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Can the Raptors hold up in the paint against the Bucks? Preview, start time and more

The Toronto Raptors have struggled defending the interior this year, and without a true big man in their rotation, they face their greatest challenge yet in two-time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

When the Milwaukee Bucks started the season off 10-1, I legitimately thought that they would rival the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, and the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors as the only teams to win 70+ games in a season.

I remember audibly expressing my admiration for this team, and saying how I hope that they even break the record. By this point, Khris Middleton hadn’t even played a game, and they even won a couple without their two-time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Since then, the Milwaukee Bucks have been right around a .500 team. They’re 14-12 since their 10-1 start, Middleton has continued to miss time, only playing in seven of their 37 games thus far, and Jrue Holiday has also missed random chunks of games within this mix too.

They’re point differential is only +1.9, which ranks them well below the main five contenders in the East. Sorry Indiana Pacers fans, it’s been a fun season but you’re a level below the rest of the playoff teams.

And Milwaukee’s road record is 8-9. Yes, you read that right! They are below .500 on the road. I say all of this to say, that if the Toronto Raptors are going to catch a really good team sleeping, and pick up a big sneaky win, tonight may be the night.

How to watch:

Sportsnet, 7:30 PM ET

Starting Lineups:

Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes

Milwaukee Bucks — Jrue Holiday, Jevon Carter, Grayson Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez


Toronto Raptors — Otto Porter Jr. (Foot - Out)

Milwaukee Bucks — Khris Middleton (Knee - Out), George Hill (Non-Covid Illness - Out)


I can promise you that this game will come down to one thing: The battle inside the paint. We’re kicking it back old school!

With two teams who sit in the bottom seven of the league in 3-point percentage, and one of the greatest interior dominant guys we have ever seen in Giannis Antetokounmpo, I would expect this game to be a grind, but also fun.

Giannis averages 13.2 of his 21.9 shot attempts per game within five feet of the basket. Which means that he has one goal in mind, and it is to get to the hoop. He doesn’t care who is in his way, he doesn’t care who he has to meet at the rim, he plays with a ferocity of knowing that he can out-muscle anyone either at the net or on his way there.

Statistics would actually show that the Raptors give up the 11th fewest points in the paint, and 5th fewest second chance points on the season. Those are fairly solid numbers, especially for a team without a true center, aside from rookie, Christian Koloko.

However, if you’re like me and are thinking, “I know that I’ve watched the past few games, and it seems like teams have been finishing with ease inside the paint.” Well, the stats would back your claim up that it has been worse than the majority of the season, but still not terrible compared to league standards.

In the last five games, the Raptors have given up 52.8 points in the paint per game, compared to their season average of 48.4, and 13.8 second chance points per game, compared to their season average of 12.7. A slight increase, but nothing drastic.

If you look at rebounds, there is a big difference. The Bucks and their extremely large roster are second in the league in rebounds per game, while the Raptors sit in the bottom 10. However, the difference between the two is only 6.5 rebounds per game.

To me, the main difference is the way that teams drive and kick-out against the Raptors. Even though, yes, their interior numbers haven’t looked fantastic, what will be really important to watch is how many 3-point attempts and makes the Bucks get off drive and kicks.

Toronto’s on-ball defense has not looked good, and against a guy who is better at getting to the rim than almost anyone, it will be interesting to see how Toronto covers him. For the most part, the first line of help is there. However, if you’re constantly having to send a help man at a driver, your defense is playing at a constant disadvantage.

Besides, we all know what Joel Embiid said about the Raptors a few weeks ago:

“But when you play a team like Toronto, they don’t really care. It seems like, most of the time, they don’t care about winning. They just want to shut down the other star players,”

I will admit that Embiid does have this half correct. Nick Nurse and the Raptors have a clear game plan when going up against opposing team’s stars and it is to make them uncomfortable, and get the ball out of their hands. Whether it’s Embiid, Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell, or in tonight’s case, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nurse has a clear mindset of not letting the opposing star be the reason that Toronto comes away with the loss.

However, they’re doing this to win. In order to win, you have to stop the opposing team in order to score more than them. So don’t you think that the best way of stopping the opposing team is by attempting to shut down their best player? I don’t know, Embiid is a fantastic player, and I will forever love what he does for my fantasy team, but he can be quite an annoyance to opposing fanbases.

The Raptors have not fared overly well against the current six playoff teams in the East. They stand 4-9 against those specific opponents, with a 3-0 record against the Cleveland Cavaliers, so 1-8 against the rest.

But, this is the first matchup against the Bucks! A team who Toronto has surprisingly had their number against. Yes, in past years, the Raptors were a better team, but dating back to the 2016-17 season, the Raptors are 8-4 against Milwaukee in the playoffs and 12-8 in the regular season.

Nurse has a game plan that he has used against Giannis and it has worked, time to see if he can execute it without a true big.