Final Score: Raptors 129, Bucks 110
Like we’ve seen a few times this year, it just seemed like the Raptors had “it” last night. After a timeout called by Dwane Casey called early in the first quarter in response to a lightning quick 12-5 Bucks lead to start the game, the Raptors responded. Fighting through a feisty Bucks defense, and not getting the benefit of the officiating whatsoever (the Raps were whistled for 14 fouls in the first half, to the Bucks’ 8), the Raptors executed a methodical 14-0 run. And from that point on, you just had the feeling this would be one of those nights where no matter how tough things got, it’ll be okay in the end. The way the Raptors counter-punched initially was impressive, but as the end of the first half neared, the Bucks responded to every Raptors surge. So entering halftime, with the score at 61-59 for Toronto, this one had all the makings of another close game.
But then…something magical happened. After a slow shooting start for Kyle and DeMar in the first half, and limited production from JV who got into early foul trouble, the Raptors exhibited a complete offensive clinic in the second half. It started early in the third quarter where the Raps simply annihilated the Bucks, scoring and stopping on nearly every offensive and defensive possession for a stretch of about 8 minutes. That run led to a 43-19 quarter for the Raptors, fueled by the bounce-back of DeMar DeRozan who scored 14 points in the third, and JV who simply went beast mode punishing the Bucks down low with offensive rebounds and timely and-1s. The Raptors’ Lithuanian lightning finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action.
Unlike some games we’ve seen from this Raptors squad in recent years where big leads were achieved, there was no let down to follow. After getting up as much as 28 in the game, the Raptors cruised in the fourth quarter giving plenty of rest to the starters, and closing with a garbage time lineup in the final 5 minutes. That’s what we call a professional win.
Notables of the night
- The third quarter: The Raptors really outscored the Bucks by 24 in the 3rd quarter man. This was almost a mirror image of the Knicks game at MSG a month ago. It seemed as though the Raptors were on another stratosphere for a period of about 8 minutes, and that was all the difference in the game. It was easily the most impressive quarter for the Raptors all season, save for maybe a couple (those Philly and Charlotte road games recently had great quarters as well). But against the talent of a team like Milwaukee on their home floor, especially after already beating them a week ago, it was an impressive show of confidence by the Raptors who now seem like the clearly superior team.
- JV beasted: Jonas was no doubt the story of the second half for the Raptors. Milwaukee’s front line of John Henson, Giannis or Thon Maker simply couldn’t guard JV. From post-ups, to offensive rebounds, to timely interior baskets leading to and-1s, Jonas had it all. Just what the hive needed, and the big man teases us again with his occasional flashes of brilliance.
- Serge’s hot shooting: JV, Kyle, and DeMar all scored, but Serge was probably the hottest Raptor early on, with 13 first quarter points and 21 points overall. Serge’s mid-range game was as smooth as you’d expect, but the outside shot was a bit cold. Probably the most impressive stat of the game though was Serge’s team high +35 in 29 minutes of action. That’s just insane.
- DeMar’s adjustments: After a rough first half in which DeMar was seemingly harassed on every trip down the floor, he gathered himself and responded with composure in the second half. He didn’t force his game, picked his spots a bit better, and got his shooting rhythm going in that third quarter stretch, which included a dagger 3-pointer in the corner right in front of the Milwaukee bench. Not to mention, it was right in Khris Middleton’s face, who with his 11 points on 10 shots in 30 minutes, was clearly outplayed by DeMar. That shot gave the Raptors a 13 point lead, making it a turning point in the third quarter as the Raptors continued to pile it on with an avalanche of scoring after that.
- Containing Giannis: While Giannis was still hyper-efficient and scored an easy 24 points, it just seemed like his offense was inconsequential to the Bucks’ success. The Raptors were piling it on from all positions at one point, and while Giannis was able to drive and get to his spots close to the rim, the Raptors, for the most part, limited his transition buckets and those momentum-changing plays he’d pull out during the playoffs. I really liked the look of OG on Giannis. While it wasn’t a sure bet, it was as close as you can get to a good matchup for the Greek Freak.
- Bench backcourt: The point guard production off the bench was simply awesome for the Raptors, especially in the second half. The length of Delon Wright gives him the ability to defend multiple positions and get to the basket with ease, while Fred VanVleet gave the Raptors his usual toughness and grit that allowed the Raptors to dig in defensively and get transition buckets. The Raptors got a combined 22 points from Delon and FVV on 9/17 from the field. That put a ton less load on Lowry and DeMar, and it really added a new dynamic to the offense that made Toronto look unstoppable at some points.
What this win means
The Raptors have now beat the Bucks twice; and in convincing fashion on their home floor. So I felt the need to air out some frustrations about how some of us are viewing this Raptors team right now. We keep saying that the regular season doesn’t matter, that this team will have to prove it in the playoffs, and that this backcourt is destined for tough times come April and May. So if you polled the entire NBA community a couple of weeks ago and asked them to pick the winner in a potential Bucks/Raptors playoff series…I’d bet a whole bunch of people would’ve picked the Bucks. In fact, I’d even be willing to bet the majority would’ve picked the Bucks. But in reality, as we’ve come to see and realize, some major elements have changed since that narrow playoff victory for the Raptors last year.
The Raptors are younger. They play faster. They shoot more 3’s. They’ve got more length at multiple positions now with young guys like OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl. Those Bucks death-by-length lineups of last year featuring the likes of Giannis, Tony Snell, Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon and others just don’t seem that deadly against this year’s Raptors team. And despite the Bucks having the best player in a hypothetical playoff matchup with the Raptors (strictly talent-wise), with a seemingly more confident and multi-faceted DeMar DeRozan steering the ship for Toronto, I can honestly say we’d be the true favourite if a series between these two teams were to start today.
The Raptors, winners of four straight, will now prepare for a Monday night tilt against the Nets. Brooklyn has won 2 straight and 3 of their past 4; and you’ve gotta figure that with another solid win now under their belt, some let-down from Toronto is possible.
It’s going to be really important for the Raptors to seal the next two victories against Brooklyn, and the following night against Miami, in order to close out a 6-game winning streak before facing Cleveland and Golden State later this week. Given that games against the Spurs, Wolves and Pistons are also coming up after that, I’d say it’s time to make some hay.