While this wasn't necessarily a "trap game," heading into last night's contest with the Milwaukee Bucks, you could understand a letdown.
The Toronto Raptors were coming off a comeback win over the much more illustrious Brooklyn Nets, in a game that featured a soldout crowd, Drake, and all the bells and whistles of a marquee NBA event. (Although MLSE did keep its recent PR streak alive, having Rod Black interview the newest TFC marquee signings, Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley.)
And the Bucks, despite being losers of five straight and owners of the league's worst record, possess some dangerous offensive weapons who can light up the scoreboard in a hurry. As they say in the NBA, any team can beat any team on a given night.
So after rolling out to a 38 to 24 first quarter lead, the Raps watched the Bucks cut things down to 58 to 50 at halftime, and while Toronto maintained the lead through the third quarter, they couldn't quite seem to put Milwaukee away. The Raps were slow on their defensive rotations and while some of the Brew Hoopsters couldn't take advantage (Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight were a combined 5 of 19), others like Ersan Ilyasova lit Toronto up. Ilyasova, who's struggled this season, finished with 29 points on a bevy of open jump-shot opportunities, most of which he knocked down with ease.
However as we've noted of late, this isn't the same Raptors team that we've seen over the past few seasons. When the going got tough, the Dinos responded and by the time the fourth quarter was a few minutes deep, the Raptors had their proverbial "feet on the gas pedal" once more and ran away with the 116 to 94 win. The win was Toronto's eighth in their last 10 games, and gave them a percentage point lead over the Atlanta Hawks in the race for third place in the Eastern Conference.
Game MVP goes to Kyle Lowry who was a steadying force all night. Lowry finished with a team-high 23 points to go with five assists and four steals but more importantly, seemed to either nail or contribute to key baskets every time his team needed them.
The other usual suspects were big for TO as well. DeMar DeRozan had another well-rounded game, scoring 19 on 50 per cent shooting, and also chipping in seven rebounds and seven assists. Patrick Patterson was big off the pine once more with 18 points, and Jonas Valanciunas was a +23 on the evening and had a solid double-double in 32 minutes of action. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
And the poor Bucks, aside from Ilyasova, didn't have much of an answer. The "Greek Freak" Giannis Antetokounmpo gave Raptors' fans some flashes of his potential with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block, and Brandon Knight had 16 in the loss. But there wasn't much else for the Bucks to write home about as they lose their 30th game of the season.
Toronto of course knows exactly how that feels but has done a great job post-Rudy Gay to ensure they don't experience such sensations again this season.