For 45 minutes, the Raptors put on their worst shooting performance of the season.
For the last 3 minutes — of regulation — Toronto staged one of the largest comebacks in NBA history.
Ultimately, the Raptors would fall short and lose to the visiting Bucks, 104-101, in overtime. Milwaukee was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who notched his second triple-double of the season (or first quadruple-double if you want to count his 12 turnovers). The Greek Freak followed up his career-high 55-point performance from the night before with 30 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Antetokounmpo’s final assist was the most important, as he found Grayson Allen open in the corner for the game-winning three with 10.8 seconds remaining.
Toronto was led by Fred VanVleet, who scored 28 points and dished out 12 assists. Scottie Barnes was held scoreless for three and a half quarters, but poured in 15 points over the final six minutes to lead the comeback.
Oh right. Let’s talk about the comeback.
The Raptors were down 90-69 with 3:10 remaining in the fourth. A minute earlier, Scotiabank Arena fans had already started emptying their seats, and Mike Budenholzer followed suit by emptying his bench. But Nick Nurse kept his starters in to try and stage a miraculous comeback.
Consecutive threes by VanVleet brought the margin down to 15 and forced Budenholzer to re-insert his best five. Antetokounmpo free throws with 1:50 remaining kept the lead to a seemingly comfortable 16-point margin. Two missed free throws plus a turnover by Giannis sandwiched between 7 straight points by the Raptors kept the crowd energized.
Following a 5-second violation by rookie MarJon Beauchamp, the Raptors still found themselves down by nine with 36 seconds left.
This is where it changed from “another fake Raptors comeback” to an “OMG we’re witnessing history” comeback. Gary Trent Jr. was fouled by Allen while hitting a three-pointer. The foul was upgraded (downgraded?) to a flagrant one. A possible four-point play turned into six, as GTJ hit the ensuing free throw and Barnes scored on a driving layup.
The Raptors were still down three with 25.7 seconds remaining. Instead of fouling immediately and playing the free throw game, Toronto stayed aggressive in their press but disciplined in not fouling. They were rewarded when Bobby Portis Jr. turned the ball over with 13 seconds remaining.
The comeback was completed as Trent Jr. hit a step-back three — over the Defensive Player of the Year favourite, Brook Lopez — with 1.5 seconds remaining to blow the roof off Scotiabank Arena.
GTJ energy all 2023 lfg !!!! I pic.twitter.com/FUStgIFGs3— Shankar Sivananthan (@shanxonline) January 5, 2023
In overtime, the Raptors had several chances to retake the lead but couldn’t get over the hump. Barnes scored both of Toronto’s field goals in the extra frame, but it was Milwaukee’s third field goal that finally put away the Raptors.
The Bucks arrived in Toronto on the back end of a back-to-back after defeating the Wizards the night before. Milwaukee was without George Hill (non-COVID illness), Jrue Holiday (non-COVID illness), Joe Ingles (left knee injury management), and Khris Middleton (right knee soreness).
To say this game started slowly would greatly undersell the slog that was the first quarter. The teams combined to shoot 7-for-47. Toronto missed their first 15(!) field goal attempts. When all was said and done, the Bucks led 13-12 after 12 excruciatingly hilarious minutes.
Before the game, Nick Nurse spoke about building a wall to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Unfortunately, the wall they built covered the offensive rim. At one point, the Raptors had only made two of their first 30(!!) field goal attempts. The only two field goals were made on consecutive possessions following Antetokounmpo’s first trip to the bench.
The trend continued in the second quarter with the Raptors having difficulty scoring, but finding a groove when Giannis sat. Toronto would score on five consecutive possessions after Antetokounmpo was replaced.
Considering all the misses, it was remarkable that the first half ended with only two second-chance points....total (by the Raptors).
In the second half, the Bucks made a more concerted effort to get Giannis involved. He scored the first 8 points for Milwaukee, doubling his output from the first half.
Unlike the first half, where the Raptors attacked the paint after Giannis checked out, Budenholzer ensured Lopez remained on the floor. Unsurprisingly, Toronto had less success scoring as the Bucks entered the fourth with a 63-59 edge.
Similar to their previous game in Indiana, the Raptors got next to nothing from their bench. This time, the reserves were outscored 34-7.
With nobody from the bench stepping up, a fatigued starting five let the lead balloon to double-digits. Pascal Siakam, who entered the game on a franchise-tying 8-game streak of scoring at least 25 points, was contained by Milwaukee’s Twin Towers. He finished the game with 11 points on 4-for-18 shooting.
Antetokounmpo’s all-around performance masks the incredible job O.G. Anunoby did in containing the two-time MVP. Anunoby almost had as many deflections (6) as the entire Bucks team (8). The NBA’s steals leader added four more steals while playing a huge role in Antetokounmpo’s career-high 12 turnovers.
At the end of the day, the Raptors lost a game they probably could have won if the effort shown in the final 3 minutes of regulation was given throughout the game. Toronto had won the last 5 straight against Milwaukee, had an extra day of rest, and caught the Bucks short-handed (while also being as close to full strength as they have all season). A win could have signaled a possible turning point in the season, as the remaining five games on this six-game homestand all figure to be “winnable” games.
Raptors fans left the game early and who could blame them after how this season has transpired so far? Was the final 3 minutes of regulation the spark this team (and fanbase) so desperately needs? Or does the overtime period, with all the failed attempts to take the lead, be another sign of this doomed season?
If the season continues on its current trajectory, the 21-point comeback may end up being the high point. For those of us still in the building, it was an unforgettable 190 seconds in an otherwise forgettable season.