Statement: The Bucks established themselves as the best team in the east by dominating the Raptors from start to finish. Toronto made a run in the fourth to get it close, but Milwaukee held the advantage for the entire night and left no doubt as to which team was superior.
Leadership: The Raptors rely on Kyle Lowry to set the tone, but he’s just too inconsistent and the team follows his lead. Lowry was a mess in the third quarter as he bricked a layup, committed three lazy turnovers including a blind pass that clanked off Serge Ibaka’s back, and was generally incapable of organizing an offense that devolved into isolation.
Apathetic: The responsibility then falls on Kawhi Leonard to pick up the slack, but he just doesn’t have the same command over the team. Leonard is a system onto himself, and he can get a bucket on just about anyone, but nobody really feeds off his greatness.
Fearless: Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet were the two who ultimately stepped to the plate and willed the Raptors back into the game. VanVleet introduced some much-needed stability to the offense, while Siakam was a man possessed on both ends of the floor. Their hustle changed the course of the game.
Snubbed: Siakam, in particular, was intent on sending a message after he was snubbed from an All-Star selection. He was relentless going to the rim, and was arguably the best player in a game that featured two MVP candidates. It’s just too bad that none of his teammates matched his energy.
The loss dropped Toronto to 1-3 against the Bucks [37-13] this season and there were no handy excuses. The Raptors weren’t tired or unprepared, having come off a day off and two days of practice. They were healthy other than Jonas Valanciunas remaining out of the line-up (although his return to action from a dislocated thumb is getting closer) and they were playing at home where they had won 10 straight.
In Leonard they have one of the few talents in the league that can inspire as much fear in other teams as the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo does to the rest of the NBA.
The MVP showdown was largely a saw-off and a bit of a letdown: Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, four five assists and two steals while Leonard was an equally ordinary – these things being relative — 16 and eight with two assists, three steals and an unusual 7-of-20 from the field, hounded by the Bucks’ Kris Middleton and a bunch of long-armed helpers.
But elsewhere the Bucks seemed more together, more on point – going 14-of-38 from deep helps, and holding the Raptors to 39.8 per cent shooting helps even more. The only Raptor who really rose to the occasion was Pascal Siakam who was brilliant with 28 points – but that was off-set by another struggle from deep for now five-time all-star Kyle Lowry, as the point guard went 1-of-6 from three-point range.
“I was saying at the beginning of the season we need to get better,” said Leonard, who shot 7-of-20 and looked dead-legged at times late. “We still need to get better. But it’s not about the first unit. It’s about the whole team. That’s how you win games. Everybody being connected, linked together, having the same mindset, the same goals, the same energy. We all need to be linked together.”
Milwaukee was closer to that. The Bucks had their bumbles but more often hummed, and the sight of Antetokounmpo coolly hitting a three-pointer, or whipping a one-handed pass to an open shooter in the corner, was maybe scarier than his more typical giant-stepping drives and dunks. The Bucks are planets orbiting their star, and know where they should be.
“As a team we know what we are,” said Bucks centre Brook Lopez, who has become a three-point bomber. “Everyone accepts their roles and understand their roles. We’re in a good place right now.”
The Raptors are a similar team — one star, surrounded by bodies — but they are still figuring it out. or figuring it out again. Coming off his catastrophic injury season in San Antonio, Leonard has been rested often (which sources say has been a complete team decision, based entirely on his health); Lowry was named to the all-star game for a fifth time, but he has veered all over the lane. The mix is still a work in progress.
“Some of that rhythm that we had pretty early, maybe 20 games in, has come and gone a little bit,” said Nurse before the game. “So I guess my answer would be I guess I see it coming back a little bit more, then hopefully escalating further … I think it is coming. Now we’re back to the stage of stretching it out over more minutes.”
The Toronto Raptors haven’t been as good a team as they were last season. They’ve taken steps backward on both ends of the floor, having scored 0.5 fewer points per 100 possessions and allowed 2.4 more.
But the Raptors remain a top-10 team in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And they may have a higher ceiling than they ever have, with a Kia MVP candidate (depending on how voters take missed games into account) and a seemingly deep supporting cast that includes a couple of players that have taken big steps forward this season.
One reason why we probably haven’t seen the best of the Raptors yet is that their two best players — Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry — have played just 27 games together. Leonard, with a couple of minor injuries and a “load management” program that has kept him from playing both games of back-to-backs, has missed 14 games. Lowry, with leg and back issues, has missed 11. The 825 total minutes that the pair have played ranks 10th on the Raptors and 153rd among two-man combinations league-wide.
