TORONTO — After a tense start to their first-round playoff series with a spirited Milwuakee Bucks squad, P.J. Tucker knows the Toronto Raptors can play at another level.
The Raptors evened the best-of-seven NBA series at 1-1 with a tense 106-100 win Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. That followed a frustrating 97-83 loss on Saturday that saw the Bucks dominate the fourth quarter as Toronto fell to 0-9 in first-round series-opening games.
With the next two games coming in Milwaukee, the pressure will be on the Raptors to play closer to their potential and regain home-court advantage in the series.
“Our energy has gotten up, we’re playing harder. Still there’s small things,” said Tucker who finished with five points and five rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench Tuesday. ”We haven’t been together in so long so we’re still figuring each other out, figuring it out how we’re playing together on the defensive end.
“Once we get that figured out, I think we can take it up another couple notches.”
Game 2 saw a bounce back effort from all-star guard Kyle Lowry. The 31-year-old scored just four points and missed all six of his three-point attempts in Game 1.
On Tuesday, Lowry finished with 22 points and five assists while going 2-for-5 from beyond the arc.
“Everyone puts so much pressure on Kyle,” said Tucker. “For me it’s not about if he scores or what he does in the box score. For me, it’s more of his leadership, being a point guard and making the wheels turn.
“When he pushes the ball, he’s aggressive, attacking the rim, then it opens everything else up for everybody else when he’s pushing the ball up the floor, people have to respect him. It makes it a lot easier for everybody else.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to pace the Bucks in the series. The Athens-born Antetokounmpo had a game-high 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in Tuesday’s loss after finishing Saturday’s Game 1 victory with 28 points.
The 22-year-old, known as the Greek Freak, started Game 2 slow scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first quarter, but finished the first half with eight points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey knows his team isn’t going to be able to shut down Antetokounmpo completely, but will aim to neutralize him as the series moves to Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4 beginning on Thursday.
“You’re not going to stop a superstar this time of year,” Casey said. “We want to slow him down. It’s not one guy. It’s a team effort. We want to continue to take his numbers down as much as we can. He’s a great player. He’s making threes. That’s something we’ve got to make sure we understand, and not let someone else have a big night.”
Serge Ibaka battled through a left ankle sprain in Game 2, which he suffered during the third quarter of Game 1 after stepping on Antetokounmpo’s foot. The Congolese power forward started slow scoring just three points in the first half, but finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the win.
Following Wednesday’s workout Ibaka said the ankle was feeling much better as he prepared to board a flight for Milwaukee.