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Bucks vs. Raptors: Milwaukee Kicks Off 2018 With A Fizzle

The Bucks stumble their way into the new year, and out of a win.

Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The new year is supposed to bring more than just a fresh calendar and three months’ of mistakenly writing the previous year, only to scribble it out when making your corrections to whatever document you accidentally wrote “2017” on. The new year is supposed to bring change, and with their 131-127 overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors, the Milwaukee Bucks will have to chase their resolutions another day.

The contest started off rough for the Bucks, entirely due to the brilliance of DeMar DeRozan, whose 52 points were both a personal best and Raptors franchise record. DDR opened the game on a personal 9-0 run, including a quartet of free throws, a corner three, and a nifty Eurostep before the Bucks had to take an early timeout.

Milwaukee appeared to be entirely disinterested in moving off the ball or creating any sort of offensive activity for the opening segment of the first quarter. Several of their initial attempts were from midrange, and Serge Ibaka took it upon himself to keep Giannis from getting off to a quick start. The Bucks managed to loosen things up a bit in transition, and over the course of the period kept within striking distance. A particular sequence included a corner three from Thon Maker, a sweet drive and dunk from Malcolm Brogdon, and a wing three from Sean Kilpatrick. Giannis Antetokounmpo was held to 7 points in the first half, but did manage to hit a three (which is fun!) and make another buzzer-beating dunk to close the first quarter at 34-30:

The second quarter was sloppy for both teams, as miscues, airballs, and turnovers led to a relatively equal number of easy baskets, and the first half closed with the same four-point Toronto lead as the first period, 60-56. Throughout the contest, but in the third quarter particularly, Milwaukee made a number of plays that kept them hanging around within striking distance, but too many things would go wrong and keep the Bucks from actually threatening the lead.

The fourth quarter began with that same deficit: 88-84, Raptors. In that quarter, though, the Bucks dug as deep as a team can dig, and they simply fought for every point that brought them even with Toronto, all the way to the very last possession. Eric Bledsoe in particular was diving all over the court, maintaining momentum and earning whistles, and actually extended Milwaukee’s lead to 110-106 on a huge pair of free throws.

Serge Ibaka, though, single-handedly turned the momentum around when he turned Giannis back at the rim on the next possession, which led to yet another DeMar DeRozan and-one. With a four point lead getting cut down to just one, the Bucks had no more room for mistakes...which they immediately made when Khris Middleton left Kyle Lowry uncovered for a three pointer, tying the game at 112.

Bledsoe and DeRozan traded some free throws, Malcolm Brogdon bobbled away the final possession, and we were headed to overtime.

In the bonus period, Eric Bledsoe came to play, taking a running start at Serge Ibaka...only to pull up and hit a three pointer to earn the Bucks’ last lead of the game. Bledsoe took another two threes in overtime (making one), but nobody else on Milwaukee could make something happen. The Raptors kept making shots while the Bucks kept coughing up chances to do the same, and eventually Toronto pulled away with the victory.

Three Observations

Giannis barely touched the ball in overtime.

It got noticed.

Eternal friend Frank Madden at least gave us a little bit of ad hoc analysis as to why that might have occurred:

For myself, I’m still trying to figure out why Eric Bledsoe (who played well) took so dang many isolation shots. Coach Kidd hinted that Giannis might have been “physically beat down” by the end of the game in his postgame comments:

Thon Maker may (or may not) be the Bucks’ next superstar.

Perhaps his baptism-by-Westbrook was some sort of wakeup call, because Thon not only brought the #EnergyAndEffort this evening, but seemed relatively focused for large stretches of the game. His 16 points on Monday night tied his season high, set back in November against Phoenix, and those games are the only two times this season where Maker broke double-digit points.

However, Thon is the furthest thing from a finished product. He committed a number of errors that are unacceptable from a professional, and while you certainly can’t blame the loss on an individual’s rough stretch in the first half, but any game that goes to overtime has a razor thin margin for error.

Here’s a perfect microcosm of Thon Maker: after spending much of the first quarter making shots (and getting pushed around), Maker had a nifty pump-fake from behind the arc that earned him three (made) free throws. Neat! In the possessions that followed, though, Maker whiffed on a defensive switch (leaving Serge Ibaka wide open for a jumper), tried (and failed) to draw a charge, leaving him on the ground to watch a nasty Ibaka dunk, and indecisively shuffled himself into a blocking foul on a Delon Wright layup, for an and-one. It feels like “two steps forward, two steps back” with Thon, even in games when he plays well.

The Bucks dared DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to beat them...and they did.

The acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, continued development of Malcolm Brogdon, quiet excellence of Tony Snell, and persistent existence of Matthew Dellavedova should mean that the Bucks are able to contain opposing guards more reliably than they have in the past. This is, after witnessing DeRozan and Lowry combine for 78 points on 42 shots, clearly not yet the case.

There is something to be said for letting stars “get theirs” and forcing the other team’s supporting cast to step up, and it’s not like the Bucks are always going to facilitate record-breaking scoring nights for their opponents. However, DeRozan and Lowry simply got wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and no Buck defenders were going to keep them from doing much about it.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Marques Johnson was joined by Gus Johnson, and I feel like it’s been far too long since Milwaukee viewers were treated to the joy that is “Johnson & Johnson.”
  • It was Greek Heritage Night at the Air Canada Centre, which makes sense given Giannis’ propensity for attracting fans with ties to Greece to games in which he plays. Need proof?
  • The Raptors, who went 27/33 (81.8%) from the free throw line, got themselves into the bonus for the last five minutes of the first quarter. I’m sure this didn’t hurt DeRozan’s efforts last night.
  • Kidd showed an interesting (if only because I don’t know what other word to use) rotation mechanic this evening, playing Giannis for the entirety of the first and third quarters, while pulling Khris Middleton earlier and starting him in the second and fourth quarters. This resulted in too many minutes for both players, of course (42 for Giannis, 43 for Khris), but showed at least some desire to stagger their time on the court.
  • Middleton was animated with the referees tonight, regularly lobbying for the opposite of whatever was called. In the third quarter, Khris was defending Pascal Siakam in transition, and was called for a blocking foul. Siakam, however, had taken three full steps (with the ball and without gathering, mind you) before brushing against Middleton’s shoulder (and taking a fourth step) and hearing a whistle. Middleton argued that traveling should’ve been called before the (light) contact...and on that same possession, Kyle Lowry was called for traveling. I guess the ball really doesn’t lie?
  • The closing lineup in the fourth quarter and overtime featured the mythical Center Giannis lineup (Giannis/Middleton/Brogdon/Delly/Bledsoe), and from what I could tell, barely made a difference against the Raptors’ closing lineup, which featured Serge Ibaka across from Giannis (a matchup that Toronto actively sought out in the first place!)
  • The final moments of the fourth quarter featured some gamesmanship from Dwayne Casey, who called a timeout immediately following Jason Kidd’s timeout:
  • The Bucks’ final possession before overtime was a huge mess: with Giannis and Bledsoe firmly covered, Brogdon received the pass with little space to work with. After bobbling the ball, he wasn’t even able to get a shot off before the buzzer, forcing the additional playing time.