Jrue Holiday scores a season-high 37 as Bucks outlast Raptors, 130-122, at Fiserv Forum

The Milwaukee Bucks swept back-to-back games at Fiserv Forum to start the week in beating the Toronto Raptors, 130-122, Tuesday night. Milwaukee improved to 29-16 after wins over Indiana and Toronto. The Raptors dropped to 20-25.

Here are some takeaways from the game:

Jrue Holiday takes over to outlast Fred VanVleet, Raptors

A night after scoring a season-high 35 points against Indiana, Bucks guard Jrue Holiday took his offensive game up a notch against Toronto with 37.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the lineup the last four games, Holiday has averaged 27.3 points and 9.8 assists and, really, appears to be in the midst of his first truly healthy stretch of the season.

Box score: Bucks 130, Raptors 122

"Obviously we're a little bit down, a little bit undermanned and he's just stepped it up in a big way," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Two games in a row just vintage Jrue Holiday. He just seems like he's got a bounce, he's got a pop, and the way he's shooting the ball and the way he gets to the rim and the paint and gives us that presence too. He's just doing everything."

While Holiday acknowledges that without Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton on the court he is more ball dominant, his three-point shooting (25 for 55, 45%) since returning from a spate of illnesses on Jan. 3 shows that while he is dictating pace and trying to get into the teeth of the defense, he has also found a rhythm from deep.

That continued that Tuesday as he hit his first 3 three-pointers and made 4 of 5 in a 24-point first half in which he was also 6 for 7 in the painted area.

And he did this after picking up his first two fouls of the game in the opening 1 minute 46 seconds and then his third and fourth fouls within 25 seconds of each other midway through the third.

From that point on, it seemed like Holiday was invigorated and it didn’t keep him from being aggressive on either end, throwing his body into Toronto defenders to get to his spots in the paint and then causing havoc on defense.

Holiday assisted on two Brook Lopez three-pointers, worked in a layup and then set up a walk-up Grayson Allen three with an acrobatic steal of a Fred VanVleet pass which saw Holiday tip the ball up to himself, leap into air to throw it off a surprised VanVleet and into the arms of Allen.

"I kind of apologized to (VanVleet) 'cause he was just the first person I saw," Holiday said. "I didn't really see where my teammate was so I tried to hit it off him go out of bounds, but it didn't. And honestly I think that Grayson just being Grayson, being aggressive, he can score from anywhere on the court and took an open opportunity and knocked it in. A good defensive possession turned into a really good offensive possession."

It was a 14-6 stretch for the Bucks that saw them break an 82-82 tie and take a 96-88 lead late in the third quarter.

Holiday then outdueled VanVleet down the stretch, which included two key baskets to keep the Raptors just out of arm’s length and a blocked shot of VanVleet with 1:06 to go in the game with the Bucks up 126-119.

"What's amazing about Jrue is he makes the hardest shots, the most highest degree of difficulty shots look so easy and gives you; like you have the feeling when he's taking one of those shots like, oh, it's nothing, that's going to go in, it's the way it's supposed to be," Lopez said. "It's really cool. Again, I'm on the court just watching him, like, all right Jrue, step-back, behind the backboard, count that, go the other way."

VanVleet finished with 39 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and had gotten his team to within a point with less than seven minutes to go in the game.

Bucks guard Jrue Holiday shoots over Raptors forward Scottie Barnes during the second half Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum.
Bucks guard Jrue Holiday shoots over Raptors forward Scottie Barnes during the second half Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum.

Brook Lopez ejected

At the 6:40 mark of the fourth quarter, Lopez was ejected after being assessed two technical fouls for two hostile acts following a basket by Holiday. He got tied up with Gary Trent, and as Trent had his arms locked around Lopez, Lopez took off Trent’s headband. That spilled onto the baseline in front of the Raptors bench, where Lopez then got heated with OG Anunoby.

After the parties were separated, Lopez was sent to the showers after scoring 19 points in 29 minutes. Technical fouls were also assessed to Anunoby and Raptors assistant Jamal Magliore.

Lopez rediscovered three-point touch

The Bucks center went through a nine-game stretch from Dec. 21-Jan. 6 that saw him attempt 3.1 three-pointers per game and make just 32.1% of them. And while he averaged 14.1 points per game in that period, it was a noticeable dip in three-point production from a strong start to the year in which he was averaging 5.4 per game and making 39.5% over his first 29 appearances. But since Jan. 9 in New York, Lopez has not only been putting up more threes again but he’s been on fire, too.

Following a 3-for-5 effort from deep against the Raptors before his ejection, Lopez is 18 for 37, which is a 48.6% clip on 6.2 attempts per game. He’s also averaging 15.7 points per game over his last six games.

"I think it's just finding a good balance between getting to the dunker, getting to the dot, stuff like that to help our team and still finding those spaces to get threes," Lopez said of his recent hot stretch.

