The Raptors have been arguably the East's hottest team over the past month, and a matchup with the league's worst team offered another opportunity to show why.
Kyle Lowry scored an absurdly efficient 23 points (6/8 fg, 4/5 threes, 7/7 ft) to go with 5 assists, 4 steals and no turnovers while DeMar DeRozan kept the Bucks on skates much of the night with 19 points (8/16 fg), 7 rebounds, 7 assists, leading the Raptors to a comprehensive 116-94 win over the lowly Bucks in Toronto. Jonas Valanciunas bossed the Bucks down low with 17 points and 10 boards while Patrick Patterson added 18 on 11 shots off the bench, as Toronto shot 51% from the field and 52% from deep (12/23) en route to their eighth win in ten games.
Despite that, Milwaukee's ball movement kept the Bucks within striking range for about 30 minutes of basketball, largely thanks to a terrific 29-point, 9-rebound effort from Ersan Ilyasova (11/16 fg, 3/3 threes, 4/4 ft). Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson provided some further silver linings: Giannis had an active night with 11 points (5/10 fg, 1/4 ft), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steal, 1 block and 4 turnovers, while Henson scored 8 points along with 5 rebounds and 4 blocks in his first game action in three weeks. Brandon Knight added 16 on 11 shots to go with 4 boards, 4 dimes and 1 turnover, but neither he nor any of the Bucks' other guards could keep up with Lowry.
The early tempo was fairly wide open, but ultimately the Bucks made too many mistakes to keep pace with the red-hot Raptors early, falling behind 38-24 after twelve minutes. Toronto connected on 63% of their shots in the opening stanza and turned seven turnovers in 16 (!) points, keeping the Bucks one pass behind on seemingly all of their rotations. That left the Bucks with little choice but to foul repeatedly, allowing the Raptors a stunning 15 free throws in the opening period. Oh, and they made all of them, too.
Threes from Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson saw Toronto extend its lead to 46-27 in the opening minutes of the second, but complacency began to set in and the Bucks took advantage. Ilyasova found himself open for a pair of threes and Knight splashed another as the Bucks slashed Toronto's lead to a manageable 58-50 at the intermission.
Ilyasova kept up his excellent play in the third, but even a stretch of eight straight points couldn't keep the Bucks close enough to provide any real scares. The Bucks' inability to contain Toronto off the dribble time and again led to a collapsing defense, and the Raptors simply moved the ball until they got their looks. Hell, even John Salmons had 10 points and five assists off the bench for the Raps, whose bench outscored their Milwaukee counterparts 43-30.
- Henson started slowly before making the most of his opportunities in the second half, finishing as we've become accustomed to around the hoop and adding another four blocks to boot. His best sequence came defensively when he combined with Giannis to stuff Valanciunas three times in quick flurry under the basket, making up a bit for an earlier play where he bit on a Valanciunas pump fake and subsequently got dunked on. The downside: he got a technical immediately thereafter for apparently smack-talking the Lithuanian big man a bit excessively.
- This was one of those rough gem nights for Giannis. The downside: a pair of lost balls early and two offensive fouls in the second half made for a turnover-prone night, and five misses (most of them jumpers) plus a poor night from the line made for a not-so-efficient scoring night. But he's beginning to cause teams more and more problems off the dribble and in pick-and-roll, where the Bucks are beginning to give him more and more opportunities.
- Ilyasova is usually a good bellwether for the Bucks' ball movement, so it was fitting that he had arguably his best night of the season in a game where the Bucks moved it pretty well. After missing 20 straight threes, Ilyasova has now connected on 9/14 over his last four games, suggesting his annual new year surge may be on the way.