After Danny Green missed most of the first half in Thursday night’s game against the Bucks because of an apparent stomach virus, it was hard not to relate. Watching Toronto bumble their way through an 105-92 loss to Milwaukee — one in which they shot 7-of-27 from three and 40 percent from the field, one in which they consistently looked desperate on offense and scrambled on defense, one in which, save a concentrated stretch in the second half from Pascal Siakam, everyone looked unprepared despite having had three full days to prepare — made me feel sick to my stomach too.
It was Siakam alone who made the game watchable for Toronto. After a sloppy first quarter in which the Raptors had almost as many turnovers (5) as assists (6), they gave the game away in the second. The Bucks, powered as usual by Giannis Antetokounmpo (on, for him, an off night), Khris Middleton (a newly minted All-Star), and their three-point shooting (14-of-38, 38 percent; D.J. freakin’ Wilson went 3-of-6), just kept piling on until their lead had grown as big as 22 in the third quarter. Then Siakam went to work, pouring in 19 second half points on his way to 28 on the night (on 12-of-19 shooting). He also had three assists, three rebounds, shot 2-of-3 from three, and continued to look unafraid and fired up. Still, he couldn’t do enough to get Toronto over the hump. The gap shrunk to just six points four different times — but it didn’t matter.
The blame can be spread around to most everyone else on the Raptors. Kyle Lowry’s ten points and three assists look pretty wan in the shine from his recent All-Star accreditation. Other than a timely charge against a rampaging Giannis, you’d be hard-pressed to point out anything major he contributed in the game. For what it’s worth, Lowry did finally manage to finally hit a three against Milwaukee through the three games he’s appeared in. Kyle is now 1-for-20 from deep against the Bucks this season. I’m sure it’s fine.
Lowry’s All-Star running mate Kawhi Leonard had what was for him a bad game. Kawhi acknowledged that coming off a road trip and three days rest allows for some level of flatness, but in his dead monotone he acknowledged that this was not the kind of effort the Raptors wanted to put forward on the night. In 35 minutes Kawhi had just 16 points and eight rebounds, while going 7-of-20 from the field and looking extremely mortal at times. It was telling that a mishmash unit of Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka was the group to get the Raptors back in this one. It was equally telling that that group, whether running on fumes, or because they desperately needed some help, saw the game slip away.
To their credit, the Bucks have stuck with their game plan against Toronto. They bottle up Lowry, with help from their phalanx of long and strong guards (Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe, George Hill of the dead), they have two monster wings in Middleton and Giannis who can at least slow Kawhi and Siakam, and they dare Ibaka to do as much as he wants. As with the Raptors’ other losses against the Bucks, Ibaka took them up on their offer and shot 4-of-15 for 12 points (plus 10 rebounds) to go along with three turnovers. Milwaukee will live with that option any day of the week.
The only other positives for the Raps: Powell kept up his Buck Killer play for most of his 23 minutes, going for 10 points, including 2-of-2 from three, while chipping in a pair of assists and four rebounds. His bench backcourt partner Delon Wright (four points, two offensive rebounds) also continued his streak of mean play alive, attempting to at least try to shake himself and the team out of their collective rut. It’s never going to be enough from those two, but it’s something.
And in their defense, coach Nick Nurse has of late given players like Norm and Delon just enough run to get themselves into trouble. He admitted as much after the game, implying that he probably went too long with that bench group powered by Siakam. Earlier on, he trotted Greg Monroe out for a few minutes, an obvious mistake, and gave OG Anunoby probably a couple minutes too many. Beyond that, somehow Green made it back onto the court, despite absolutely zero to show for his 12 minutes — and the admission of stomach virus, let’s not forget. And, while it may still be inconceivable to say this, on a night when the Raptors could not hit any shots, would it have hurt to give the recently rejuvenated C.J. Miles a look? It’s too much to expect any of these players to really turn the tables in Toronto’s favour — not when Kawhi looks asleep and Lowry is a step behind — but one wonders if their could be some other combination to try.
Now is definitely when we should get at least a little concerned about the Raptors. Believe me, I do not want to panic. I want to believe a 37-16 team has at least gained some benefit of the doubt. But I’ll tell you what: when the sudden hope for Toronto comes in the form of a returning Jonas Valanciunas, who would no doubt enliven the bench unit but is no world beater, or in making some sort of post-buyout deal for Wesley Matthews (or, even more pie-in-the-sky, in dreaming about Anthony Davis), it suggests smoke on the horizon.
Does that mean there’s a fire? Well, we’ve been here before as Raptors fans. We remember the 2015 march off a cliff. We watched the team slowly crumble into the 2017 trade deadline before wide-scale changes came. And we know how it feels, year after year, to go into the playoffs being less than confident. For their part, the Raptors know what they have to do — make shots, put forth a consistent effort, stick to the game plan that’s gotten them this far — but what if that’s not able to happen? And what if that’s not enough? I don’t feel so good right now, that’s what.