Still, the Raptors have the league’s third best record (37-15) and can regain possession of first place in the Eastern Conference with a win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday (Friday, PHL time).
Here’s one number to know about the 2018-19 Raptors as they play one of their biggest games of the regular season…
The Raptors have been 19.1 points per 100 possessions better with Danny Green on the floor than they’ve been with Green off the floor.
That is the second-biggest on-off NetRtg differential among 238 players that have played at least 750 minutes through Wednesday (Thursday, PHL tim
They’re used to it. Nothing gold can stay with the Raptors, or at least that’s how it feels around their fan base. It’s been a decade and a half since franchise icon Vince Carter ostensibly forced his way out of town. Fans have seemingly worn their long-gestating abandonment issues for insulation ever since; Vicki still has recurring dreams of putting Vince through the kind of torture he put all of Toronto through upon his departure. Whether it’s the whims of a disgruntled star, or the will of a Hall of Fame opponent, when the Raptors lose, they are often decimated by factors and forces out of their control. As one bar patron tells me, stay a fan in Toronto for long enough, and you’ll see all the different ways the other shoe can drop.
I’m an outsider. Not just to the ways of Toronto, but to the ways of tribal sports fandom in general. Some fans are born into their condition; others make the choice for themselves. But in either case, fandom is, in a vague sense, empowering, right? Everyone starts off with the power to take a league like the NBA—which consists of 30 teams and at least 420 active players—and reorient its entire order of operations through perspective alone. Every fan sets their own protagonist, but not the time that ultimate victory takes place. I suppose that’s where power melts into powerlessness. And that powerlessness manifests as not so much a social contract but an emotional one. The reward of being a fan is experiencing true joy, but the price of true joy is a lifetime of psychic torture in the interim. That’s about as fair as humanity gets, I suppose.
Still, a clinical dissection of fandom writ large doesn’t quite get to the uniquely tortured heart of Raptors fan insecurity. Despite at one point having Carter, perhaps the most popular player in the NBA in the early aughts, and despite the recent iterations of the team being among the league’s very best regular-season performers, the Raptors have played in only one marquee Christmas Day game, all the way back in 2001. A common refrain from the fans I speak with: It’s not paranoia if it’s true. Before last season’s NBA playoffs, Toronto-based writer Alex Wong wrote about the fan base’s anxieties for The New Yorker. The Raptors had run away with the best record in the East that year; ESPN’s Zach Lowe suggested in the story that fans “be confident in your team. … Try that on, see how it feels, workshop it for a day.” They did; they got swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the second round for the second season in a row. That crushing feeling of familiarity was commodified almost instantaneously for the truly self-loathing Torontonian.
“I don’t really set goals like that,” Siakam told ESPN. “For me, I don’t put a cap on what I can accomplish, right? I just work and continue to do whatever I can do to get to the highest level I can get.
“If that’s an All-Star? Sure, I’ll take it. But I don’t have my mind set on that.”
Whether he does or not, Siakam’s rapid improvement throughout his NBA career has put him on a trajectory that few, if any, saw coming when he was taken with the 27th pick in the 2016 NBA draft out of New Mexico State.
After spending his rookie season as a bit player, getting token starts in 38 games while largely functioning as an energy guy teams left alone on offense, Siakam emerged into the fulcrum of Toronto’s dominant bench unit last year. This season he took yet another step, becoming a full-time starter and a deserving third-in-command behind Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry in Toronto’s pecking order.
At every stop along the way, Siakam’s success was far from expected. But through it all, the same confidence that kept him from placing limits on himself is what allowed him to develop into a player who is now routinely considered to be among the elite up-and-coming young talents in the sport.
“Just his confidence to go and do it,” Nurse said, when asked what has stood out most about Siakam since he arrived in Toronto. “He was just a hard-playing dude. Then he got some skills, then we got him in the open floor, then he worked on his at-the-rim game, then his shooting … he has put most of that together now.”
They lacked energy, focus, fight, physicality … the list goes on. But outside of maybe Pascal Siakam and Norm Powell, one would be hard-pressed to find that in any other single member of the Raptors on Thursday night.
In contrast, the victorious Milwaukee Bucks – who extend their lead on first place with the 105-92 win and now have the first tiebreaker should the teams wind up tied at the end of the regular season with a 3-1 season series win – had contributors up and down the lineup even with Giannis Antetokounmpo having a bit of an off night with just 19 points and seven rebounds.
