On short rest after a heartbreaking loss to the Bulls and down two starters, the Toronto Raptors found their game and revived their defense tonight in a 107-89 drubbing of the Milwaukee Bucks. To sum it up in a few words: it was a ridiculously impressive outing.
With the pre-game announcement that Jonas Valanciunas would sit with a left hand contusion and DeMar DeRozan would get a night off for rest, Dwane Casey rolled out an unsexy starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, James Johnson, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo. With all expectations pointing to a deep struggle on the offensive end, it was up to Lowry to carry the load. In the first half, boy did he deliver.
Lowry would finish with 25 points (20 in the first half), 11 assists and four rebounds, posting a game-high +21. He was relentless in his attack of the rim and was rewarded for his efforts, getting to the line 13 times on the night and making 11.
On the other end, it took a little time for Toronto to warm things up. Early in the game, they struggled to slow down the Bucks' rangy wing players. Giannis Antetokounmpo, on a notable tear over the last month, was particularly difficult to stop for assignee Norman Powell. The Raptors rookie held his own, but the size disadvantage allowed the Greek Freak to score 18 points and create for nine assists. Milwaukee had a 28-22 lead after the first quarter, shooting over 50% and excelling exactly in the ways needed to get a win.
When coach Jason Kidd got into his bench to start the second, though, the game shifted. The Raptors bench tightened defensively and the pace quickened. With bigs Patrick O'Bryant and Greg Monroe taking ill-advised shots on one end, the Raptors started making buckets on the other. Lowry got his pull-up three game ignited, Patrick Patterson started making threes, and the Raptors went into the break with a 52-49 lead.
Then, the doors blew off Milwaukee in the third. Dwane Casey's starters may have earned the skepticism they drew, but their defense in the frame was off the charts. Norman Powell and Bismack Biyombo, who were replacing DeRozan and Valanciunas respectively, were the biggest help. Powell had a career-best night, scoring 17 on 6-for-15 shooting, recalling his Las Vegas Summer League confidence with explosive drives like this one.
Biyombo looked like he had a fire under him as well, with 12 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. He was showing the full repertoire and then some: drop steps, spin moves, and graceful two-handed catches on the offensive end, then embarrassing Jabari Parker (again) on defense.
Leading by 15, the Raptors made the final frame a formality. Lowry was able to rest, playing just nine second half minutes, and his team completed a 4-0 sweep of the Bucks in the regular season.
Though it's a little frustrating that this type of effort didn't come against the Bulls one night earlier, it was another example of the high end potential of this Raptors team. If DeRozan and Valanciunas can put the kind of defensive effort in that Powell and Biyombo showed tonight, adding the exponential effect of what their offense provides, Toronto is going to be tuned up for a stretch run. Sometimes, it's just good to see the effort is there, regardless of personnel.
Now 45-21, the Raptors look ahead to a possible first round preview in Indiana on Thursday night. For now, we can simply embrace the positives from this one and hope they carry over.
What were your thoughts on the win?