The Milwaukee Bucks blew back-to-back games over the weekend, giving up a 20-point lead to the Hawks on Friday night in a 114-110 loss followed by promptly pulling a Plaxico and giving away a five-point lead in the closing stretch of Saturday’s 110-105 defeat to the Wizards. Meanwhile, up north, the Raptors are rolling after beating the Celtics on Friday 101-94 and winning eight of their last nine.
Where to start! Milwaukee’s weekend of wilting down the stretch seems as apt a starting point as any. Giannis Antetokounmpo redeemed himself for Friday’s foul-addled performance with a strong 28 point, 13 rebound seven assist night against the Wiz, but he also had seven turnovers. The Bucks as a team had 20 on the night, and Giannis’ 16.5 turnover percentage on the season remains the only other thorn in his game so far besides the fouling. Eric and Frank talked about both weekend losses and the Bucks’ late-game struggles in their podcast Sunday night:
Mirza Teletovic emerged from the bench for the first time since the Spurs game and took out any lingering frustration he had on the hoop, torching the nets with a 25-point 8-12 shooting extravaganza. Jabari Parker kept a low profile, getting just eight points on 3-8 shooting. In good news, the Bucks shot really well from three against the Wizards! Their 13-25 mark was buoyed by Mirza’s powerhouse 5-6 effort, but Malcolm Brogdon also went 3-3 on the night, tipping his season average up to 47%.
The lingering takeaway from these games will be Milwaukee’s inability to score down the stretch. Giannis’ foul trouble was an easy scapegoat in Friday’s game, but Saturday’s game saw Tony Snell miss two threes down the stretch that served as death knells for the Bucks chance of winning. Middleton’s absence looms large in these instances, and even if he wasn’t always the most efficient clutch-time scorer, his willingness to take that shot meant something and alleviated pressure from the team’s young stars. Still, seeing shots go away from Giannis and Jabari down the stretch always feels a bit like a wasted opportunity for a season that will be defined exhaustively by their development.
Losing to Washington also further cemented the Bucks road woes, as they went to 3-5 away from the BMO. With their oft-discussed home heavy start finally out of the way, Milwaukee will have to start figuring out how to win more consistently on the road. The trudge forward will be a steady incline of difficulty:
NBA 2016-17: Average Opponent Strength to date, until the All-Star break, and for the rest of the season. pic.twitter.com/zUHoMAH4Gw— Ed Küpfer (@EdKupfer) December 9, 2016
Since Milwaukee played Toronto on November 25th, the Raptors have been devouring their opponents. Winners of eight of their last nine, their only loss during that time came in a close 124-116 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Zoom out even further, and their 16-7 record on the season is even more impressive when recognizing that all of their losses - outside of two peculiar losses to Sacramento - have come against either the Cavaliers, the Clippers or the Warriors.
The fact they’re so close to the mountaintop but can’t capture the summit serves as a perfect microcosm of the public’s opinion about Toronto, a sentiment captured eloquently in Paul Flannery’s Sunday Shootaround this week.
Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry remain the backbone of the team, with Demar’s lava-hot start slipping slightly but still posting 27.8 points per game on a decent 48% effective field goal percentage. Lowry’s shooting has progressed to 45% now after a slow start, and he’s up to 21 ppg after a 34-point outburst against the Celtics.
Toronto’s offense is deadly, and NBA.com currently has them as the most efficient offense in the league at 114.2, narrowly above Golden State’s outrageous 114.1 mark. The Raptors prefer to slow the game down and let their duo go to work in the halfcourt, with only the league’s 23rd fastest pace.
Jonas Valanciunas remains a scoring load down low, with per-36 averages of 16 points and 12 rebounds while Bebe Nogueira has emerged as a competent big off the bench with blocking potential and improved rim protection numbers.
Toronto hit a number of outstandingly tough shots down the stretch last time against Milwaukee to put the game away, with a few DEEP threes from Lowry and some “step off me” pull-ups from Demar. Giannis had an outstanding 29/11/6 line but only posted one steal and no blocks. He lacked those defensive statistics last night too, and Milwaukee will need every bit of their young star to take out Toronto on the road.
The Raptors remain without Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright, and the perpetually years-away prospect Bruno Caboclo is questionable with a sore right knee.