The Raptors have lost a few stupid games against teams they should have beat (see: Nets, Brooklyn), but there is really only one game this year where they got their teeth kicked in. Stupid Milwaukee Bucks that are so damn fun to watch…I hate them (but not really).
After starting the season 6-0 the Raptors arrived in Milwaukee and got whooped 124-109 and it felt a whole lot worse than that when watching. While the Bucks were missing future Raptor Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Raptors followed suit without Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet.
It’s fair to feel robbed of the Giannis and Kawhi match-up we should have gotten, even more so after the end result made the game awful to begin with, and the two will likely be the primary defender on one another for most of the night in the rematch. As we are a quarter of the way into the season the MVP conversation continues to grow and develop with both players getting some talk in this regard. Giannis is currently averaging 26.8 points (6th in the league), 13 rebounds (5th in the league), 6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He is stuffing the entire stat sheet and the only relative weakness is in game right now is the three point shot, where he is currently 6-of-56 for a 10.7 percent average from deep.
With Coach Bud having taken over from the atrocities that were Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty last year, the Bucks have transformed their system to more of a modern game. Last year the Bucks were near the bottom of the league (25th to be precise) in the percentage of shots taken from 3, choosing a shot profile that was ideally suited for when Kidd himself was still at his peak. Now, with Bud taking over, the Bucks are second in the league with 44.4 percent of their shots being from deep.
It was this shooting that buried the Raptors in the early season head-to-head. The Raptors and Bucks both took 45 three point attempts, but while the Bucks shot 42.2 percent the Raptors went cold hitting just 20 percent. It’s tough to win a game when the other team hits 10 more triples than you, and the Raptors faced a significant math problem. It was Ersan Ilyasova in particular who tormented the Raptors, putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds, and shooting 8-of-12 from the field (including 3-of-6 from deep).
With the Bucks multitude of stretch bigs I expect we see Ibaka get the start at centre, while Jonas works off the bench. And as Lopez isn’t one to dominant on the boards himself the loss of Valanciunas’ rebounding will be less of a liability with the starters.
On the season Toronto and Milwaukee are two of three teams ranked in the top 10 for both Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating (the third is Denver), with Milwaukee having a league best Net Rating of 9.2. While Toronto has the best record there is an easy argument to be made that Milwaukee has been the best statistical team. The good news (from a Raptors perspective) is that this Net Rating has been on the decline after what was a particularly hot start.
After their first 12 games the Bucks had a Net Rating of 11.5. Since then (most recent 12 games) their Net Rating has dropped to 6.9. Still among the league’s best, but enough of a drop on both sides of the ball as their shooting numbers regressed.
Milwaukee is among the elite at stopping points off of turnovers, fast break points, second chance points, and points in the paint. They dare teams to beat them in the half court and, like Toronto, challenge the majority of shots that they face. In many ways the two teams have similar profiles to how they win games (minus the second chance points allowed thing, Raptors are middle of the pack there), and tonight’s battle should be an interesting barometer of where both teams are at this point in the season.
With all that said, let’s try and keep some perspective on what tonight’s game means. This is one of 82 games and doesn’t determine the success of the entire season. At best it contributes to the overall record and any potential tiebreaker scenarios between the two teams, and a loss tonight doesn’t doom the Raptors to obscurity or deem them a failure.
But if we win then screw all that. Then we’re clearly the best and are heading to the NBA Finals. Eat it Milwaukee.