For several seasons, Milwaukee has fielded a better team than Toronto.
During the championship year, the Bucks won three of four in the regular season and finished atop the East. But they lost four of six when it mattered.
In 2020-21, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a championship. They never met the Raptors in the playoffs because that was the very forgettable Tampa season. Despite all the losses — intentional or not — the Raptors still managed to take two of three from the Bucks.
Last year, the Bucks were defending champs and a serious threat to repeat. However, there was one East team that swept the season series against Milwaukee......who else but Toronto.
Yes, the Bucks won the first meeting between the teams, but how confident do they really feel after blowing a 21-point lead in the final six minutes of regulation? If Milwaukee ends up blowing out Toronto, nobody would bat an eye because that’s just the way the season has gone. But year after year, the Raptors find a way to get under the skin of the Bucks. Will that happen again tonight?
Here are the game details and what to watch for.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One & TNT, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto Raptors – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Rekindling that fourth-quarter magic
There are breakout games that often define a player’s career. But if you really pay attention, there are breakout moments that preclude bigger things on the horizon. Heading into the January 4th meeting between Milwaukee and Toronto, Scottie Barnes was being scrutinized for not living up to the preseason hype that preceded his Rookie of the Year campaign. For three and a half quarters, Barnes wasn’t helping his case as he was held scoreless in a game starving for any offense.
What happened after the 6:59 mark — when Barnes failed twice at the free throw line to score his first points — may very well go down as the turning point in Scottie’s season. Barnes would go on to score 15 points before the end of regulation, almost single-handedly leading Toronto’s incredible comeback.
Since then, Barnes has looked even better than in his rookie season. He’s scored at least 20 points in four of the six games, looking more assertive when handling the ball, and playing like the more polished version of himself that everyone presumed we’d see this season.
‘Waukee O, ‘Waukee O, wherefore art thou ‘Waukee O
Mike Budenholzer was hired by the Bucks shortly after a disappointing first-round exit in 2018. His first four seasons have been nothing short of a rousing success. The Bucks have ended the regular season with the best overall record on two occasions, had two trips to the Finals, and captured one championship. Along the way, they’ve had a top-7 offense in each of those four seasons.....until this year, where they rank 24th.
Where has the Milwaukee offense gone?
The Bucks are bottom-10 in points per possession, effective field goal percentage, and turnover percentage — after being top-10 in those categories in each of the previous four seasons. Part of the root cause is injuries. Jrue Holiday (11 games), Pat Connaughton (16 games), Joe Ingles (31 games), and Khris Middleton (36 games and counting) have all missed significant time this season.
Give credit to Budenholzer for rolling with the punches. With all those shooters riding the pine, he’s leaned into his team’s length. They’re crashing the offensive glass (29% offensive rebounding percentage) at their highest rate since Antetokounmpo’s rookie season. Similar to the Raptors’ approach, with more shots being missed, the extra possessions have propped up an otherwise inefficient halfcourt offense.
Road Sweet Road
After last night’s thrilling victory in New York, the Raptors improved their road record to 6-13. Ouch.
A visit to Milwaukee may be the antidote. The Raptors have won their last five visits to Fiserv Forum (actually four since one of those was in the Bubble). Toronto plays so well in Wisconsin that I didn’t even have to look up the name of the arena!
In each of those victories, the Raptors came to town with a worse record than the Bucks. During the 2020-21 season, Toronto pulled off the doubleheader sweep in Milwaukee. Last season, the Raptors won both games in a 10-day span, forcing the Bucks to two of their worst shooting performances of the season.