Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
After a three-day layoff for the Toronto Raptors, being back home in Toronto following a rough three-game road trip was much needed. As Toronto welcomed the Milwaukee Bucks to town Thursday night, it was the final showdown of the season between these two Eastern Conference powerhouses with Milwaukee leading the season series 2-1. From the season series possibly being tied, to bragging rights as to who can come out on top of the East, and finally to the coaching position up for grabs at the 2019 NBA All-Star game in Charlotte., was all up for grabs.
After having three days off, you would think there would be a little pop in the Raptors’ step. But instead, it was the total opposite. Despite everything on the line, this game was also being televised nationally in North America. So, Toronto was in the spotlight for this game that had so much meaning. Both teams had nearly an all healthy lineup going into the contest with Jonas Valanciunas being the only one sidelined as he nears a return with the team shortly after participating in full practices. But that’s not the point. The point is that both teams are a lot healthier than they were in any of the other three meetings they had prior to last night. All that had to be done going into the game was dig in, stay focused, and grind out the win.
But it was far from that.
It was a sloppy start to the game for Toronto with four early turnovers in the first five minutes leading to eight Milwaukee points. But a quick timeout by Head Coach Nick Nurse saw that change. Serge Ibaka has had monstrous games against the Bucks this season; averaging 27.5 points in the three meetings. He came out putting up ten points in the first 12 minutes of play to give Toronto a slim three-point lead. But that didn’t last long. The Raptors’ sluggish play returned and the Bucks were making a statement, starting the second quarter on a 19-6 run. Toronto’s three-point shooting woes continued yet again, starting the quarter 1-of-9 from beyond the arc, and it got worse. The Raptors lost the second quarter by 11, 33-22 and shot an abysmal 2-of-17 from three while Milwaukee shot 9-of-17.
Coming out of the half, it was all Milwaukee as they extending their lead by as much as 22 points halfway through the 3rd quarter. Some boos were heard raining down as this is the first look of a defeated Raptors team that didn’t come to play in such a highly anticipated match-up that had so much on the line. But shockingly, the Raptors made a push. With Bucks’ All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo in foul trouble, Spicy P took over. Toronto ended the third quarter on a 22-9 run to trail the Bucks by 11 heading into the final quarter.
So, you’re telling me there’s a chance?
Siakam continued his dominance in the 4th, getting Toronto closer and closer to that Bucks’ lead, trimming down the 22-point margin to just six. But the Bucks didn’t flinch. They stayed composed as a unit in what was a tough road game. Although Antetokounmpo was in foul trouble late in the game, he is the Greek Freak, and Milwaukee put the nail in the coffin and shut down Toronto’s late hopes of a comeback. The Raptors couldn’t find a way out of the big hole they dug themselves into. Although Siakam put up a career-high 28 points in 37 minutes of work, that is about the only positive from last night as there is a bunch more negatives.
The Raptors shot a combined 37-of-93 as a unit last night, as only two Raptors shot above 45%: Pascal Siakam (63%) and Norman Powell (ten points 66%). All-Star reserve, Kyle Lowry, had just ten points on 4-of-11 shooting and has shot 1-of-20 from three in 3 games against the Bucks this season. Kawhi Leonard also had a rough outing, only putting up 16 points in 7-of-20 shooting. Leonard’s 16 points saw his streak of scoring 20+ points in 22 consecutive games snapped; one game off of tying Vince Carter for a franchise 23rd straight game of scoring 20 plus points.
With this loss, Toronto drops the season series to Milwaukee 3-1, which would result in Milwaukee taking the tiebreaker if both teams had identical records after 82 games. This loss also means Bucks’ Head Coach, Mike Budenholzer, will coach Team Giannis at this year’s All-Star game.
With 29 games remaining in the season, the Raptors currently sit second in the Eastern Conference with a 37-16 record; the same exact record the Raptors had last season with DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey. Remember them? There is no doubt this isn’t the newly cultured Raptors we watch night in and night out, but something is still missing. Maybe it is time to just go all-in? With huge names around the NBA getting tossed around in and out of places trying to make super teams, why doesn’t Toronto join that exact same company? With the trade deadline looming on February 7th, you can’t help but think if Raptors’ front office Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster could have yet another blockbuster deal up their sleeves.
We’re going to just have to wait and see to find out.
Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)