The Raptors would be forgiven for folding on this, their fifth game of a long-ass road trip that’s taken place over one single week. It’s been a lot of basketball to play. And yet, as they’ve proven all year so far, the Raptors refuse to quit. Tonight they beat the Bucks 105-99, to move to 10-6 on the season. (And number one in our hearts.)
As DeMar DeRozan has slowly normalized — e.g. he’s no longer setting the world aflame, though he did shoot 9-for-18 for 26 points tonight — the Raptors have sprung up around him in support. The end result? A balanced inside-out attack with shooting from the expected (and hoped for) players, and strong play at the net from the usual suspects (with a couple of surprises). This is a solid team.
We begin on the perimeter. The Raptors shot 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) from three tonight, which is something of a massive improvement when you consider for example the team’s first nine games (in which they shot 29 percent from deep). With the Bucks pressing, it was a deep three from Kyle Lowry in the final two minutes that essentially sealed it. (Though a wondrous midrange shot from, who else, DeRozan put the game officially out of reach for the Bucks.) That Lowry also got a steal in the dying seconds didn’t hurt.
But it also helped to have that balanced attack. DeRozan had his points, but Lowry put in 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting (including 4-for-6 from three), Jonas Valanciunas had 12 on 6-for-11 shooting, DeMarre Carroll had 14 points on a barrage of 3s (he shot 50 percent from deep on the night), and Patrick Patterson chipped in 11 points, his early shooting woes looking like a thing of the past. Even rookie Pascal Siakam had a few moments at the rim for six points.
For the Bucks, the show began and ended with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak had 29 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and a steal, while shooting 12-for-17 from the field. He’s good. (Though it was deeply satisfying when Lucas Nogueira, who had a rough game on the whole, stopped him at the rim; Bebe finished the game with four blocks and way too many fouls.) The rest of the Bucks did what they could — Jabari Parker had 14 points, Tony Snell (really?) had 16 — but it was not enough.
The Raptors find themselves in an interesting place at this moment. They’re basically blowout proof, an impossible team to put away. But as has been the case for most of the season, they’ve also had trouble extending leads and burying teams. Case in point: the Bucks managed to hang around in this one, whether through Giannis’ brilliance, or timely shooting, or even a few moments of Greg Monroe power. That this game was as close as it was feels odd — the cold shooting Raptors suddenly tossing flames, the defense solidifying in just the right moments, DeRozan doing his thang.
No obvious solution appears as to how Toronto could improve for this. (Though I’m sure you’ll tell me different.) Lowry and DeRozan continue to be clutch, and even a dude like Terrence Ross can come in for the second half and suddenly light it up. (He had eight points and some key baskets down the stretch.) The balance means the Raptors can theoretically count on anyone at any moment.
Ultimately, it makes for entertaining — if anxious — basketball. The Raptors are good, they play to win, and while they make it more interesting than it has to be, grinding away when it feels like they should soar, they are tough to beat outright. And finally, the road trip is over, the tough schedule put to bed. We’ll see the home team on Monday against the Sixers. Let’s keep the good times rolling.