A New Day – Raptors Beat Bucks, End Skid

The Raptors come out on top in a battle of two struggling squads

The Toronto Raptors came into the Friday night contest following five straight losses, the longest active losing streak in the NBA. They were also left without the services of DeMar DeRozan for a third straight outing, but their close games against the Spurs and Grizzlies proved they could still compete without him. The Milwaukee Bucks had not been faring much better of late, losing six of their last seven.

Q1 – Textbook Raptors basketball

The Bucks opened with an 11-5 lead behind a strong start from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was scoring and playmaking at will. That opening salvo was answered by General Lowry, who dished an assist to Jonas Valanciunas, and scored a triple and another three-point play to tie the game at 13 apiece. A quick five point burst from Norm Powell forced Jason Kidd to call his first timeout, 18-13 Raptors.

Lowry was extremely energized early on, determined to lead by example on both ends of the floor, as he created turnovers, made shots and got his big man involved in the offense. Behind his leadership, the Raptors played like they needed this win, overwhelming the Bucks with intense defense. The run continued with a Patterson triple that gave the Raptors a 27-13 lead.

Lucas Nogueira became a beneficiary of a Lowry dish for an easy dunk upon entering the game, and a Terrence Ross three doubled the Bucks’ score, 34-17.

To the surprise of no one, Lowry stepped in and took a charge against the powerful Jabari Parker, ensuring Milwaukee gained no momentum to end the period. A statement quarter from the Raptors, 36-19.

Q2 – Status-quo

The Jason Terry-led Bucks bench played well to start the second period, stymieing the Raptors offense and prompting Casey to call a timeout after a 7-0 run. With Valanciunas resting, Toronto struggled to secure defensive rebounds, and a Thon Maker putback cut the lead to just 7 points, 39-32. JV was re-inserted into the game following that play. Fred VanVleet also made an appearance, entering the game with six minutes to go in the half.

Despite being blocked time and again, Norman Powell remained aggressive, and a strong finish on the drive extended Toronto’s lead back to 9, 43-34. VanVleet contributed to running the team late in the second quarter, doing his best Lowry imitation with a combination of defensive strips, drives and smart passes. It’s fun to see him play alongside the far more advanced version of himself in KLOE, showcasing one of the shortest guard combinations seen in the NBA.

An end of the shot clock post up score by JV, followed by a Powell assist to a VanVleet corner three brought the lead up to 15, 50-35. General Lowry then pulled up for a quick triple that hit nothing but mesh, sending the two teams to the half with the Raptors up 53-39. Kyle played an all-around game tonight, making a host of different praise-worthy contributions. A specific one worth pointing out was his sublime passing in the first half – he was quite literally making those around him better by setting them up with easy attacking opportunities.

Q3 – Resting on their laurels

An impressive bucket and a foul by Norm Powell against Giannis gave the Raptors a 19-point lead, and all signs appeared to be pointing towards a blowout. Enter Matthew Dellavedova. Three consecutive triples from the Australian cut the lead to just 10, but a pair of layups from Lowry stemmed the tide, giving Toronto a 66-52 lead. Later, Norman Powell made another incisive drive, extending the lead to 15 yet again.

Milwaukee’s defense picked up its intensity, turning the Raptors over and getting transition points at the other end, as a Parker and-one cut the lead to 10, 73-63. Cory Joseph had a difficult stretch late in the third, getting blocked and stripped of the ball by Greg Monroe on two separate occasions. Another Parker and-one and a Carroll airball on a three-point attempt marked an anaemic finish to the period by the Raptors, entering the final frame leading by just 7, 77-70.

Q4 – Have no fear, KLOE is here

Lowry opened the quarter with a triple (missing the subsequent free throw, unfortunately), calming the Raptors faithful at the ACC. With the tone set, the rest of the club followed. Three minutes into the period, a Toronto fastbreak ended with an unlikely but ultimately beautiful give and go alley-oop between Terrence Ross and Bebe:

A timely Patterson three widened the chasm between the sides, 87-72. The Raptors were very active on the offensive glass during this stretch, gaining crucial second opportunities. Bebe had played very well on both ends, recording an impressive five blocks in the process, keeping JV glued to the bench in the deciding quarter. Though Casey’s decision may raise some eyebrows, it’s difficult to argue with the result.

The Bucks continued fighting despite successive potentially back-breaking Raptor plays, as a Vaughn three-pointer cut the lead to just 9 with five minutes left. Out of the timeout, Nogueira finished a strong and-one play to get the lead back to a dozen. Points from Kyle Lowry (32 on the night) and a long range bomb from Powell (19) provided a fitting bookend to the maligned losing streak, as Toronto took it 102-86.

It was refreshing to see the Raptors showcase solid offense alongside strong defense within the same contest, limiting a top-10 offensive outfit to under 90 points. The key was the increased defensive intensity, which forced Milwaukee into shooting less than 39% from the field, and turning them over 19 times. The Raptors even won the rebounding battle (47-43), proving their determination to begin a new win streak, and to put the last month behind them.

The regular season marathon continues Sunday, as the ACC welcomes back one of its beloved sons – Bismack Biyombo, and his 18-30 Orlando Magic.