CHICAGO - The blueprint was simple. Steal one on the road, come back home and take care of business in Game 3, and then shoot for a 3-1 lead in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series.
The last part of the scheme was where I found the Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where they were riding the wave of a 27-point Game 3 win and ready to put the Toronto Raptors on the cusp of playoffs elimination.
Unfortunately, as it often happens in life, our best-laid plans do not come to fruition.
In front of a sold-out home crowd of 18,717, the sixth-seeded Bucks clunked 51 of 81 field goals and stumbled their way into 20 turnovers as the third-seeded Raptors, behind a rejuvenated DeMar DeRozan, who pumped in 33 points, left the building with an 87-76 victory.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who sizzled for 71 points in the first three games, was painfully underwhelming, missing his first six shots before finishing with 14 points on 6-for-19 shooting. He did grab nine rebounds and dished four dimes, but he also turned the ball over seven times.
The Greek Freak is unquestionably the team's heartbeat, and when his offense suffered from arrythmia in Game 4, the rest of the Bucks broke down.
A few hours ago, Giannis redeemed himself with a 30-point explosion, mirroring past performances that anointed him as the NBA's next big thing. But the solid effort and stout production didn't add up to a win.
The Raptors, playing with renewed confidence at home at the Air Canada Centre, leaped to a 26-11 start and never looked back en route to a 118-93 Game 5 mauling of the Bucks.
And while Antetokounmpo got scarce help from his teammates, all of Toronto's starters registered double figures in points. The All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan only had a combined 34 points but Norman Powell erupted for 24 while Corey Joseph led the bench mob with 10.
Just like that, the Bucks, who were gunning for a 3-1 bubble four days ago, are suddenly down 3-2, one game away from elimination. Ah, the fickle finger of fate.
When this series' obituary is written it should be summed up like this:
The young Bucks, brimming with promise and untold potential, couldn't handle the prosperity of a possible 3-1 lead, while the battle-tested Raptors, wise in the ways of postseason wars, responded positively to an adverse 2-1 deficit.
FREE THROWS. Although lent is over, Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg talked about 'palm Sunday' last Sunday, telling reporters that Celtics spitfire Isaiah Thomas is hard to stop because he palms or carries the ball all the time.
Really? But why wasn't he complaining when the Bulls took Games 1 and 2 in Boston?
Thomas' blinding speed, not palming, is the sole reason why he is a tough cover. The Bulls bigs, who often end up guarding the elusive guard during defensive switches, are more likely to catch a cold than catch Thomas.
A frustrated Bulls loyalist, depressed over his team's defensive woes, tweeted a talk radio and called Nikola Mirotic as "Nikola Miro-stiff."
Anyway, if Hoiberg's palm rant was meant to plant the seeds for an officiating alert for Game 5, he better not hold his breath.
Palming is widespread in the NBA and it is very seldom whistled as an infraction. Just like the Euro step, which is sometimes a euphemism for traveling.
HOW SWEEP IT IS
It's hard not to feel bad and sad for Portland Trail Blazers fans who watched Game 4 at the Moda Center early Tuesday. After the first 4:15 of play, the Golden State Warriors quickly erected a 28-5 bulge. And when target practice was done, the Warriors swept the Blazers with a series-clinching 128-103 massacre.
The Warriors made 46 of 86 field goals and 17 of 29 triples (a ridiculous 58.6 percent). They outrebounded the Blazers 45-39 and won the assists battle, 27-14.
Curry led all scorers with 37 while Klay Thompson and Draymond Green added a combined 39. Kevin Durant, who came back from a calf strain, was held to 20 minutes and chipped in 10.
This performance, a thorough beating of the Blazers from pillar to post, is Exhibit A in the argument that the Warriors own the NBA universe and the rest of the field are merely paying rent.