Experience is supposed to matter, and often does, in the playoffs. You have to be settled, understand time and score, know how to anticipate rotations and when the pressure ramps up. Teams that have been there and learned how to manage that can handle it, and teams new to it can wilt under that pressure like a bug under a magnifying glass.
OK, so imagine that, but the opposite. Inexperienced Bucks 97, very-experienced Raptors 83.
Milwaukee takes a 1-0 series lead in their best-of-seven first-round series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has only been able to legally drink for a year, played with poise, control and an understanding of pace and flow, finishing with 28 points on 13 of 18 shooting while. Rookie Malcolm Brogdon threw in 16 points. Greg Monroe had never played in a playoff game, he added 14 points and 15 boards, including huge buckets late. Thon Maker . The Bucks were ready, they were focused, they played with tempo and energy, but rarely out of control.
The Raptors, in typical Raptors fashion, melted in Game 1, at home, in front of their raucous crowd. It wasn't just Kyle Lowry's dismal shooting (2-of-11) or Jonas Valanciunas' awful defense (he continually lost track of his man); it was that the Raptors never figuring out how to adjust to the Bucks' energy or scheme. The Bucks' defensive scheme, the one they've been running all year, is hyper aggressive, featuring rabid traps to try and force ball reversals and create turnovers. The Raptors only had 10 turnovers, but never got comfortable in their offense.
Toronto continues to play in playoff series as if they expect them to operate like the regular season, which they do not. DeRozan got to the line, a pivotal part of his game, but overall, Toronto wasn't able to adjust to the possession intensity of the environment. Milwaukee dictated the tone of the game, and that caught the Raptors off guard, as if they expected Milwaukee to be rattled from the start.
Lowry is battling an injury, it's possible that was really the culprit here, despite his history of playoff foibles. But toward the end of the game, he was passing up open looks and trying to force the offense elsewhere, but the Raptors aren't stocked with shot creators outside of DeRozan. And Lowry is their engine. He can't back away in that moment, no matter the shooting percentage.
For the Bucks, it shows that it's less about experience, and more about mindset. For all the metrics (which I subscribe to) and film breakdowns (which I try and incorporate), there are elements which exist in the ethereal of a basketball game. The Raptors have lacked the poise and control they need to win playoff games, particularly Game 1s at home. Milwaukee, on the other hand, showed no fear.
The Bucks are not just "happy to be here." They are ready to compete, and they smelled blood in the water in Game 1. The Raptors have to find a way to adapt their game plan to fit the playoffs. Having been there is not enough, you have to play like it.
Or you won't be there long.