Just because you might have the best team in the league, just because your star is considered the frontrunner to win MVP, just because your battle cry is catchy, doesn’t guarantee a championship or a spot in the NBA Finals.
Perhaps that’s why Green Bay Packers lineman David Bakhtiari was playing a drinking game with Aaron Rodgers and Christian Yelich during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.
The Milwaukee Bucks won the first two games of the series with the Toronto Raptors and the odds were heavily in their favor to win since they rarely lose at home. But guess what? The Raptors won Games 3 and 4 and then marched into deer country and took control of the series by winning 105-99.
So, if the Bucks are looking forward to jousting with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in a few days, force them to “Fear the Deer.” they first have some reconfiguring to do because the Raptors are awake and acting like the carnivores they are named for. Fast and hungry.
“This isn’t the sexy answer, but from the first day of training camp we’ve been saying we’re going to stay level,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told ESPN. “A shitty preseason game is just gonna get written off. A great win at Golden State, the same thing. A terrible game in San Antonio, ‘Let’s bounce back.’”
The “Paddleball Effect” is an interesting and compelling mantra, one that can help a team survive the highs and lows of a grinding series. And right now, the Bucks have just been smacked back
“We’re not gonna fold,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We’re the best team in the league. We’re gonna go in, give it everything we got. We can’t fold. We’re gonna come back to Milwaukee being pissed
“You cannot fold. You gotta go out there and give everything you got. If we lose, we lose. OK, cool, but we’re not going to fold as a team. That’s not what we do.”.
The Bucks have no one to blame but themselves. The had the game by the antlers on Thursday opening an 18-4 lead in the first five minutes. The Greek Freak was omnipresent, the fans were losing their minds and Raptors turned the ball over three times.
Unlike Game 2, when the Bucks snapped the Raptors in half, Toronto took a deep breath, pushed forward and press Milwaukee to get back into the game. They turned the ball over just three more times in the final 43 minutes. The Raptors also missed five of their first six three-pointers and ended up with 18 makes.
And when the fourth quarter came along, Kawhi Leonard was poised to take over and he did by scoring 15 of his 35 points.
“I’ve been here before,” Leonard told The Athletic. “I’ve been to the Finals, and it’s pretty much nothing new that I’m seeing out there. You’ve just got to have fun with it and enjoy it. Like I told (the Raptors) tonight, we were down 10, I told them to enjoy the moment and embrace it, and let’s have fun and love it. This is why we’re here.”
Leonard also stuck close to Giannis Antetokounmpo and kept him from using his skill set to get the Bucks back on track. Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, six assists and six rebounds. But he looked like he was struggling after tweaking his ankle.
“One thing about Giannis, he’s been playing his ass off,” Kyle Lowry said. “I would never blame Giannis for anything. Sometimes shots are just missed, turnovers happen, it’s the game. Why does there have to be blame? Giannis is going to be [one of] the best one, two or three players in the league for the next 10 years.”
And Fred VanVleet, the new daddy, contributed 21 points off the bench – all on threes.
“I just want to win,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think we had a chance to win it, but we didn’t. Obviously, I’m pissed. I am not gonna lie to you. We got two more games to go.”