With Pascal Siakam back in the lineup after missing two games, it felt possible for the Raptors to put up a good fight against the Milwaukee Bucks. The two teams haven’t quite been direct rivals over the years — setting aside a playoff series or two — but Siakam has a part to play whenever Toronto takes on Giannis Antetokounmpo. That part felt even bigger on Wednesday night owing to the absence of OG Anunoby, the likely primary defender on Milwaukee’s MVP.
Much of last night’s game, however, was not decided by Siakam. Indeed, as the Raptors’ early lead gave way to the inevitable force of Giannis, Khris Middleton, and the rest of the Bucks, it felt like no one man would be able to counter the Bucks’ rolling onslaught. So the Raptors took the avenues available to them: they put up a lot of threes, and ran as much as possible. It was the perfect plan — perhaps the only plan — but it didn’t work. The Bucks gradually constricted the Raptors into 115-108 loss.
That’s not to say Toronto as a team didn’t give it their all. With Anunoby out of the lineup, and both Siakam and Kyle Lowry coming back from injury, the rest of the Raptors did what they could to put up a fight. The first quarter saw the squad put their plan into action on both sides of the ball. As per usual, Toronto’s defense tried to wall-off the paint for Giannis, pushing Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and some of Milwaukee’s shakier supporting players to do more than perhaps was comfortable. Along the way, they got an explosive ten points in that frame from Norman Powell, who was operating with both starting lineup energy and his “playing against the Bucks” boost. Powell would go on to lead the Raptors with 26 points, including a few timely threes.
The second quarter belonged largely to Lowry though, who logged his usual shift with the bench unit, finding himself working with his usuals (Chris Boucher) and some lightly used players (Paul Watson). Lowry knew the score though, and for the first chunk of the second quarter he had the Raptors getting up and down the court to take advantage of any slack in Milwaukee’s defense. The transition game didn’t really work, yet Toronto got threes from around the court — Terence Davis hit two, Boucher, whose shooting percentage has been trending down for the past week, launched in one, and, of course, Norm and Lowry added a pair as well. Lowry would follow Norm with 21 points of his own in the contest.
The Bucks are hard to rattle, however, and they did eventually begin to exert themselves on the proceedings. With the starters coming back into the game for Toronto, for whatever reason the team’s shooting checked out. On the whole, the Raptors shot 26 percent for the second quarter, including 31 percent from deep — which undid most of the good work the bench had somehow managed to string together. A 21-7 run from the Bucks to close out the frame put the Raptors down seven at the half. With Siakam stuck on seven points, and Fred VanVleet going 0-for-6 in the half, it was clear where else Toronto’s production would have to come from if they were to have any chance in this game.
For most of the third quarter, the feeling was the same. Toronto couldn’t find a bucket, even when their defense was clicking, but they kept firing as Milwaukee took its largest lead of the game at 11 points. In this, the Bucks happily stood by as Aron Baynes jacked up a couple more threes on his way to a 1-for-7 night from deep. His point guard partner, VanVleet, started to find the mark however, putting in all ten of his points in the quarter. VanVleet also found Baynes a few times on a pair of sharp pick-and-roll plays that ended with clean dunks for the Aussie big man. If nothing else, it was nice to see that starting to click. It wasn’t enough though, even as an 11-0 run into the fourth quarter set the Raptors up with a chance to win.
That was the tone for the rest of the game. The Raptors’ defense played with enough force to give them a chance, but they couldn’t hit shots when they needed to. Toronto’s sped up offense was eventually just run down by Milwaukee, and the little things they’d been overcoming all game caught up with them. In the fourth, despite retaking the lead, a Donte Vincenzo dunk was followed with a steal by him, a flagrant foul called on Lowry, leading to two more free throws and a three from Bryn Forbes. Just like that, Milwaukee had retaken the lead and pumped it back up to eight points. Even after the Raptors squeezed it back down to four points within the final two minutes — thanks to a late Stanley Johnson corner three — it always felt like they were one big shot away.
Unlike Monday night’s collapse against the Pacers, Toronto’s defense looked strong in this one. They were scrambling effectively, closing out on shooters well, and generating turnovers. Sure, Giannis and Middleton had their games, as did Lopez (of course), but Toronto wasn’t often beat by the other Bucks — least of all Jrue Holiday, who had a quiet seven points. This is a small silver lining, I know, but again, it was encouraging nonetheless.
The truth is, the negatives to consider here are unfortunately vast: Siakam looked to be playing without hope and a mere 11 points, the Raptors couldn’t get to the free throw line at all with just 12 attempts, and their transition game was quiet. And perhaps most damning: they hit 22 three-pointers yet scored only 108 points in a hard-fought albeit losing effort. The math on that is just never going to work towards a win.