Kyle Lowry scored 36 points tonight. He was absolutely on fire, carrying the Raptors on a night where they otherwise struggled, reminding everyone that he’s still the man. Still KLOE.
The Bucks nonetheless beat the Raptors 115-105, behind a huge 36 point, 15 rebound, 8 assist effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo. But, and it’s a big but, The Toronto Raptors are still NBA Champions because it was a regular season game, and regular season games barely matter. The thing about winning a Championship is it brings perspective. Honestly, I can take this loss on the chin, and instead just revel in a vintage KLOE performance.
The game started about as badly as it could have for the Raptors, as they went without a field goal over the initial 5 minutes. Defensively, they did a decent job containing the Bucks in the halfcourt, but, with the Raptors’ offensive struggles, the Bucks were able to run frequently, quickly building a double digit lead. Lowry hit a pair of transition threes midway through the first to get rid of the Raptors’ goose-egg in the field goals column. Matt Thomas, making a thus-far rare appearance, added a three-point make off of movement. Those would be the only field goals the Raptors notched in the first. They would finish the quarter down 36-17, and just 3-of-18 from the floor, with no makes inside the arc.
A significant part of the Raptors’ early struggles centered around the matchup between Pascal Siakam and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Siakam picked up two early fouls guarding Antetokounmpo and had to be pulled midway through the first quarter as a result. On the other end, the Greek Freak locked Siakam down early on, as Siakam started 0-for-5 from the field and wouldn’t score his first point until around the midway mark of the 2nd quarter.
The second quarter started poorly for the Raptors as well. They went with a lineup of mostly bench players, and their top two bench guys, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka, struggled mightily. The duo would ultimately combine to go 0-for-8 from the floor in the frame. The continued offensive struggles allowed the Bucks more opportunities to run, and their shooters got hot from the perimeter as well, aiding their halfcourt offense.
The Raptors started to put things together later in the second though, as they switched the Giannis assignment, having OG Anunoby guard Antetokounmpo in place of Siakam. Anunoby was considerably more successful, able to contain Giannis’ penetration without fouling.
On the other end the offense finally began to pick up. The Raptors relied heavily on Lowry and Fred VanVleet, leaning on the duo to collapse the defense and open up the Raptors’ perimeter shooters in the corners. Lowry was able to punish the Bucks’ defense when they failed to pack the paint as well, getting to the line and finishing at the rim en-route to 17 points at the half on 5-of-10 shooting.
He was the only one able to get anything going on the inside though, as the Raptors ended up being outscored 26 to 4 on points in the paint in the first half. Ultimately the Raptors would win the quarter, but still went to the break down 66 to 50.
Then Lowry, the player keeping the game somewhat close for the Raptors in the first half, came out in the third quarter with the intent to win the game by himself. Lowry bombed deep threes, got to the line, and orchestrated many of the scores that he didn’t get. He had 17 points in the frame, highlighted by a deep transition three to bring the game to within single digits.
He also added 3 assists, including one of his trademark transition connections with Pascal Siakam, floating a lob pass over the outstretched arms of several Bucks. With one second remaining in the quarter Lowry then found the rookie Terence Davis for a buzzer beating floater off an inbounds play, which would bring the score to 95-90. He had nearly single-handedly willed the Raptors back into the game.
Lowry sat to begin the 4th, and his absence was clearly felt, as the Raptors failed to score for the first 3 minutes of the frame. Nick Nurse eventually went to a bigger lineup with Serge Ibaka at power forward, and tasked Ibaka with the challenge of guarding Giannis. Ibaka had a pair of blocks in the quarter (and 4 on the night), and the Raptors interior defense proved instrumental in keeping things close even as their offense stalled.
Lowry didn’t resume his scoring barrage immediately upon checking in, but he did make an impact right away in a very Kyle Lowry way, taking a charge and then getting a block a couple of possessions later to help energize the Raps.
Then, suddenly, narrative from the first half, when the Raptors could score from the perimeter but not the interior, was flipped. With the Bucks paying additional attention to Lowry, the Raptors were able to get points in the paint for their bigs, but their perimeter shooting went ice cold, as they finished just 1-of-8 from deep in the fourth, despite generating mostly adequate looks.
The closest the Raptors would ended up getting is within four, a margin they achieved with 2:24 remaining as OG Anunoby made a spectacular effort play to to rip down an offensive rebound after a Fred VanVleet 3-point miss. Anunoby then immediately kicked it back out to VanVleet for a second chance that he nailed, making the score 107-103. The teams then traded brilliant defensive plays, with Lowry drawing a charge on Antetokounmpo, before Antetokounmpo blocked Marc Gasol’s attempt to bring the score to within two just seconds later.
However, with less than two minutes remaining, Pascal Siakam fouled out, after biting on a George Hill pumpfake. Nick Nurse asked for a Hail Mary coach’s challenge, but it was to no avail (that brings Nurse to 0-for-5 on challenges this year). Siakam was overmatched against Antetokounmpo on both ends all night, he ended with 16 points and 5 rebounds but struggled defensively, and finished just 6-of-19 from the field, for by far his worst game of the year to this point.
After Siakam fouled out the wheels fell off for the Raptors. Hill sunk both free throws, then the Raps turned it over, leading to a Giannis dunk. Norm Powell had a slicing layup blocked, and the Bucks got a dagger offensive rebound on the other end, followed by a layup for Eric Bledsoe to bring the margin to 10 with 41 seconds remaining.
Lowry, visibly frustrated, would notch a layup, bringing his point total to 36. He’d go on to record a deflection with 11 seconds remaining, despite the game being utterly out of reach. Still KLOE, and that means still irritating, feisty and psychotically competitive. That’s my takeaway tonight. A ten point loss in November is something I can deal with knowing, as I do, that Kyle Lowry is a Toronto Raptor.