If you haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel “On the Road”, as a Raptors fan, I suggest you pick it up and take some notes before the season ends. While the title suggests it’s about a singular, lengthy road trip, Kerouac and his band of mischievous tag-alongs often revisit New York City in between the numerous trips to various places around North America. In other words, Kerouac follows the path of the Toronto Raptors and their early season schedule.
Luckily for the Raptors, however, this current three game road trip is the last of its kind until March 11th. The hard work will have paid off in the form of an extremely home-heavy schedule that includes a paltry nine road games in just under 30 total contests.
Of course, the next game on this trip following the win in Chicago is a pit-stop in Milwaukee, before heading to Brooklyn (yes, New York) over the weekend. Currently on a three game win streak, Toronto heads to the BMO Bradley Harris Center to meet the Bucks who, proving no worse for wear following their loss to the Raptors on Monday, defeated the Pacers handily on Wednesday evening.
Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo torched Indiana all night, shooting a combined 21-of-32 for 58 points to fuel the Bucks’ heady offensive attack. The outburst lent credence to Toronto’s ever-improving defensive ability, which was showcased on Monday when the team held Milwaukee’s two leading scorers to well below their season averages.
Though, as has been proven multiple times this season, the player Toronto must worry about is not the opposition’s star, but the random role player off the bench. In the last two weeks, the likes of J.J. Barea of Dallas, Thon Maker of Milwaukee, and Nikola Mirotic of Chicago have had great success scoring the ball, making things more difficult for a bench unit oftentimes trying to dig the team out of an early deficit.
The Raptors have been successful all season in limiting the other team’s best player, now they have to translate that effectiveness to every other player on the court before the playoffs roll around.
Here are your details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
TSN2, 8:00 pm
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Milwaukee – Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson
Toronto – None
Milwaukee – Mirza Teletovic, Jabari Parker
Limiting Role Players
It’s becoming a nuisance, if not a crippling problem for the team: random role players producing the points that the Raptors worked hard to take away from the opposing star player. Even worse, sometimes those performances are in addition to a star player producing star stats. It has rarely resulted in a loss for the Raptors, but it’s something that needs to be addressed soon enough.
While playing respectable defense overall, the bench has shown signs of struggling to limit a role player once their shot starts falling. Against the Bucks on Monday, that player was Thon Maker. Despite averaging just four points per game on the year, Maker managed 16 points in 18 minutes, including three dagger-like three pointers. It was his third game scoring more than ten points all season long.
Milwaukee role players have been especially successful against Toronto in recent match-ups, which have featured Tony Snell, Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon taking turns to pile on the baskets dating back to last season. Consider this something to monitor as the year wears on, and especially on Friday night.
While Monday’s game ended in a win, I’m not sure fans realize how easily the game could’ve been a loss — and by most measures, it was a loss. If not for the heroics of DeMar, Toronto probably would’ve lost that game just by lack of pure hustle alone. It’s worth noting, for example, the Raptors were out-rebounded on both ends. This alone wouldn’t be the straw to break the camel’s back on most other nights, in a game this close versus an opponent this accustomed to your style, little things like rebounding the ball are what make the difference in the end.
Toronto has to come out with more intensity on Friday in an effort to make the Bucks uncomfortable on their own floor. Despite shooting 47 percent overall, the Bucks were still able to corral ten offensive rebounds, giving them two more field goal attempts on the night even though they committed more turnovers than Toronto. Part of playing defense is getting the rebound after a missed shot, and every offensive rebound the Raptors give up is a possession which the defense failed — no matter how good the coverage was overall. Don’t forget that.
A Sign of the Times
In dozens of games over the past ten years, I can remember a young Raptor squad getting out to an early lead against a league powerhouse like San Antonio, only to see their control, and subsequently the lead, crumble in the fourth quarter. Ladies and gentlemen, the time of flipping a switch has arrived in the Six.
While I won’t fully commit and tell you I enjoy watching games where the Raptors drift for three quarters before tightening things up in the final minutes to take home a win, I will say it’s nice to watch a team that is confident in its ability to execute when the game is on the line.
Maybe it’s a team-wide decision to put themselves in tight places during the regular season so that they are better prepared come playoff-time. Maybe the team is approaching games versus inferior talent as an opportunity to test new things so that they can better execute against good teams. Maybe it’s a combination of both.
Whatever the case may be, it’s been fun watching Toronto look like two different teams in the same game at their own will, and not because the other team decided to start kicking our ass. It’s nice to finally be on the other side of that coin.