6:00 pm CDT
On Monday night, the Toronto Raptors won game five to take a 3-2 lead in this seven game series. Game five marked consecutive wins for Toronto. It also marked two straight games with a new starting lineup that features Norman Powell. After playing twenty total minutes in games one through three, Powell was inserted in place of Jonas Valanciunas who started 80 regular season games this season for the Raptors.
Powell, an 18 minute per game bench piece during the regular season, has helped unleash the Raptors. With Powell starting, Serge Ibaka has slid up to center (8 for 10 and 19 points in game five) and DeMarre Carroll moved to power forward. Against the Bucks string bean front court of Thon Maker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Raptors are fine defensively with Ibaka and Carroll.
This chess move also works great when it comes to the bench. When burly Greg Monroe comes in to eat in the post the Raptors counter with an even bigger Valanciunas. Monroe was key to the Bucks game one win but has had a negative plus/minus in all three losses.
A smaller and faster Raptors lineup also takes some scoring burden off of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Powell floated around in the corners where Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have been setting flare screens for him.
The flares were clearly something Raps were looking for as a counter to Bucks’ shifts. Watch both Ibaka and Tucker set flares in this clip. pic.twitter.com/lfOzdejI4k— Ben Falk (@bencfalk) April 25, 2017
Powell is also scalding from three in this series, making eight of the nine threes he has attempted. With so much attention on Lowry or DeRozan in the center of the floor, corner threes are there for Powell and Patrick Patterson.
DeRozan was great swinging the ball quickly. And watch TOR take advantage of the weak side shift by setting a flare for the corner three. pic.twitter.com/Yy5A3CcB96— Ben Falk (@bencfalk) April 25, 2017
Game six is back in Milwaukee where Ibaka has especially struggled, 0-for-7 from three and 7 of 24 overall in the two road games including. The pressure is on Giannis and his lanky brethren to force a game seven.
8:30 pm CDT
The second game of the night has the same scenario— the home team enters game six trailing three games to two. For San Antonio and Memphis, the home team has won every game. Fueled by the Spurs home court slaughterings, the combined score of the series is Spurs 525 - Grizzlies 482 but Memphis has defended their home floor admirably. And they will need to again tonight.
The winner of this series will be facing a well-rested Houston Rockets squad who ended their series with the Thunder Tuesday night. Not that any more incentive is needed for the Spurs, but they will certainly be striving to save their legs from a game seven with a win tonight.
Also similar to the Raptors, the Grizzlies made a starting lineup change after a slow start to the series. Zach Randolph has started the last three games as the Griz have leaned on him to find some more scoring punch outside of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
Conley particularly has been phenomenal after a dismal game one. In games two through five he is averaging 27.3 points per game on 38 of 71 shooting (12 of 25 from three). But even with the Memphis big three playing well, the surrounding pieces just do not seem to be enough against Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs.
Leonard remains the epitome of dominance, efficiency, and Cyborg-ness as he is depositing 31.6 points per game on 59 percent shooting from two-point range and 54.2 percent from three. He’s also shot 48 free throws missing only one. If Kawhi spoke, he would say take that for data. (Yeah, that joke is getting old.)
For the Grizzlies to win, it will come from slowing Leonard. But taking away his looks is almost impossible when he plays point-Kawhi. If the Grizzlies can entice the Spurs to feed Aldridge and use Leonard less, that is their best hope in slowing the San Antonio attack. Props to 40-year-old Vince Carter for not only being awake at midnight but also guarding Leonard. But the reality is, that matchup is just unfair.
Ignore the molasses drip that is the first round of the NFL Draft this evening and enjoy what should be two good game sixes. Chat here.