38.2 minutes per game through 16 postseason games, averaging 31.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals. He had a modest 19 points in Tuesday’s Game 4 as the Raptors equaled the series at 2-2.
Lowry has been playing with an injured left (non-shooting) thumb since hurting it in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs, wearing an oversize, padded glove to aid the healing process. He struggled in Games 3 and 4 but managed 25 points, six assists and five rebounds in Game 4.
“Kyle’s hand is not great,” Nurse told reporters. “You know, he’s — it’s hurt and it’s sore and it causes him a lot of pain. But he seems to be able to manage it through the game and do what he can do.
“He’s obviously scoring and playing great on top of the other things he always does.”
Nurse also said forward OG Anunoby remains without a timetable for a return after having an emergency appendectomy last month.
“He’s moving pretty good, he’s shooting, but still a ways away from being able to take hits and contact in the areas that he needs to test out,” Nurse said.
Anunoby averaged seven points and 2.9 rebounds in 67 regular-season games this year.
Game 5 of the series is (Friday in PHL) in Milwaukee. — Reuters