10 things: Raptors scrap and compete, but just can't get over the hump against Bucks

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·7 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 115-108 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

One — Fight: The Raptors gave it their best shot and they were in the game right until the final whistle. Sure, they were chasing most of the way, but that’s normal against a better team. This type of effort would be enough to beat most teams, except the Bucks are at worst the third-best team in the East. The only regret is that the Raptors haven’t summoned this level of intensity on a regular basis, because their record would be a lot better than 7-11, and one understandable loss against the Bucks wouldn’t sting as much. There are plenty of positives to draw from this performance, even if it came in a losing effort.

Two — Scramble: This was the Raptors’ best game of the season in terms of defensive execution. The intensity and ferocity in how the Raptors guarded was impeccable, and they hounded the Bucks for the entire game. Their ball pressure was dogged, as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday were all constantly harassed, and while the Bucks managed 115 points, it was a stiff defensive showing by the Raptors, especially in the half court. What ultimately doomed the Raptors was weak defensive rebounding and sloppy passes leading to transition chances, but that’s also where the Bucks excel, so tip your hat to them.

Three — Settle: The Raptors absolutely looked to attack from the three-point line given that the Bucks’ defensive strategy is to permanently camp their centers in the lane to deter drives, but head coach Nick Nurse lamented his team’s passivity in settling for jumpers. The Raptors attempted 55 threes, and they did make 22 which is fantastic, but some of them were regrettable. Aron Baynes taking seven is way too many, and the offense started to improve when Baynes started trading those threes to screen for the ball instead. That being said, the Raptors just don’t have many credible threats who can beat the Bucks’ interior defenders, so the strategy also made sense. Some of the sets the Raptors ran, such as quick pin downs for their guards with the center screening, were very smart shots given the way the Bucks like to defend and it could be adapted to other opponents who also drop back in the paint.

Four — Spurt: Kyle Lowry took over in the fourth and nearly stole the win, scoring 14 points in the quarter with four triples to close a double-digit deficit. Lowry’s scoring largely came as a result of the Raptors running good offense, with Fred VanVleet finding Lowry open, and two very firm screens to create the space for Lowry to hit two more threes, coupled with a darting layup in which the Bucks failed to help. Lowry’s comfort and execution down the stretch was head and shoulders above all the other players on the floor, and it’s truly impressive that the 34-year-old is still better when it counts than the other five current and former All-Stars who were also on the floor.

Five — Active: Lowry’s hustle was also instrumental throughout the course of the game, with many of his signature moves keeping the game tight. Lowry drew two charges, and he stopped Bobby Portis in the post despite giving up nearly 10 inches in height. The pace that Lowry set to start the game also worked in the Raptors’ advantage, and Lowry could often be seen orchestrating sequences for his teammates as if he were a coach. On one play in the second quarter, the broadcast panned to Lowry tracing a circle as he brought the ball up, and it was direction for Chris Boucher to screen while Terence Davis curled around him. Sure enough, Davis got open because the Bucks dropped back, Lowry delivered the quick pass, and it was three easy points.

Six — Strong: Norman Powell continues to deliver in his starting role, and was the only Raptors player who could drive and finish at the rim against the Bucks’ defense. Powell has a long track record of success against Milwaukee, who ironically traded him and the pick that became OG Anunoby in a lopsided swap for Greivis Vasquez, and Powell has played a major role in bouncing the Bucks out of the playoffs in 2017 and 2019. Powell was sharp from the start, confidently stepping into his threes, bursting through the seams like a running back whenever he saw daylight in the paint, and even mixed in a few tricks to bait defenders into sending him to the free-throw line. Powell has been so strong as a starter that there needs to be serious consideration into making a compromise elsewhere.

Seven — Soft: The Bucks are an awful matchup for Siakam, which was true even in the 2019 Conference Finals. Siakam only really excels in the paint, they are discipline in transition, and Siakam doesn’t have the skillset to execute much of anything against the Bucks. It didn’t help that Siakam was hounded by Antetokounmpo for most of the night, who is bigger and stronger and just able to completely smother any hope of Siakam even getting a shot up that isn’t a contested jumper. Siakam got a midrange look to fall, but mostly threw his body around trying for offensive rebounds against bigger players, and screening for the ball so others could shoot. It’s somewhat alarming that a maximum player get neutralized to this extent, but this was also true before he ever signed the deal. It just is what it is.

Eight — Misfire: This was a tough night for VanVleet because he did everything well besides scoring. VanVleet had seven assists in the first quarter and was masterful in setting up Powell for three and finding Baynes on the cut to the basket. VanVleet was also excellent on defense, repeatedly stripping Antetokounmpo and Middleton while also doing a good job on Holiday, who was 3-of-14. The only thing that didn’t come off for VanVleet was the scoring. It’s always an uphill battle for VanVleet when he tries to score at the rim, and he did get swatted by the Bucks’ excellent interior defenders, but that’s part of the price of creating off the drive and he did create great looks with his passing when he did draw extra bodies. What hurts is that VanVleet had several open looks that would normally fall on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and those shots just weren’t falling for him.

Nine — Impact: Nurse made a strange decision to play Paul Watson over Stanley Johnson in the first half. The thinking seemed to be that Watson is a better shooter and the Raptors were looking to pour it on from deep, but Watson just wasn’t up to speed defensively and he wasn’t involved offensively. Johnson took his rightful place in the second half, and he immediately collected back-to-back stops on Antetokounmpo, forcing him into an awkward turnaround jumper and absorbing the drive to allow VanVleet to come in for the steal. Johnson brought more of the same pressure to Antetokounmpo in the fourth quarter as he disrupted a post entry to force a turnover, and he nailed a corner three that kept the Raptors in the hunt late in the game. Johnson isn’t a threat to score, but he is doing so much more in the other aspects of the game that he should be a rotation mainstay. It was a mistake to only use him in the second half.

Ten — Milestone: Lowry cracked the 10,000-point plateau with the Raptors with a three to start the game, and he joins Chris Bosh and his good friend DeMar DeRozan as the only three players to achieve that feat. Those are the moments that are truly missed because Lowry would have heard a rousing ovation in Scotiabank Arena, except all he got was a graphic on the Jumbotron with a few dozen staff in attendance. Lowry is the greatest player in franchise history, his records will dominate the books for decades to come, because there will never be another player like him and it’s another reminder to cherish every last bit of magic that he delivers.

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