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Raptors’ bench steps up to help down the Bucks 114-106

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Chris Boucher and Matt Thomas took advantage of the additional minutes made available in the Raptors’ comfortable win over the league-leading Bucks

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This game between the Raptors and Bucks didn’t matter at all from a standings perspective, and with both teams resting key players, including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyle Lowry, the game was stripped of most of it’s symbolic meaning as well. Mercifully, the game finished without any injuries to the Raptors (though the Bucks took some lumps), and without much drama at all for that matter. The Raptors notched a 114-106 victory over the Bucks on the backs of the best performance we’ve seen from the Raptors’ bench so far in the bubble, highlighted by the play of Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher.

Maybe this is a little bit of confirmation bias, but it felt like the game began with a sort of loose, easy vibe to it. The Raptors relied on transition and Marc Gasol’s passing to score early on, with mixed results. There were frequent transitions jumpers fired up without hesitation, and Gasol found Terence Davis on a cut for the game’s opening score, one of 8 assists on the game for Big Spain, though he also flung the ball cross-court to absolutely no one a few possessions later. The indifference both teams felt towards the game’s ultimate outcome seemed quite palpable, but the game nonetheless had a pleasant flow to it, with players repeatedly stepping confidently into the first adequate shot made available to them.

That laissez-faire approach proved a clean fit for the Raptors’ bench duo of Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher, who checked in for Gasol and Davis part-way through the first. Boucher quickly flung up a couple catch-and-shoots over adequate contests, but he found his mark both times, much to the delight of Matt Devlin. Meanwhile, Thomas missed his first two threes but he flashed open for a trio of midrange shots and then nailed a pair of difficult threes as the first quarter wound down, giving him 12 points in the frame. On the Bucks’ end of things Kyle Korver proved similarly well suited to the game’s cadence, working his way open and splashing jump shots like a more venerable mirror image to Thomas. All things told the Raptors were the pacesetters after the first, holding a 36-31 lead.

Thomas drilled yet another three to open the 2nd, as the Bucks began to clearly become pre-occupied with denying him open looks, picking up a pair of fouls on a single possession trying to fight through screens while guarding him. In the absence of Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry the second quarter was largely characterized by chaos, early offense and bizarre lead ball-handlers. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson appeared to be the consensus point guard, given the responsibility to take the ball up more often than everyone else, but we also saw many possessions go by without a single pass, as the Raptor who rebounded often simply rushed the ball into the frontcourt and challenged the Bucks’ rim protection.

Fortunately for the Raptors, the Bucks were similarly lackadaisical, as they struggled to get any offense going inside the arc that wasn’t a Khris Middleton mid-range shot. They made enough threes to keep the score respectable, but when they drove to the rim the Raptors were frequently able to force turnovers, or successfully contest and then run the floor while the Bucks crashed the glass. These trends held when the Raptors’ and Bucks’ starters both re-entered. Throughout this stretch Terence Davis stood out, he would ultimately foul out of the game but looked the best he has in the bubble as he scored 10 points on 8 shots. Norman Powell, notorious Bucks-killer that he is, was better: he led the team with 15 points at the half and was the primary benefactor of the cheap and easy baskets the Bucks were consistently conceding. When the halftime buzzer sounded the Raptors led comfortably, as Pascal Siakam (who had a quiet night with 14 points and 7 rebounds) hit his first three of the game with time winding down to bring the score to 67-53.

The second half took the chill vibes of the first and extended them to the broadcast crew, as the ESPN feed captured footage of Kyle Lowry dancing on the sidelines and Marc Jackson recounted a tale of Kyle asking for his number and then ghosting him back in his Memphis days.

On the court Norman Powell picked up where he left off notching the Raptors’ first 6 points of the half. He’d finish with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 27 minutes, and was easily the best player in the Raptors’ depleted starting lineup throughout.

Powell aside, both starting units were offensively inept throughout the third. The Bucks inched closer early on, but Toronto got a lift when Thomas and Boucher checked in once again. Thomas stuck some midrangers and Boucher crashed the glass and altered shots, the result was a 88-75 game entering the final quarter.

Boucher and Thomas remained the story early in the fourth, as Boucher nailed a three and then finished an emphatic and-one dunk in transition. He’d finish with a team-leading 25 points and 11 rebounds, taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by the absence of Serge Ibaka. Thomas, who finished right behind Boucher with 22 points, then nailed a three to bring the Raptors’ lead to 20. That margin wouldn’t hold, but the Bucks push to close the gap happened in what was essentially garbage time, as they slashed into the lead throughout the DJ Wilson vs. Stanley Johnson portion of the game. When the buzzer sounded on the 114-106 Raptors’ win the single-digit difference understated the degree of control the Raptors’ had throughout.

So, what do we take away from this game? Thomas’ performance is the one with perhaps the most long-term implications, as his knock-down shooting could prove situationally useful in the playoffs. We also get some re-assurance on something we mostly already knew: that the Raptors will be tough beat to be even if they hold out some of their key players the rest of the way. They’ll likely test their depth once again when they face-off against a 76ers team jockeying for seeding on Wednesday at 6:30.