Halfway through the third quarter I started hearing some laments from Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong that I don’t quite agree with. Matt and Jack were evoking the Raptors Boxing Day game against the Dallas Mavericks, a game in which a sluggish Raptors team hit the court still full of turkey and got sonned by J.J. Barea. They described tonight’s game against the Bucks as a “hangover game” for the Raptors, especially highlighting what they believed to be a lack of effort defensively.
This, in my humble opinion, wasn’t actually a hangover game for the Raptors defense. I know it might have felt like it was, what with the Bucks scoring roughly a billion points through three quarters and all, but it wasn’t. The Bucks aren’t a good shooting team. They’re 26th in the league in three-point percentage. I don’t think the Raptors necessarily gave up too many open shots outside of a brief stretch to close the second quarter.
Fittingly, the two shots that ended up sinking the Raptors tonight were tightly contested: a wild three by Jason Terry, and a closely guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo fadeaway. The Bucks simply couldn’t miss tonight.
On offense though? Yeah, on that end the effects of some of those All-Star break tequilas might have been felt.
Initially, it seemed like the extended break might not have an effect. Serge Ibaka’s play after extended breaks has often been lauded and he did indeed come out hot tonight. Ibaka scored from all levels — he notably banked in a 3 and brought some nice work from the midrange and interior to go along with it. OG Anunoby looked to have a handle on Giannis Antetokounmpo to start, limiting him to just two points in the first quarter. The ball movement was crisp, the Raptors had eight assists and only two turnovers through the opening frame.
Then in the second the aforementioned ludicrous shotmaking from the Bucks began to take effect. I thought the Raptors’ bench played exceptional defense to begin the frame, highlighted by an awesome possession where Pascal Siakam stoned Giannis in the post and forced a shot clock violation. It didn’t really matter. Thon Maker and washed-ass Jason Terry continued their Raptor killing streak. The Bucks perimeter players could, quite literally, not miss. When the starters came back in the lead the Raptors had built in the first had vanished, and without the momentum their effort began to wane. A brief stretch of lazy transition defense paired with the continued ridiculous accuracy from deep for the Bucks would dig the Raptors into a hole. DeMar DeRozan fouled Khris Middleton on a 3-point shot, which Middleton of course banked in for the and-one (plus a technical foul on DeRozan) to conclude the half, leaving the Raps stuck eight.
The third began much the same. Eric Bledsoe found himself open consistently and the Bucks started to attack the rim more aggressively, with Jabari Parker throwing down some assertive dunks. The Raptors found their way to the rim consistently as well, as they finally started getting Jonas Valanciunas more involved. The teams traded blows, but the Bucks lead remained steady entering the fourth.
That was where the split nature of the Raptors’ hangover was most apparent. The Raptors locked in on defense, and Bucks shooters stopped getting open looks. If the Bucks got to the rim they were turned back by the Raptors rim protector — including a startling block by Jakob Poeltl on Giannis. The Bucks were limited to shots in the midrange and most of those shots were heavily contested. The Raptors were sensational defensively down the stretch, allowing the Bucks to score just 14 points in the fourth.
Were it not for their inability to make a jumpshot it wouldn’t have gone to OT. The Raptors only made one field goal from outside the paint in the 4th quarter, a rushed midranger from Pascal Siakam toward the back end of the shot clock. To make up for that they were relentless attacking the rim. Siakam was especially notable in that respect, he was fearless on his drives and relentless in his cuts, scoring 10 points in the 4th. But he also missed his only 3-point shot in the frame, part of a collective 0-for-6 from beyond the arc in the quarter.
Of course, we need to talk about how the 4th ended. After failing to secure a crucial defensive rebound Jonas Valanciunas completely and utterly redeemed himself. The Raptors attempted to run a quick hitting handoff play for C.J. Miles but the Bucks sniffed it out and blew it up. Valanciunas improvised, turned and went right to the rim, throwing down a monstrous dunk over John Henson through heavy contact.
WELCOME TO LITHUANIA!— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 24, 2018
POSTER TO SEND US TO OT! pic.twitter.com/pOvytShaVH
Fired up, the Raps came out strong to start OT, Kyle Lowry nailed a 3, Serge Ibaka hit a turnaround jumper and Jonas gave an encore performance, throwing down on Henson with aplomb once again. Then the offense fizzled. Some late clock 3s were all the Raptors were able to generate. On the other end the Bucks resumed their nonsense shotmaking. Like that, anticlimactically, the game was over. The heroics were ultimately wasted.
This, in my opinion, was not a night that was particularly telling as to the strength of these respective teams. This was a shotmaking night, one team made all their shots, the other missed all of theirs. Sometimes that happens.