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Three-ball betrays Raps in 124-109 loss to Milwaukee

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The Raptors couldn’t find the range from three, and their bench was swamped in this matchup between two shorthanded Eastern Conference contenders

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucks have been lauded this year for overhauling their shot selection. After spending much of last year launching long-twos, the Bucks modernized their offense, bringing in a stretch big in Brook Lopez and encouraging their other shooters to be more willing to fire away from deep. It figures to be a more extreme version of the offensive overhaul the Raptors underwent last year, when they instituted a “culture change” focused on increasing player movement, ball movement and three-point volume. Both teams were without their central offensive pieces tonight, Giannis Antetokounmpo was out for the Bucks and Kawhi Leonard was resting for the Raptors. Despite this, they held to their respective offensive schemes: The Bucks put up 45 three point shots, but the Raptors matched them, shooting 45 threes of their own.

Ultimately though, as a recently fired coach loved to say, “it’s a make or miss league”. Shot selection is only meaningful if you make your shots, and tonight the Bucks made their shots, finishing 19-of-45 from distance, while the Raptors did not, ending with just 9 three point makes. The result was a 124-109 blowout win for the Bucks.

In particular, Kyle Lowry and the Raptors’ bench failed to find the basket. Lowry was way off from three, finishing 0-for-9 from distance despite getting a large number of open, in-rhythm looks. As he is wont to do, Lowry found other ways to contribute, he racked up assists, finishing with 15 dimes on the night and was still getting into the teeth of defence and finishing at the rim. Still, it’s hard to be a positive factor when your best skill completely abandons you.

While Lowry did some things well despite being inefficient, it’s difficult to say the same for any Raptor who came off the bench. Jonas Valanciunas, who had been ruthlessly efficient to this point in the year, finished 3-of-10, and he was probably the Raptors’ most effective bench player. Delon Wright, possibly still suffering from the effects of his injury, struggled to create in poor spacing. C.J. Miles remains off with his jumpshot. Lorenzo Brown was dared to shoot all night and didn’t respond, finishing 2-of-9 from the field. Prior to garbage time the Raptors’ bench was outscored 28-46 and the Raptors were blown out with them on the floor.

For the Bucks the impact of their new system was clearly felt. In addition to them pouring in three-point jumpers they benefitted enormously from their improved spacing. With Raptors bigs unable to help off of Brook Lopez, who has essentially become a three-point shooting specialist, the Bucks only needed a single defensive breakdown to get all the way to the basket and score. Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon used this to slice to the rim with impunity, as both Bucks guards would finish with 17 points, despite having only 2 made three point shots between them. Lopez had an off-night shooting the ball, but fellow newcomer Ersan Ilyasova was able to capitalize whenever the Raptor bigs sent help on drives. Ilyasova led the Bucks in scoring with 19 points, able to capitalize when Bledsoe and Brogdon penetrated by cutting and hitting spot-up jumpers.

There were some bright spots for the Raptors. Lowry was able to total so many assists in large part due to an extremely productive night from the Raptors’ starting frontcourt of Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. Siakam had a career high 22 points, to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 steals. He attacked Ilyasova relentlessly off the dribble and was productive in transition whether pushing the ball himself or benefiting from Lowry’s outlet passes.

Ibaka led the Raptors in scoring, finishing with 30 points, as he showed exceptional touch from all areas of the floor while working as a roll man. He made his first seven shots from the floor, finished everything at the basket, and was consistently hitting whether he popped to the three-point line or midrange. With Ibaka on the floor the Raptors were actually +7, despite the 15 point margin of defeat, as the Raptors’ starters were able to break even as a five man unit.

With the win the Bucks have become the only undefeated team remaining, moving to 7-0, atop what looks to be a fiercely competitive Eastern Conference, while the Raptors drop to 6-1. The Raptors will need to quickly put this showing behind them, as they return home for a matchup against another Eastern Conference contender tomorrow night, when they face off against the Philadelphia 76ers. The return of Kawhi Leonard to the lineup will surely help, and they’ll hope to see OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet as well, as they clearly missed both off the bench tonight.