As good as Siakam was on Antetokounmpo, getting him into some early foul trouble, Khris MIddleton was as good or possibly better containing Kawhi Leonard, who looked nothing like the guy who came into the game averaging 31 points in the month of January.
Leonard finished with 16 points and eight rebounds and spent much of the night fighting off Middleton, who seemed to spend the bulk of the evening attached to the front of Leonard’s jersey.
“I certainly like those guys as individual pieces, maybe it’s a group thing, I don’t know,” Raptors head coach Nurse said, trying to solve the riddle of why his starting five can look so good in spots and so out of sorts just minutes later. “I need to take a look at it and think about it again. It seems to be coming and going a little bit.”
For most of Thursday’s first-place showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Toronto Raptors squad fans have been used to seeing for the majority of the season was a no-show.
Dreadful three-point shooting from the Raps and a dominant defensive effort from the Bucks were the two biggest on-court factors that led to Toronto falling 1.5 games back of Milwaukee for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference, but it’s clear there was something else on the Raptors’ collective minds — stealing their focus throughout the entirety of this game.
Delon Wright rolled into Scotiabank Arena rocking these extremely questionable threads, and honestly how can we expect anyone to be able to shoot a basketball into a round hoop after being exposed to such an abomination?
The squad must have been shook. I know I am.
when you carry all the baggage of being a raptors fan in one 'fit pic.twitter.com/7jbTmhFaBL
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) February 1, 2019
So now, with Anthony Davis trade rumours at full tilt after his request for a trade away from the New Orleans Pelicans and oddsmakers putting the Raptors in the mix to land him, summer-acquisition Danny Green noted on the most recent episode of his podcast, Inside the Green Room, that there has been a bit of an impact on his new-ish teammates.
“It’s a little different being in a different locker room, discussing that type of thing or guys feeling a little unsettled, or uncomfortable, or not quite so safe. [In] San Antonio, we didn’t make many moves or shake things up. Most guys felt pretty safe in that things weren’t going to happen or any big changes.
“But here, you know, I feel like because of the whole DeMar situation, guys, nobody feels kinda safe, we’re practising now, things are going well, but we won’t know exactly what’s gonna happen ’til trade deadline. We’re light-hearted about it, [make] jokes about it, but at the end of the day, guys know it’s a business and they know that most teams aren’t going to pass up on a guy like that and, a lot of times, you might be a piece that [could] be moved. End of the day, by February, you could be in a whole new city with a whole new team.”
That’s the reality of the NBA, but still one that appears to be taking some getting used to for players who have been with a franchise that has prided itself on continuity and chemistry over its most successful period. But Ujiri and the rest of his front office have shown that as gut-wrenching as the emotions behind a trade may be, bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy to Toronto remains the topmost priority and nothing will get in the way of that goal.
It was Siakam alone who made the game watchable for Toronto. After a sloppy first quarter in which the Raptors had almost as many turnovers (5) as assists (6), they gave the game away in the second. The Bucks, powered as usual by Giannis Antetokounmpo (on, for him, an off night), Khris Middleton (a newly minted All-Star), and their three-point shooting (14-of-38, 38 percent; D.J. freakin’ Wilson went 3-of-6), just kept piling on until their lead had grown as big as 22 in the third quarter. Then Siakam went to work, pouring in 19 second half points on his way to 28 on the night (on 12-of-19 shooting). He also had three assists, three rebounds, shot 2-of-3 from three, and continued to look unafraid and fired up. Still, he couldn’t do enough to get Toronto over the hump. The gap shrunk to just six points four different times — but it didn’t matter.
The blame can be spread around to most everyone else on the Raptors. Kyle Lowry’s ten points and three assists look pretty wan in the shine from his recent All-Star accreditation. Other than a timely charge against a rampaging Giannis, you’d be hard-pressed to point out anything major he contributed in the game. For what it’s worth, Lowry did finally manage to finally hit a three against Milwaukee through the three games he’s appeared in. Kyle is now 1-for-20 from deep against the Bucks this season. I’m sure it’s fine.
Lowry’s All-Star running mate Kawhi Leonard had what was for him a bad game. Kawhi acknowledged that coming off a road trip and three days rest allows for some level of flatness, but in his dead monotone he acknowledged that this was not the kind of effort the Raptors wanted to put forward on the night. In 35 minutes Kawhi had just 16 points and eight rebounds, while going 7-of-20 from the field and looking extremely mortal at times. It was telling that a mishmash unit of Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka was the group to get the Raptors back in this one. It was equally telling that that group, whether running on fumes, or because they desperately needed some help, saw the game slip away.
