Here are five takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 118-111 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
1. The Raptors were strong through three quarters but folded in the fourth against the league’s best team. Toronto scored 39 points in the third, including 19 from Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, to lead by six but that was quickly erased when Brook Lopez opened the fourth with an 8-0 run capped by a reverse dunk to put the Bucks ahead.
Failing to match Jakob Poeltl with Lopez allowed the 7-foot behemoth to charge free against the Raptors’ skinny 6-foot-9 forwards, which set the way for Lopez to single-handedly outscored Toronto 17-16 in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Raptors failed to get organized on offence when VanVleet went to the bench, and possessions broke down into Pascal Siakam backing down a physical defender into a very crowded paint, Gary Trent Jr. trying to sneak backdoor with Lopez swatting away his attempts with impunity, and a pair of back-breaking missed jumpers from Will Barton who finished scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting off the bench.
By the time the Raptors regained their footing in the game, the Bucks had already regained the lead, and a few uncharacteristic turnovers from VanVleet and Poeltl ended the comeback. Toronto needed to play a perfect game to beat the Bucks who improve to 51-20 on the season while the Raptors missed their fifth shot at cracking .500.
2. VanVleet and Anunoby produced the best offence for the Raptors, while Siakam was a distant third. VanVleet continues to be in a great rhythm both on and off the ball, creating easy offence in pick-and-roll with Poeltl, while regaining some of his penchant for making tough shots of nothing when the play breaks down. VanVleet nailed a pull-up three over Jrue Holiday in the fourth, and made a one-legged fading rainbow jumper off the glass over Giannis Antetokounmpo as the shot clock was expiring in the third.
VanVleet went cold in the fourth with two turnovers and 1-for-7 shooting, but much of that comes down to the offence breaking down as a whole in the fourth. For Anunoby, he was the go-to option along with the second unit in the second quarter, and he nailed a midrange jumper, a pull-up three, and bullied Khris Middleton under the rim for a layup.
Otherwise, Anunoby continues to be a very efficient option on catch-and-shoot and transition opportunities with the starters. Siakam had his way with Middleton, but mostly played within the flow of the offence and took open jumpers which didn’t drop. He was frazzled at times to start the fourth as the Bucks ramped up their physicality against him, but Siakam eventually figured it out and dished out four assists including three to Poeltl and one to Anunoby when the double teams came his way.
3. As usual, Nick Nurse had a creative defensive gameplan for Antetokounmpo. The Raptors were diligent in getting back and building their high walls against the two-time MVP, and assigned their strongest forwards in Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa to absorb the initial charge.
Once Antetokounmpo was cut off and turned his back, double teams came flying at him to disrupt the pass out, which worked well in their last meeting when he recorded 12 turnovers. This time, Antetokounmpo was much quicker to give up the ball and more accurate with his passes. Nurse also lined the Raptors up in zone when the second unit came in against Antetokounmpo, which worked well in the first half before the Bucks found seams in the third quarter.
Antetokounmpo was still able to break free at times, and each time he was able to get to the rim for dunks and layups for a perfect 9-for-9 from the field, but ultimately the Raptors did limit the greater danger of Antetokounmpo’s scoring. Rather, it was Lopez breaking free that carried the offence for the Bucks, as even Holiday was kept quiet for the most part.
4. Poeltl continues to be reliable but looked a bit lost at times in this game. Poeltl was more involved on offence than he was on defence, as he was often able to find gaps in the paint to catch it with some room against Lopez who always backs off in the paint, but Poeltl missed on a few of the floater looks that he would typically make, while being unable to always find space to shoot around Lopez at the hoop.
Defensively, the Raptors mostly focused on using guards and wings on the double teams on Antetokounmpo, while Poeltl’s role was to rotate over at the rim, but the Bucks mostly attacked from three so Poeltl’s effectiveness wasn’t felt since he wasn’t stationed where the shots were coming from. It didn’t help that Lopez is a unique matchup where he mostly spaces out well beyond the three-point line on offence when Antetokounmpo is on the floor, while flipping to something completely different when he sits.
That’s where Poeltl would have had a bigger impact, but Nurse had him on the bench for the beginning of the fourth which was regrettable. Milwaukee is a very particular matchup, so it’s not surprising that Poeltl would look a tad out of place in his first meeting against them with the Raptors.
5. Scottie Barnes left the game at halftime due to a wrist injury and did not return. X-rays came back negative on his wrist which was heavily tapped up to begin with, suggesting that the injury was picked up prior to this loss, but there also wasn’t a particularly noticeable play where he hanged it.
Barnes wasn’t heavily involved in the first half, but he provides size, switchability on offence, ball-handling, rebounding, and passing that is always useful regardless of how he’s used. Barnes could have easily taken Barton’s minutes in the fourth, for example.