The Raptors and Bucks have almost played to a stalemate, as Toronto currently holds a 3–2 after pulling off a narrow win of Game 5. For the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard has been the key to that win. The series was considered to be Giannis vs. Kawhi from the opening tip, but Leonard has taken over the series and dominated on a level that the Open Floor Podcast didn't expect to see. Andrew Sharp and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver discuss Kawhi's amazing postseason, Giannis' recent struggles and more.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: The Kawhi side of this, though, I am straight up stunned by how good he is and his ability to slow down Giannis. The one guy who has basically been impossible to stop the entire season and then Kawhi switches on to him in Games 3 and 4 and then again in Game 5—and Pascal Siakam did a great job too. And look, the Raptors have a couple former Defensive Players of the Year guys. Their entire starting five is great on defense so it's not just Kawhi, but Kawhi’s ability on that end, and then to couple that with what he's doing on offense, is just mind blowing. And it's something that I expected to see maybe once or twice in this series, but never in a million years would I have expected him to come in and just own this series the way he has. He has been the best player on either team. It has not been close. I expected it to be at least close between him and Giannis, but it has not been close.
Ben Golliver: Giannis had some moments early in this series. I think people overuse that, “Oh, it has a bit close thing.” But Kawhi’s definitely been outplaying him in this series, and I think it goes back to the idea of, “Is Giannis so good that he doesn’t need a jumper?” And the answer is no. I think we learned that here in this series. He is easier to guard for a player as smart and talented and physical as Kawhi Leonard if he doesn't have to worry about the three-point off the dribble as being a threat. It's also easier to send your help and make sure you have that second guy planted in the middle of the paint if you know nine times out of 10 he's trying to go off the dribble, spin move, put his head down and get to the basket. It wound up getting a little bit formulaic from Giannis offensively as this series unfolded and kind of playing into Toronto Raptors’ hands.
That's why I was worried after Game 4 on behalf of the Bucks because Giannis didn't have any counters left, right? It's not like he's got this incredible, crazy handle where he's going to be doing triple crossovers like Kyrie Irving through the paint and reverse layups and stuff like that. We know what he wants to do off the dribble and most people can't stop it. The combination of Kawhi plus Siakam or Kawhi plus Gasol or Kawhi plus Ibaka was able to effectively neutralize the best part of Giannis’ game, which is going to the basket. He did hit one three and it almost seemed like that was going to be like the best moment for them late in that game when he hit that one. It was like, “Oh, is this going to be the miracle night where a Giannis three kind of saves their season?” But it's not reliable from him; he doesn't trust it.
Sharp: And it's not a good sign for the Bucks that they need him to start hitting those threes to get going because all the things that he typically does well he's just looked really uncomfortable with against the Raptors, and in particular against Kawhi. He's just never looked like he's in a rhythm, but the Bucks are struggling for a lot of reasons. Eric Bledsoe has been a disaster, Nikola Mirotic is borderline unplayable himself, Brook Lopez.
A lot of what I feared would happen against the Celtics is now happening against the Raptors. But it definitely starts with just making Giannis uncomfortable, and there are times when it seems like he's sort of in his own head. He definitely wasn't aggressive enough to start the game, and then he got aggressive for about half a quarter near halftime, and then he struggled to kind of put his imprint on that second half as well.
Golliver: Yeah, he was definitely his own head, overthinking. But it goes back to the reason why he's in his head is because what he wants to do going downhill has been taken away, and he's run out of counters. And he's blue screened, right? Like your laptop crashed. His laptop is crashing in the middle of this series, and he's trying to hit control, alt, delete and he’s getting no response.
Sharp: And it’s not fun to watch as a Giannis Inc. shareholder, co-founder. I don’t like this, I don’t like where we are right now. Because, again, it just never crossed my mind that there was a real possibility that he would get punked the way he’s been punked.
Golliver: You’re going a little too far there. He’s going against a more experienced player. There’s no question, and the experience factor with Kyle Lowry and Gasol, I think that’s showing through in this series. And some of the doubts that you had about his supporting cast going back to the previous series have definitely manifested here.
Sharp: I’m not shoveling dirt on Giannis’ name here. I’m just saying I was a real believer coming in here, and it’s strange to suddenly see him look mortal after the last nine months. That’s all I’m saying.