The Toronto Raptors closed out their regular season with a 121-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, wrapping a mediocre season in pretty much the most mediocre way possible.
With nothing left to play for, both teams rested most of their regular starters and gave their benches extended minutes. It was a lackadaisical-but-thankfully-quick affair, with the Raptors getting up 17 in the second quarter and the Bucks not putting up much resistance after that.
The win moves the Raptors to a (you guessed it) perfectly mediocre 41-41 on the season. It’s the ninth season in the past 10 where they’ve finished .500 or better… but it is the worst of those nine.
The Raptors were led by Gary Trent Jr., who got the start, in his third game back from injury. He shook off the rust that was evident in the past two games quickly, and dropped 20 in the first half. He finished with 23. Malachi Flynn, who started with Trent in the backcourt, scored a career-high 20 points, and Precious Achiuwa — another starter — finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Canadian Lindell Wigginton led the Bucks with 17 points off the bench, on an efficient 8 shots. Bobby Portis added 16, and Meyers Leonard had a double-double of 10 points and 12 boards.
Speaking pre-game, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said the challenge in games like this, is that they’re usually fast-paced, with not a lot of defense. It would be be a good challenge, Nurse said, for the team to test their defense against the Bucks in transition, and at the three-point line.
I’d say they passed the test; although the variables (so many bench players on both sides) don’t allow to take too much away from it, the Raptors generally controlled the game, limited fast breaks (10 break points for the Bucks), and while they didn’t exactly limit the threes (Milwaukee shot 12-for-34 from downtown), they at least knocked down 11 of their own.
As for Trent, before the game, Nick Nurse said the focus today — along with giving some new guys, like Ron Harper Jr., Joe Weiskamp, and Dalano Banton a little run — was to help Gary to get his rhythm back. “He’s been out there working real hard the last 10 days,” Nurse said, even though he’s only had two actual games since coming back from hip and elbow injuries. “But there’s nothing like game reps.”
Trent hit his first shot of the game — a three — then hit his second — also a three, this one plus a foul from Beauchamp. He hit another two minutes later! 3-for-3 from three in the first quarter? Yeah, I’d say that work paid off.
COUNT IT pic.twitter.com/zfbKpD6ahr— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 9, 2023
Scottie Barnes and Jakob Poeltl were the only two regular Raptors starters to play. Pre-game, Nurse spoke at length about Barnes’ sophomore season, calling him a “work in progress,” especially as a scorer. “He’s never really been a great scorer,” Nurse said, adding that what he accomplished last year — when he was better than expected as a scorer — left them with big questions about whether or not that was sustainable. “Continuing to progress on that level is the goal,” Nurse said. “It’s new territory for him. His mechanics are coming,” but it takes a lot of mechanical, skill work, and a mindset change.
Nurse added that almost all young players go through more swings and up-and-down moments than veterans — although vets have them too — but Scottie’s handled them well. “But if you’re going to be an All-Star you need to score. He loves to pass, but unless you’re scoring, you’re not going to draw the defense and double-teams that open up the pass,” Nurse said. He added that Barnes’s next evolution as a wing — he doesn’t really know what Barnes’ position is — is operating consistently in the screen and roll, both with and without the ball.
Barnes was quiet early, but did have two smooth midrange Js late in the first, then had a steal and led a fastbreak that got Malachi Flynn a layup a few seconds later. He finished the first quarter with four assists. Barnes only played a couple minutes of the second half, and finished with 8 points and 5 assists.
There definitely wasn’t much D on display early, as the Bucks jumped to a 10-7 lead behind two Bobby Portis threes. Helped by Trent’s four-point play, the Raptors jumped back ahead, 13-12. A Portis airballed three elicited a light chukcle from the sleepy Easter Sunday crowd. They barely even groaned with Goran Dragic entered the game!
The Raptors extend the lead to 21-15 after a Flynn three-pointer, and Flynn scored again a minute later, taking right at Dragic at the rim. Goran got him back with a baseline J the other way. (The crowd had a little more “love” for Goran after that one.)
After a couple Barnes-led fast breaks that led to scores, the Raptors had their largest lead, 10; the finished the frame with a 36-25 lead.
The Raptors went deep into the bench in Q2, with Chris Boucher, Christian Koloko, and Will Barton joined by Ron Harper Jr. and Dalano Banton. Banton got on the board with two nice drives to the rim early in the second, although he turned it over trying to do it a third straight time. Overall you have to give the youngsters credit, the pushed the lead to 13 before Achiuwa and Trent came back in. A Boucher and-1 made it 54-37 with six minutes to go in the half.
Back -to-back threes from Jae Crowder and Jevon Carter soon cut the lead to 11. The crowd seemed to wake up a little at that point, and really began letting Dragic have it; I’m not the boo police but it did seem a little ridiculous that booing Dragic was the only thing the crowd really managed to get up for. (Although they did really appreciate it when Scottie jammed a one-hander on Dragic’s head in the final minute of the half.) In any event, the Raptors led 67-55 at halftime.
Christian Koloko started the second half in place of Jakob Poeltl, who got the rest of the night off. He scored inside early, but then airballed a wide-open three from the top of the arc (it may have grazed the bottom of the rim on its way down). I definitely wanted him to shoot it, but I expected a little more iron than that… it was really just embarrassing for all involved.
Scottie Barnes helped the crowd forget it, though. He threw down a 360 on the break, and then found Achiuwa for another dunk. After a timeout we got another Achiuwa dunk, this one a poster on Meyers Leonard, that pushed Toronto’s lead back to 17, 81-64.
SCOTTIE BARNES. pic.twitter.com/b9Ie2ueqip— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 9, 2023
Not to be outdone, Chris Boucher threw down a monster one-hander on the break that made the lead 19… and then threw down another one-hander off a dish from Koloko (this one also conveniently on Dragic’s head).
BONJOURRR pic.twitter.com/jlofikljek— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 9, 2023
The Raptors finished the third quarter up 95-79. The Bucks got the lead to 12 early in the fourth, but never truly threatened the rest of the way.
The Raptors now have two days off before facing the Chicago Bulls in the play-in tournament right here on Wednesday night. We’ll have an in-depth preview up soon, so stay tuned!