On a night when two Toronto Raptors bigs in Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka posted perhaps their career best nights as Raptors, Toronto still couldn’t hang with a hot-shooting Milwaukee Bucks team. The game was less exciting than advertised, with both teams missing respective stars in Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee still prevailed 124-109 in the battle of undefeateds pushing Toronto back to 6-1 on the season.
It was clear early that Pascal Siakam would have a monster statistical night, as he was involved in practically every moment on the court for which there exists a recorded stat. He broke the ice for the Raptors, scoring on a pretty drop-step spin move on the block that he’s used effectively thus far this season.
He may have been feeling himself a little bit too much, missing on a triple and a layup, before getting juked by Malcolm Brogdon on the way to the hole.
Siakam recovered quickly, hitting a little spinning hook shot via another post-up. Still in the first quarter, he blocked a shot on defence and even ran the point twice in transition, scoring both times at the rim. Siakam finished with a career-high 22 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block. Siakam channeled his inner Darryl Morey and attempted every shot either from distance or at the rim. The one negative was his 3-point shooting, as he finished the game 0-for-4. It was indicative of a team-wide slump.
The Raptors finished shooting 9-for-45 from deep, while the Bucks shot 19-45. The 30-point difference in distance shooting was more than enough for a 15-point win for Milwaukee.
If Siakam most impacted every part of the game for the Raptors, Ibaka was by far the most effective scorer. He scored 30 points on only 21 shots, and he didn’t turn the ball over once. He shot an unsustainable but heartening 6-for-7 on non-3s outside of the paint. He opened the game by hitting his first seven shots, six of which were jumpers.
The unseasonably warm shooting from Ibaka, and hectic play from Siakam, allowed Toronto to win the first quarter, 30-29. Though Kyle Lowry wasn’t shooting well, his passing was precise. He dominated as the main offensive shot creator, dishing five assists in just the first quarter, four of which came out of direct passes in the pick-and-roll.
Toronto’s offensive output would slow. They couldn’t keep pace with the Bucks, who saw six different players score in double figures and seven different players hit multiple 3-pointers.
As Toronto sat Lowry to begin the second quarter, the offence collapsed. They simply couldn’t manufacture good looks, missing to injury two of their top-three shot creators in Fred Van Vleet and Kawhi Leonard. When Lowry sat, the team’s offensive rating plummeted 22.5 points. Nick Nurse put Lowry back into the game early in the 2nd, with 10:06 remaining, but the Raptors had already lost the lead for good, down 37-29.
Without strong shot creators to manufacture looks for him, Valanciunas struggled immensely. He finished 3-for-10 from the field and a minus-21 in only 13 minutes of action. He missed a variety of shots he makes, including floaters and push shots in the lane, but he was simply asked to do too much for bench lineups that lacked any scoring oomph. Valanciunas played only four minutes alongside Lowry, which resulted in a feeble three points for the Raptors. (Valanciunas missed a few gimmes that would have pushed that lineup’s scoring output into a positive range.) Still, Valanciunas should have been used more frequently alongside his longtime pick-and-roll partner. His screen-setting just isn’t valuable when defenders can go under screens time and again without fear of the ball-handler pulling up for 3.
Despite the offensive struggles, Toronto’s defence continued bleeding points later in the second quarter. Lowry had trouble containing Brogdon or Bledsoe at the point of attack, and rotations were slow or non-existent.
Every field goal Brogdon made came from within 1-foot of the basket, and he and Bledsoe combined to shoot 13-for-23 from the field. On the other end, the Raptors managed decent looks at the basket, but their 3-point shooting ran cold. This is not a major problem; good looks are a more important indicator of future success than makes in one game. The Raptors found good looks, but they didn’t fall. Still, Lowry and CJ Miles combining to shoot 1-for-16 from deep is ugly no matter how you cut it. The Bucks led 62-53 heading into the half.
“We missed a lot of shots,” said Lowry after the game. “I missed a ton of 3s. Some 3s I know I can make. I’ll make ’em.”
The third quarter continued in much the same way. Ibaka’s hard-earned midrange shooting paced the Raptors, while Bledsoe and Brogdon easily scored for Milwaukee. If the Raptors were ever going to make a push in the game, it would come on the defensive end. It just didn’t happen. The closest they would come would be when an Ibaka block led to a Malachi Richardson corner triple in transition to cut the lead to 83-76.
The Bucks evaporated the Raptors from that point forward. Richardson missed his next five triple attempts. Donte DiVincenzo hit a huge 3 to end the third quarter, and Khris Middleton woke up in the fourth after three quiet quarters. He hit three consecutive contested triples to end the game early. Nick Nurse tried Siakam at the center position to manufacture some quick points, but Middleton ended the run before it started.
- Delon Wright did not look like himself. He gave the Raptors as much on the court as prime Milt Palacio, unable to stay in front of anyone on defence or create a look on offence. At least Wright didn’t force it, deferring to Lorenzo Brown repeatedly to let the G-League MVP run the show. Wright finished with 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist in 13 minutes.
- Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd looked great! Both checked in with 2:17 remaining. Boucher seemed to have inherited the overactive-big-who-only-plays-in-garbage-time-and-records-great-per-minute-stats mantle from the departed Lucas Nogueira, as he finished with two offensive rebounds and six points in limited run. He even scored his first NBA field goal on a putback layup in transition. It came via his patented, speedy second jump. Both Boucher and Loyd finished a plus-8 in garbage time.
- It is something of an excuse, because Toronto played disastrously on defence, but injuries played a big role in Toronto’s poor play. Instead of playing Kawhi Leonard and OG Anunoby as primary defenders at the wing position, they were forced to play Norman Powell for 27 minutes and CJ Miles for 19. As well as Norm played (he’s quietly having himself a solid, if uninspiring, start to the season), Powell and Miles are huge drop-offs defensively from the injured wings. Instead of Fred Van Vleet initiating offence for the bench, Lorenzo Brown was left to pick up the pieces. The result was predicable, but the Raptors need every last ounce of their depth.
- Speaking of Powell, he shot 2-for-3 from deep. He’s now up to 40 percent (6-for-15) on the season. Just as heartening, he finished with three assists and zero turnovers. He’s far from the 6th-man, microwave scorer the Raptors thought he might become, but he seems to have improved at playing within himself. He is better at driving, sucking in the defence, and making the simple pass to the corner. He may not be the shot-creator the Raptors wanted tonight, but he was one of their better ones.
- Staggering shot-creators will be important for the Raptors in their rotational depth chart, especially on a night when they really only had two guys who could create offence at an NBA-average rate or better. Of Siakam’s 33 minutes played, only 3 came without Lowry beside him. The Raptors subsisted for seven non-garbage time minutes with Brown as the lead offensive initiator, which worked in the G-League, but was ineffective against the Milwaukee Bucks. The bench offence needs to come from somewhere when Van Vleet and Leonard aren’t available to prop up the defensive-oriented group, and Lowry can’t play 48 minutes a game. Siakam could spearhead the bench, but he wasn’t asked to tonight. Valanciunas was given the role for stretches, but the guards weren’t able to feed him the ball in advantageous positions. The Brown-Wright-Miles-Siakam-Valanciunas rotation played 3.3 minutes and finished a minus-5. They shot 1-for-7 from the field. Regardless, with Van Vleet in Brown’s position and Wright healthy, that could be an effective bench unit. Nurse should try to unleash Siakam as a bench weapon, especially when the bench is so desperate for punch off the dribble.