Stats: 15.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.5 APG
Raptors fans best know Aaron Gordon for his eye-popping dunks during the 2016 NBA Dunk Contest, which was hosted in Toronto.
Outside of the flashy dunks, Gordon has become a solid player with tremendous potential. Although wildly inconsistent, he has shown brilliance shooting, defending, posting-up and rebounding the ball.
As trends continue towards position-less basketball, he is the perfect wing player to slot into an athletic Raptors lineup that could combat the Warriors death lineup.
It would cost some key assets, but with Gordon being locked under contract for four more years, he could be the player that eases the transition into the future, if Kawhi does decide to leave.
Third quarter runs
The Bucks outscored the Raptors 34-22 in the second quarter to take a nine-point lead into halftime.
Khris Middleton started the second half strong with seven straight points for Milwaukee to get things going. They stayed hot through the break going on a 22-7 run to start the third quarter to take a 24-point lead, their biggest of the game.
With 6:16 remaining in the quarter, the Raptors began to make their run – Pascal Siakam had five consecutive points followed by a pair of threes from Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell to cut into the Bucks’ lead.
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry has earned his fifth consecutive NBA all-star selection, joining teammate Kawhi Leonard.
Lowry was among the 14 players selected Thursday night by the league’s head coaches as reserves for the 68th NBA all-star game on Feb. 17 in Charlotte. He becomes the second player — after Chauncey Billups — to be named to at least five all-star teams after not being selected in his first eight seasons in the league.
Leonard had already been voted in as a starter for the game.
Joining Lowry in the Eastern Conference pool of reserves are Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton, Philadelphia 76ers guard-forward Ben Simmons, Orlando Magic centre Nikola Vucevic, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin and Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo, who won’t play after rupturing his quadriceps tendon earlier this month.
Green exited Thursday’s game against the Bucks due to a stomach virus and is questionable to return, Eric Smith of Sportsnet 590 The Fan reports
Green exited early in Thursday’s game to be evaluated by team doctors in the locker room. His absence for the time being will likely mean extra minutes for Norman Powell and Delon Wright.
And it’s official, the Milwaukee Bucks own the tiebreaker over their Eastern Conference competitor, the Toronto Raptors, following a massive 105-92 road victory. Milwaukee went neck-and-neck with Toronto into the second period, trailing just 25-22 after one. By halftime, the Bucks blistering 52.9% percentage from deep paid huge dividends, giving them a 56-47 advantage. The Raptors entered the intermission just 2-17 (12.5%) from three. Milwaukee boosted their lead out to 24 partway through the third quarter, but the Raptors rebounded to make it 87-76 to start the fourth. Despite Giannis Antetokounmp missing nearly half the final period with foul trouble, the Bucks pulled this huge win out.
Giannis Antetokounmpo battled foul trouble for much of the night, picking up a ticky-tack foul to start the fourth that sent him to the bench. He ended the night with just 19 points, but stacked the rest of the box score with nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks. Still, it was an encouraging sign for Milwaukee’s depth that they could hang tough despite his lack of aggression offensively (just 13 shots).
Amazingly, D.J. Wilson might’ve topped the list of non-Giannis players tonight with an impressive showing on both ends of the court. He showed a willingness to shoot the three quickly and even finished through contact for an and-one en route to 16 points, five rebounds and two steals. Khris Middleton added 18 points, six rebounds and four assists on the same night he was tabbed for an All-Star appearance. Eric Bledsoe contributed 14 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a shifty four steals as he read Toronto’s offensive plays all evening.
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer will coach in the All-Star Game after securing the top record in the Eastern Conference after the Bucks’ 105-92 win over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
The Bucks are now 1.5 games up on the Raptors for the East’s top spot and clinched the regular-season head-to-head tiebreaker with Toronto after Thursday’s victory, winning the season series 3-1. They defeated the Raptors in October and December before falling to their East rivals in early January.
Toronto head coach Nick Nurse had an opportunity to stay alive for the All-Star gig with a victory, but the Iowan would’ve needed a Raptors win over the L.A. Clippers on Sunday and a Bucks loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
Budenholzer will coach his star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team on Feb. 17 and could potentially have two Bucks on the roster if Khris Middleton is selected by the Greek Freak in the All-Star draft on Feb. 7.
Milwaukee (37-13) has won 19 of its last 23 games and currently sports the best record in the Association.