After Thursday’s debacle, the Raptors were talking about discipline. They wanted to be tighter in the actions, swifter in their rotations, and quicker in their decision making. They also, of course, wanted to generate, take, and make more shots. And while it could be said that only half the team got the memo, Toronto was able to execute their game plan, fend off the Bucks’ spirited charges, and win on the road by a final score of 123-116.
The first half of the game solidified exactly where the Raptors and Bucks stand relative to each other. Giannis Antetokounmpo can do his thing, but the Raptors — with Pascal Siakam, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, and Kawhi Leonard — are able to disrupt him. Toronto’s starters can put pressure on the sometimes overmatched Milwaukee front line, as when Siakam flies by Brook Lopez or Ibaka pops out for a smooth jumper. But the Bucks can flip it on them by powering past their backcourt, thanks to Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon.
Watching this play out, it was clear the teams were indeed evenly matched — except without Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas it’s not quite a fair fight, which goes some of the way towards explaining why Toronto’s bench unit looked so anemic and downright rattled at times. It’s how the Bucks’ lead in the first half would yo-yo up, before being reeled back in upon the return of the starters. And it’s how the game got tight once again come the fourth.
The Raptors starters did get off to a bit of a slow start in this one, with only Kawhi looking sure of himself in the opening minutes. Fortunately for Toronto, his steadfast presence continued throughout the game. Leonard would pace the team with 30 points on 8-of-16 shooting (including 12-of-15 free throws), plus six rebounds, six assists, and a whopping five steals. His front court partner Pascal Siakam was also cooking, going for yet another career-high of 30 points (on 11-of-14 shooting, plus 3-of-5 from three) as well. Siakam’s game seemed to elevate as the minutes ticked past. He was, again, a huge difference maker by game’s end.
Toronto trailed after one, then muscled their way back into things in the second quarter — only to find themselves down by one at the half. They opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run, and where we’d usually expect to see coach Nick Nurse go to his bench, the starters remained on the floor. For their (extended) efforts, Fred VanVleet had 21 points, eight assists, and five rebounds, while shooting 5-of-8 from behind the arc; Danny Green played god-level defense on the Bucks’ marauding guards and wings while amassing 12 points and nine boards; and good ol’ Ibaka had himself a game, going off for 25 points, nine rebounds, five assists (literally astounding), and one absolutely monstrous block on Giannis at the rim. That Ibaka then galloped down the court to make a play at the other end summed up his night quite nicely — it was a lot.
So yes, despite the Bucks’ hot start, despite the lead they build for most of the first half, and despite even the scare they put together in the fourth, it always felt like the Raptors would have an answer for them. That is to say, it always felt the Raptors starters would have an answer for them. Toronto’s bench, it’s sad to say, was just not up to the task of competing against this Bucks’ squad, or in Milwaukee in general.
To sum up: OG Anunoby had just three points, going 1-of-6 from the field and doing little else of note. Norman Powell tried his damnedest to get things going and did make a couple of nice defensive plays. But he also went 0-of-5 from the field (with four assists, but still). Delon Wright was invisible all night, accumulating just two assists and a rebound, and going 0-for-2. I struggle to recall him on the floor, to be honest. And Greg Monroe, lovable Moose, managed a rebound and a turnover in six minutes and was never heard from again. For the Raptors to get just five points from their once vaunted bench is an extreme bummer. (Though, yes, explainable when you consider Pascal with the starters, JV in civvies, and Jak in Spurs colours.)
Fortunately, the final box score tabulations account for the whole team together. In that, the Raptors shot 51 percent from the field, had 28 assists on 42 made baskets, out-rebounded the Bucks 38 to 34, and had five fewer turnovers. What’s more, while Giannis did explode for 43 points on 16-of-25 shooting (including 3-of-5 from deep), Toronto was able to collectively frustrate him at times. Antetokounmpo couldn’t always just drive into the Raptors’ defense and expect good things to happen. The Raptors proved they can and will make him sweat it.
In the final accounting of the evening, this may have been the most important takeaway. The Raptors, down two key contributors, playing on the road, and getting zero from their bench, were able to beat the Bucks, despite a mega Giannis game. Against a team they seem destined to see once again in the playoffs — likely in a later round — the Raptors have to feel pretty good, all things considered.
And Toronto’s starters in particular? Good, and also tired.