MILWAUKEE – The Bucks are back in Milwaukee looking to regain momentum in the Eastern Conference finals.
Coach Mike Budenholzer believes the play of his bench will be a major factor in what happens in Game 5 on Thursday.
The Bucks reserves played so well in the first two games of the series that the teams' apparel shop unveiled a "Bench Mob" T-shirt, celebrating the efforts of Malcolm Brogdon, Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill and others. Milwaukee's bench outscored Toronto's reserves 130-78 in the first three games.
But it was the Raptors' bench, led by forward Norman Powell's 18 points, that decided Game 4 —scoring 48 points Tuesday as Toronto evened the series at 2-2.
"They need to play well," Budenholzer said of his reserves. "I think our whole team, whether it be the bench or the starters, needs to be better defensively. I think there's things offensively where the bench can, you know, just like the rest of us, we have to execute a little bit better. ... this series, the benches have been critical and very influential and credit to Toronto's bench, particularly. They really stepped up and had a huge game, and we need that from our group."
Serge Ibaka gave the Raptors a lift off the bench Tuesday with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Fellow reserve Fred VanVleet added 13 points and six assists. Their efforts came as the Raptors got only 19 points from a hobbled Kawhi Leonard.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse is confident his bench will continue to play well.
"That's really kind of our system, would be that we create opportunities and everyone's involved and everybody's touching the ball," he said. "Everybody's moving and cutting. It's kind of a free-flowing, open system.''
Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and MVP finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George were the leading vote-getters for the All-Defensive first team. Boston's Marcus Smart and Milwaukee's Eric Bledsoe rounded out the first team. Gobert finished with 97 first-team points and 196 points, giving the Utah center his third straight first-team selection. George had 96 first-team votes and 195 points, followed by Antetokounmpo (94, 193). The second team included Golden State's Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Toronto's Kawhi Leonard, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and New Orleans' Jrue Holiday.