10 things: Raptors deliver statement win by routing Bucks again

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·7 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 110-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

One — Statement: The Raptors beat the Bucks from start to finish for the entire national audience to see. It wasn’t even close after the first quarter. Milwaukee struggled to generate offense and couldn’t even crack 100 points, with Giannis Antetokounmpo fouling out and Khris Middleton held to 13 points with six turnovers. It wasn’t just a repeat of the Raptors’ first win over the Bucks, because it was even more lopsided. The last time the Raptors exposed the Bucks this badly on a TNT broadcast was Games 3 to 6 in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. The only thing missing was Drake giving sideline massages much to the disgust of Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Two — Defense: The Raptors’ best wins always come when they lock in defensively. Outside of a loose third quarter where Antetokounmpo rampaged freely to the basket, the Raptors had the Bucks completely bottled up. They showed extra bodies at Antetokounmpo, swiping his dribble and forcing him to turn his back to the basket, while also applying the same pressure on Middleton. Nobody else on that team is a threat when Jrue Holiday is out, and even if he were, the equation wouldn’t change. It’s not a particularly complex scheme, but after three years of playing the same Bucks team, the Raptors just know how to execute on instinct. Milwaukee shot under 40 percent from the field, which shouldn’t even be mathematically possible with the league’s most dominant paint scorer in Antetokounmpo.

Three — Fearless: Pascal Siakam was nothing short of sensational on both ends. Defensively, Siakam looked entirely comfortable both as a help defender at the rim, or switching onto Antetokounmpo in isolation, and he played the gaps beautifully. Offensively, Siakam picked the Bucks apart in the pick-and-roll. With the Raptors shifting to a smaller starting five, Siakam has to be the screener, which actually makes life easier for him. He found gaps in the defense to score two floating push shots, which sent Brook Lopez to the bench early in the third quarter. In crunch time, Siakam broke the Raptors’ scoring drought with a driving and-one layup, schooled Giannis’s brother with a drop step leading to a blow-by drive, and flipped the pick-and-roll with Fred VanVleet screening to create another open driving lane for Siakam.

Four — Steady: One of the most admirable qualities about VanVleet is that he shows no fear. His motto is “bet on yourself” and that same approach even extends to Antetokounmpo. Just as he did in the last win against the Bucks, VanVleet found himself isolated against Antetokounmpo, and although it was the basketball equivalent of David vs. Goliath, VanVleet showed no hesitation, stringing Antetokounmpo along before hitting him with a lighting quick crossover to open the paint and get to a left-handed layup. He got the better of Antetokounmpo in the paint as well, tying up his drive and using all of his strength to rip the ball away from the two-time MVP. When you’re the leader of the group, which VanVleet is now that Lowry is out, you need to assert dominance and show no fear. Those two plays by VanVleet were the story of the entire game.

Five — Clutch: OG Anunoby couldn’t convert wide-open threes, but he still carried the Raptors to start the fourth quarter. With the Bucks trimming the lead to single digits, and with VanVleet and Siakam getting a breather on the bench, the Raptors needed someone to take charge and Anunoby answered the call. He muscled past Middleton in the paint for a layup, then found Aron Baynes on the cut for two free throws, drove baseline against a kick-out for a graceful reverse layup, then stuffed Middleton into a locker once again for another finish at the basket. Anunoby topped off his sensational fourth quarter push with a no-look bounce pass to a cutting DeAndre’ Bembry for a highlight dunk.

Six — Clinical: Norman Powell specializes in hunting the Bucks, and tonight was no different. Powell hit double-digits in the first quarter, and carried it through the rest of the way. Powell seemed to especially take delight in attacking Middleton, who strangely kept his hands down and repeatedly afforded him space to shoot. Powell is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the small-ball lineup, not just because it allows him to continue starting, but the pace of the game picks up with five wings on the floor which further amplifies Powell’s scoring ability. The challenge for Powell is to extend his production when he is asked to carry transitional lineups without VanVleet and Siakam setting up plays for Powell to finish.

Seven — Appreciated: Bembry is this season’s version of Pat McCaw, another lanky defender with an unselfish approach towards scoring. Bembry was given his first start of the season because Nick Nurse trusted him to cover Middleton, and he rewarded that trust. However, similar to McCaw, there are times where Bembry is unselfish to a fault and turns down open looks, and the Bucks were picking up on it by closing out in control whenever he had the ball swung to him. However, so long as he continues to handle the ball securely, defending at a high level, while also finding a few gaps to attack, there will be no credible complaints about his role.

Eight — Solid: Aron Baynes has been quietly solid as a contributor off the bench. Baynes was a team-high plus-19 in just 15 minutes, and he gave the Raptors a physical presence at the basket while also being steady on the defensive glass, which is exactly why he was signed. It gives the Raptors a very different look as compared to the first unit, where Nurse goes big with Baynes, Siakam, and Chris Boucher in the frontcourt. Baynes can also be a bit more involved offensively with the second unit, and his passing out of the post and his verticality at the basket were the first flashes all season where Baynes resembled Marc Gasol.

Nine — Tricky: Budenholzer is famously resistant to changing his tactics, but a five-game losing streak overrides stubborn principles. The Bucks shifted away from their paint-focused defense towards a switching scheme, and went small without Lopez on the floor. The Raptors torched the Bucks’ coverages to start the game, repeatedly targeting Lopez, and switching did temporarily give the Raptors pause. VanVleet and Siakam settled for long jumpers leading to transition chances for the Bucks, and a comeback did seem momentarily possible. But the Raptors realized that there was no rim protection inside and attacked accordingly, with Anunoby and Siakam both feasting inside. Unlike the Raptors, the Bucks can’t go small because their guards (outside of Holiday) are legitimately tiny and liabilities on defense with no real ability to contain drives. Even Middleton struggles because he’s allergic to physicality on both ends.

Ten — Stagnant: Antetokounmpo has quietly plateaued as a player, and it’s almost alarming to see how unskilled his moves can occasionally look. Outside of rampaging to the basket with his elbows high, there really isn’t much he can do. The Bucks do him no favors by setting him up to play 1-on-5 all the time, but Antetokounmpo also shares the blame. His numbers will always look good because he is a force of nature, but there are glaring holes in his game. He isn’t an efficient shooter in the slightest, his post moves are mostly robotic, and his passing can be inaccurate and routinely forces teammates to catch outside of the shooting pocket, which gives more time for the defense to recover. Antetokounmpo came into the league as a complete wonder, blessed with every physical gift and a work ethic to boot, and it just seems like the coaching around him has failed. He is already a two-time MVP, and yet it’s still disappointing and underwhelming to see his progress as a player.

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