After getting blown out in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Toronto Raptors find themselves in the tough position of having to beat the Milwaukee Bucks four times in five games to advance to the NBA Finals.
It's possible, but history is not on Toronto's side. Of the 56 times teams have lost the first two games of the Conference Finals, only five have bounced back to win the series.
The Cleveland Cavaliers did it most recently, beating the Boston Celtics in last year's Eastern Conference Finals to make their fourth-straight Finals appearance.
Can the Raptors become the sixth team to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the Conference Finals? Their journey towards joining the Cavaliers in the history books starts Sunday, when the series shifts to Toronto for a must-win game for the Raptors.
With that in mind, here are four things to watch in Game 3...
Marc Gasol's scoring
Gasol hasn't made much of an impact as a scorer in these playoffs, but he's coming off of his two worst performances yet.
After scoring six points on 2-for-11 shooting in Game 1 against the Bucks, Gasol finished with two points on 1-for-9 shooting in Game 2. He struggled from inside and out in those games, going 0-for-5 from the paint, 1-for-6 from midrange and 2-for-9 from the 3-point line.
Not being a scoring threat in this series has allowed Brook Lopez to help way off of Gasol, basically turning the Bucks centre into a free safety. While Lopez isn't known to be the fleetest of foot - some of which is overstated - he was one of the best rim protectors in the league this season. In addition to blocking the third-most shots, he limited opponents to 51.1 percent shooting around the basket during the regular season, a similar rate as Defensive Player of the Year finalist Rudy Gobert.
That's impacted Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam the most because Lopez isn't usually far away when one of them makes a move towards the basket, ready to pounce on their shot attempts.
Gasol ended up playing 19 minutes in Game 2, his fewest in these playoffs. It paved the way for Serge Ibaka to play 27 minutes, his third-most in these playoffs.
"I played really bad and that set the tone," Gasol said post-game.
"The beginning set us in a real bad spot and we couldn't get a grip of the game early on, and I take full responsibility for that," he continued.
The Raptors wouldn't be in the Conference Finals if it weren't for Gasol - his defence on Nikola Vucevic and Joel Embiid helped tip the scales in Toronto's favor in the previous rounds - but for them to come out of this series, they will need him to be more of a factor on offense, particularly as a scorer. Otherwise it might be time to start Ibaka.
Norman Powell off the bench
Powell might have earned himself some more minutes based on his play in Game 2, with some even suggesting he should start over Danny Green. He scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench, making him the team's third-leading scorer behind Kawhi Leonard (31) and Kyle Lowry (15).
Powell knocked down a couple of 3s and was aggressive attacking the paint, scoring three of Toronto's 14 baskets in the restricted area on the night.
Bench scoring has been an issue for the Raptors throughout these playoffs. Their second unit has gone from averaging a solid 36.2 points per game in the regular season to 22.2 points per game in the postseason.
The only team that has gotten less from its bench in the playoffs is the Houston Rockets, whose reserves averaged 21.0 points per game.
Powell has been inconsistent, too. Minutes have been sporadic, but Game 2 against the Bucks was only the third time he's scored in double figures in these playoffs.
Even so, with how desperate the Raptors have been for a jolt from their bench, Powell could get an earlier look than usual in Game 3.
Milwaukee's role players
Speaking of second units, Milwaukee's came to play in Game 2 after a quiet Game 1.
Leading the charge was Ersan Ilyasova. Not only did he scored 17 points in 21 minutes - making him Milwaukee's second-leading scorer in the game - he made his presence felt on defense, drawing three charges and coming up with two steals.
The Bucks got even more scoring from Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill, who combined for 27 points on 10-for-18 shooting from the field.
Having multiple players step up off the bench did a couple of things for the Bucks. First and foremost, it made it more difficult for the Raptors to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored a game-high 30 points.
Just watch what Lowry and Gasol do as the following play unfolds. Because Ilyasova and Brogdon had it going, they were more reluctant to provide help, opening up the paint for Antetokounmpo to roll for an open dunk.
Secondly, it kept the offence humming when Antetokounmpo was on the bench.
The Bucks only outscored the Raptors by five points with Antetokounmpo on the bench in Game 2, but they have had far more success without their superstar on the court so far in this series than the Raptors have.
|Situation||Total Minutes||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
|Bucks without Antetokounmpo||24||101.8||87.9||13.9|
|Raptors without Leonard||16||86.5||97.5||-11.0|
"It's so nice seeing guys come into the game being mentally prepared, setting the tone for the whole team and just playing hard, " Antetokounmpo said post-game. "In this team, any given night, guys can step up. You really don't know where it's going to come from.
"Tonight, Ersan [Ilyasova] had a great game, Geoge Hill had a big game. In Game 3, someone else is going to have a great game.
"This is the beauty of basketball. This is the beauty of our team, that we trust one another."
The turnover battle
The Raptors can't afford to be sloppy against the Bucks. They were in the first quarter of Game 2, and it contributed to their slow start.
The Raptors committed five of their 13 turnovers in the opening frame. Not all of them were live ball that the Bucks were able to take advantage of in transition, but they still punished the Raptors for being careless by scoring seven points off of their turnovers in the first quarter.
Another problem for the Raptors is that they couldn't force many turnovers. The Bucks committed only two in the first half, both coming from Antetokounmpo near the start of the first quarter.
Points off of turnovers was a huge source of offence for the Raptors during the regular season. They averaged 17.2 points per game off of those plays, which was the ninth-highest rate in the league behind the likes of the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Bucks, however, allowed the fewest points per game off of turnovers.
That push and pull between the two teams will be worth monitoring for the remainder of this series, however long or short it is.
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