After dropping the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, the Toronto Raptors returned home knowing the odds — at least historically — are against them in their matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks.
But when told that 94 percent of the teams with 2-0 leads have gone on to win a best-of-seven series, Raptors coach Nick Nurse was defiant in his belief that Toronto still has what it takes to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
“That can’t be right,” Nurse said, drawing laughs. “That can’t be right. Check the figures.
“I don’t know. How do I find the solace [in that]? I find the solace when OKC got beat by 34 and 24 and went down 2-0 and then won four straight against a great, great, great, great San Antonio team. I don’t know.
“I don’t really give a crap about that. I just want our team to come play their ass off [Sunday night] and get one game and it changes the series.”
The numbers are as bad as they were presented to Nurse: Teams are 51-5 (91.1 percent) when taking a 2-0 lead in the conference finals, and 287-20 (93.5 percent) overall when taking such a lead in a playoff series.
In order to overcome those odds and do what the Thunder did in 2012 — when OKC won Games 3-6 and advanced to the NBA Finals — the Raptors will have to be better than they were in Game 2, when the Bucks led wire-to-wire and stormed to a comprehensive victory.
After Marc Gasol struggled in Game 2, scoring two points on 1-for-9 shooting in 19 minutes, Nurse was asked about the possibility of making a lineup change. He said that, in fact, he could make multiple — perhaps a sign that, in addition to replacing Gasol with Serge Ibaka, he’s considering benching Danny Green, who struggled for a third straight game, in favor of Norman Powell, who scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting in Game 2.
Nurse admitted, however, that deciding to make such a move is hard for a variety of reasons beyond fit against a specific opponent.
“I think your question here is this: ‘Are you gonna dance with the one you brung to the ball?'” Nurse asked. “It’s not easy. You think certain series aren’t for certain guys, et cetera, but I also think that we’ve gotten, we’ve had bad biorhythms a couple times, maybe three or four times in the playoffs, and then the next game our biorhythms were back intact.
“So I kinda trust these guys, know who they are, believe in ’em, and know they’re better than they played last night and have shown that on bounce-back situations usually.”
The margin for error, though, is now all but gone. Toronto had its chance to steal homecourt in Game 1, when it led for most of the first three quarters before being outscored 32-17 in the fourth to let a game both sides would admit the Raptors should’ve won slip away.
Part of the calculation for Nurse will come with deciding whether Gasol or Ibaka will give him the best chance to chase Brook Lopez, Milwaukee’s mountain of a starting center, out of the lane. Nurse made a point of noting that, in his mind, Lopez is committing three-second violations repeatedly throughout the game.
“Yeah, I mean, they’re loading a lot, and Lopez never leaves the lane,” Nurse said. “I think I counted 15 illegal defenses on the film, but I ain’t gonna count that.
“Your big has to be able to make ’em pay from the perimeter. You need a spacing big that can hit, or get to the next action because he’s in the paint.”