TORONTO â€” Kyle Lowry sat slumped in his seat, still wearing the frustration of the previous night’s shocking loss to Milwaukee.
The Toronto point guard had a rough game, and the Raptors dropped their 11th series opener in franchise history, giving up homecourt advantage yet again â€” an ugly blemish that only gets tougher to swallow each year.
“It gets worse,” Lowry said. “(My night) got worse. It happens. It’s whatever. We’ve gotta play a game Tuesday.”
Playing his fifth game after missing 21 rehabbing from wrist surgery, Lowry scored just four points on 2-for-11 shooting in the Raptors’ 97-83 loss to the Bucks at the Air Canada Centre. He missed all six of his three-point attempts, part of a dreadful 5-of-23 long-range shooting night for Toronto.
The third-seeded Raptors can even the series when they host No. 6 seed Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Lowry struggled mightily at times during last season’s historic playoff run that saw Toronto take Cleveland to six games in the Eastern Conference final. After their Game 1 loss to Miami in the second round, Lowry famously stayed on the court until well after midnight to shoot, a black hoodie pulled up over his head.
When pressed Sunday about what he can do differently in Game 2, Lowry answered: “Put it this way: I guess I’m going to have to force shots. My teammates want me to be more aggressive, so I’m going to have to force some more shots. Simple as that.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Lowry needs to be more aggressive.
“It sounds like a yearly song we sing but we’re going to go as he and DeMar (DeRozan) goes and he’s got to be aggressive no matter what the defence is doing,” Casey said.
And as Casey pointed out, the Raptors’ problems don’t end with Lowry. The team looked decent through the second quarter Saturday night, but completely fell apart in an appalling second-half effort.
“They beat us. They outworked us. They out-physicaled us, they out-screened us in every area that you could possibly talk about and that’s what we showed the guys on film this morning,” Casey said. “To win in this league we have to play at another level. You can’t play on a regular-season level. You have to screen in playoff form, you have to cut in playoff form, you have to run in playoff form, and we didn’t do that long enough.”
The Raptors only trailed by five points Saturday night, but there would be no comebacks from a Toronto team that has made a habit of playing from behind this season.
“I think the gift and the curse is all our comebacks. I think we’ve come back more than any team in the NBA,” said P.J. Tucker. “I think we get down and we’re still really relaxed and thinking we’re just going to turn it on every single time.
“Just our focus and intensity, every play of every minute of every game that we play in this series we’re going to have to give because Milwaukee is not taking plays off. They’re playing hard every single possession, they’re pushing it, they’re being physical, they’re setting screens, they’re doing all the little stuff. So I think for us we’re going to have to dig our heads in the dirt and get dirty.”
Casey agreed, comebacks have become the Raptors’ “M.O.” this season.
“But in the playoffs you can’t spot a team,” the coach said. “And it wasn’t exactly the points. It was the confidence level, the way they were scoring. The easy lay-ups, the transition lay-ups. They had 28 points in transition and whether it’s scrambling, multiple efforts, next guy rotating, we didn’t do it.
“We can’t give them those type of sweat points, easy points. Now they have their swagger, now they’re flexing and doing all the stuff they were doing and getting their confidence level up and now everything is going in.”
The Raptors also took a collective slap in the face from 22-year-old Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had his way with Toronto’s defence on route to 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting.
“First I think we’ve just got to show bodies,” Tucker said on defending the multi-talented Antetokounmpo. “A lot of times he just surveys the court, sees guys go back out to shooters and picks and chooses his time. He’s so good at attacking the rim, he’s so long that once you come back late, it’s too late.”
The Raptors find themselves in a familiar spot, looking to even up the series at home before heading to enemy territory for Game 3.
Game 2 history, at least, has been kinder to Toronto. The Raptors lost last season’s Game 1 of the opening round to Indiana 90-80, and bounced back to take Game 2 98-87. They lost the second-round opener to Miami 102-96 in overtime, and rebounded to capture Game 2 96-92 in extra time.
Toronto lost its opener to Brooklyn in 2015, then took Game 2 with a five-point victory.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press