What the hell did we watch last night?
Joel Embiid and Nick Nurse have seen an encyclopedia of basketball combined. If they don’t get it, all hope is lost.
I guess we have to start at the beginning.
A legendary quarter for all the wrong reasons
The Raptors opened up their ESPN debut appearance this season by missing their first 15 shots. It went from concerning, to embarrassing, to hysterical.
Toronto got its first points at the 5:12 mark, thanks to a Pascal Siakam free throw. The first field goal came at 4:36, via Fred VanVleet. That’s nearly seven and a half minutes of basket-less basketball. Droughts are nothing new to the Raptors offence this season but holy.
What was lost in this was how much the Bucks were struggling as well. Toronto actually took an 11-10 lead in the first despite the offensive mess because of defence. Milwaukee had seven turnovers in the quarter. They finished with a season-high 25 and Giannis Antetokounmpo committed a career-worst 12 alone, even though he posted a triple-double.
End of first quarter score: Bucks 13, Raptors 12. Milwaukee shot 5-24 from the field and Toronto countered with 2-23. Really aesthetically pleasing stuff. The 25 points combined were easily the fewest in any game across the NBA this season.
Here’s the Raptors shot chart through the first that you didn’t ask for:
Scoring picked up dramatically in the second quarter (26-26). Fred VanVleet kept the Raptors afloat manipulating pick and and rolls to shoot over Brook Lopez in drop coverage. Pascal Siakam struggled mightily against Giannis offensively with only 11 points (snapping his eight game streak of 25+ points which ties Vince Carter for the longest in franchise history), but he was able to take advantage of Bobby Portis. Toronto won the minutes that Antetokounmpo was off the court.
Giannis took over in the fourth and exited the game with four minutes left. With three to go, Milwaukee comfortably led 90-69. The Raptors hadn’t even hit 70 points yet.
Then all hell broke loose.
A legendary comeback for all the right reasons
Back to back threes by Fred VanVleet forced a Mike Budenholzer timeout and Giannis to re-enter the game. This would happen a couple more times.
Still, the Bucks led by 16 with 1:19 to go. Easy money right? Here’s a compilation of chaos below:
Let’s start with Scottie Barnes. He had zero points until midway through the fourth, routinely being left with miles of space because his jumper wasn’t falling (and he was hesitant to shoot). Finally, Barnes started attacking the length of Brook Lopez and was successful at challenging the league’s top shot blocker.
Mix in more Bucks turnovers including a five second violation, a Grayson Allen nut shot on Gary Trent Jr. (because he’s Grayson Allen) that turned into a flagrant, probably an uncalled foul where Bobby Portis was pushed out of bounds and finally – the game tying sequence where Milwaukee allowed Toronto oodles of time to find the perfect Trent-Lopez mismatch to fire a three. No intentional foul to force free throws. Nothing.
To recap: The Raptors scored 18 points in the final 1:19 of regulation. That’s six more than they had the entire first quarter. It was only seven shy of tying both teams combined in that hideous display.
Make it make sense.
A special shoutout to Matt Devlin. Raptors twitter is accustomed to the term “fake comeback,” and Devlin is always the most excited to manifest a possibility that usually falls short. I have to admit that as Devlin’s inflection rose in previous games “Raptors cut it to 10, 40 seconds to go,” I recall rolling my eyes a few times. Of course you play to the final whistle, but from a fan perspective the morale was already defeated. Matt deserved this thrilling moment, and a win would have even been better.
The Raptors only two baskets in OT looked similar to what got them there. Scottie kept going at Lopez, something Nurse mentioned afterwards that he should have exploited earlier in the game. Barnes aforementioned zero suddenly ballooned into 19 points.
The crucial mistake came with under 20 seconds left, tied at 101. Fred wanders into the paint to help on a Giannis drive, leaving Allen wide open in the corner for the eventual game winner.
Then there is the final possession that raises some questions.
Inquiring minds wonder why there wasn’t any type of action for Gary to take this shot instead. He’s better at creating space, and had just sent the game to overtime minutes prior. Once again, Budenholzer and the Bucks were content to let the Raptors burn them again from three if need be. Luckily for them, Fred’s shot was a little off.
VanVleet finished with 28 points and 12 assists. Numbers lie on the boxscore (8-23 FG, 4-14 3pt) because without Fred initiating offence in the second and third quarters, the Raptors are probably down 30-plus. It was that bad. His answer to Eric Koreen’s question inspired a few takes.
The Big picture
All in all, amazing effort by the Raptors to turn a complete dud of a U.S. National TV game into one of the most memorable contests in recent memory. However as VanVleet said postgame, “a loss is a loss.”
Toronto continues to plummet in the standings and are now tied with OKC for the sixth worst record leaguewide. However, the play-in tournament is right above them, as Chicago holds the final spot with a one game lead. Washington is sandwiched in between. The gap between Toronto and sixth place New York is widening, now a 4.5 game difference. The Raptors and Knicks play on Friday in the Siakam 52-burger rematch. Time will tell.
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