Back-to-back first-half defensive struggles

Indiana pushed the pace on Monday to score 76 points behind 25 from guard T.J. McConnell. Toronto followed it up Tuesday with a 74-point effort behind the backcourt of VanVleet (22) and Trent (21). The pair combined to go 6 for 11 from behind the three-point line and 16 for 25 (64%) overall.

"It's a little bit our fault and a little bit their fault," Allen said. "We've had two teams that were really hot shooting the ball. Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent in the first half hit a bunch of threes and a lot of them were step-backs, tough, contested. Some of them we could've done a better job but I think a little bit of the credit has to go to the teams that we played, just being really good offensively and hitting tough shots.

"But in the second half, third and fourth quarter, 23 and 25 (points), we were able to step up and get some stops and that's what allowed us to finish the game like that."

5 numbers

4-1 Bucks' record on the back end of back-to-backs.

6-4 Bucks' record when Antetokounmpo doesn’t play.

18 Home wins for the Bucks, the second-most in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland’s 19.

"Protect home court – I think that's always a big thing in this league," Portis said. "Win as many games as you can at home and then on the road, not saying that you don't want to win as many as you can on the road, but you try and split as many as you can. Protect the home court is a big thing and we did that for the most part this season and gotta continue doing that."

80 Percent three-point shooting for the Bucks in the first quarter, as they went 8 for 10 from beyond the arc in taking a 44-34 lead. Holiday was 3 for 3 and Ingles was 2 for 2. Pat Connaughton, Jordan Nwora and George Hill also hit threes. They finished the night 19 for 39 (48.7%). Grayson Allen was 4 for 5 from deep in tying his season-high with 25 points. Joe Ingles hit a pair of threes off the bench in scoring 15 points and Connaughton knocked down three triples.

2019-20 The last season the Bucks won a season series vs. Toronto. The Bucks won the first game of three games between the teams on Jan. 4 in overtime.

Giannis Antetokounmpo misses fourth straight game with left knee soreness

Late Monday afternoon, Budenholzer said he wasn't sure if Antetokounmpo would miss Tuesday night's game — which would give him nine days off between his last game on Jan. 11 in Atlanta and a potential return on Saturday at Cleveland.

By Tuesday afternoon, Antetokounmpo was indeed ruled out for the Raptors game, the fourth straight he has missed with left knee soreness. It is the longest stretch of games the 28-year-old has missed this season. He missed two straight games and had six days of recovery from Nov. 8-13.

But, he has gone through warmup sessions in Fiserv Forum each of the last two days.

"He's doing a lot of work in the weight room, he's doing some work on the court, he's doing some of his warmups, all those things are part of kind of keeping his knee, keeping everything just where he can play at a high level," Budenholzer said. "I know it's the third or fourth game now and that's not what you want, but in our eyes we're still very encouraged and optimistic he's in a good place. We're just working through another season with him."

Antetokounmpo missed five games from Dec. 15-23, 2021, while in health and safety protocol and six games from April 3-14, 2021 with a left knee sprain.

In an eight-game period from Dec. 19-Jan. 4, Antetokounmpo played 37.6 minutes per game and averaged 39.1 points, 14.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists, a personally historic stretch that saw him score a career-high 55 points on Jan. 3, post back-to-back 40-point and 20-rebound games and record a 30-21-10 triple-double.

But beginning Jan. 6 against Charlotte, his offensive production drastically dipped. He averaged just 17 points on 36% shooting, including two single-digit scoring efforts. He was 3-for-10 in Atlanta on Jan. 11 before being shut down on Jan. 12.

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Play of the game is Jrue Holiday's acrobatic steal

Holiday imposed his will on both ends of the court but of all his impressive individual plays, from the step-back threes to the nifty footwork in the paint, there was none better than an acrobatic steal of a pass by VanVleet. Holiday not only deflected the ball to himself but saved it off VanVleet into the waiting hands of Allen, who promptly went down and drained a three-pointer.

Video of the game is Bobby Portis' poster

Bucks big man Bobby Portis put it down with authority between Raptors defenders Scottie Barnes and Anunoby, which would've been a highlight in and of itself, but it was also just Portis' 13th dunk of the season.

Bucks injury report

  • Antetokounmpo (left knee soreness), out

  • Middleton (right knee soreness), out

Middleton practiced with the Wisconsin Herd on Tuesday afternoon. It is his third practice in the last week.

"It went well," Budenholzer said. "The more five-on-five he gets, the better. Keep pushing that envelope when possible, so, it's not easy to find in a season but good for him to get that."

  • Serge Ibaka (personal), out

Who do the Bucks play next?

The Bucks get a few days off before heading to Cleveland to play the Cavaliers at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. It will be the fourth and final contest between the Central Division rivals, and the Bucks have a chance to win the season series and the tiebreaker with a victory. But, Cleveland won the last game on Dec. 21 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse behind Donovan Mitchell's 36 points.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bucks' Jrue Holiday scores 37 points in win over Raptors