It was another disappointing loss for the Jrue Holiday-less Milwaukee Bucks, as they fell in Fiserv Forum to the Toronto Raptors 113-124. The Bucks opened the first period falling behind, but catching up behind a show inside-and-out, evening the game at 33 after the initial 12 minutes. The game kept up at that neck-and-neck pace, tied up at 64 by half. Despite a lackluster close to the third quarter, the Bucks trailed by just three entering the fourth. Milwaukee couldn’t find the requisite number of stops down the stretch as the Raptors pulled away late.
What We Learned
An immense amount of defensive communication issues remain up and down the roster. The final few minutes of the third quarter told me everything I needed to know about the growth this Bucks team will require over the final portion of the season. While Toronto was applying intense double teams on Khris Middleton, he delivered only a bucket or two (alogn with a few turnovers) alongside an all-bench lineup. In contrast, Fred VanVleet (also anchoring an all-bench lineup) got to the free throw line, hit a midrange jumper and found a struggling Aron Baynes for a rolling finish. On defense, the Raptors performed some incredibly well-oriented switching with every defender on a string leading to a contested miss. Meanwhile, the Bucks felt a step slow on every switch and even basic ball movement seemed to lead to decent looks.
The bench won’t matter as much in the Playoffs, but clearly the installation of this new scheme is still loading up and down the team. Meanwhile, Middleton continues to struggle as a volume secondary scoring option with Jrue Holiday out. Lots of lumps this game. There’s still time to smooth ‘em out. As Giannis said postgame:
"I kind of feel like everybody (on Twitter and social media) is in panic mode. And that should not be the case." - @Giannis_An34— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 17, 2021
Big and Small. The Bucks found themselves out-quicked by a sleeker Toronto lineup, but Bud didn’t deviate after a rough start by his starters. Eventually, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez were able to wreak some havoc inside (okay, mostly Giannis) and take advantage of the slight Raptors interior players who were no match physically. That was the story of the night as Aron Baynes barely played, while at least two of Brook, Giannis and Bobby Portis routinely shared the floor together. Bud even tripled down on it by going to all three of them on the frontline for a stretch of crunch time...and the Raptors scored six straight. Yikes.
Giannis didn’t mind the size mismatch. Sure, he hit a couple treys, but he was willing his way into the paint no matter how many Raptors defenders may be practicing slapping drills. He parlayed that gravity into some decent kickouts or passes to cutters near the rim tonight too. It was another calm performance from the reigning MVP, with some versatility and patience that we’ve all been hoping to see from him after the bulldozing play of Playoff’s past. Still, it wasn’t enough to push the Bucks over the top, as he finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five steals (!) and two blocks.
Khris MissinginAction...ton. As covered above, Middleton was facing frequent double teams or ball denial in this game, but there were certainly stretches where Bud entrusted him with the shepherding of all-bench lineups twice tonight. Even in recent games where Khris has been found wanting in the scoring department, he’s found ways to supplement that with creativity as a playmaker. He had zero assists in this one. His fewest in a game to this point in the season was three. He took just eight shots for 11 points and had five turnovers. Likely his worst game of the season. Perhaps Bud has to scheme up more looks for him, perhaps he just needs to be more aggressive himself, but something’s gotta change between now and Thursday.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Toronto had OG Anunoby back despite being listed as doubtful for this game, and Nick Nurse went with a small lineup to start with VanVleet-Lowry-Powell-Anunoby-Siakam. They slaughtered Milwaukee early with three transition triples and several steals. Bud stuck with his starters though and they settled down to recoup some points.
- After a lot of switching on the road trip, we got a heavy dose of zone-drop in this game with Brook Lopez inside. Chris Boucher hist 4-7 from deep, Pascal Siakam nailed 2-8.
- Boucher must have slept through the “Giannis spin move” part of last night’s film study...
- Pat Connaughton wasn’t just on a tear from deep, but we got a vintage Connaughton “Celtics 2019 Playoff” version with some timely cutting and flashing to the rim for easy dunks and finishes in the second quarter. He followed it up with two blocks. Nice stuff to see from a bench player who’s looked a bit static at times this season, even if he went cold in the second half.
- “He might’ve strained the whole cow on that one.” Marques Johnson is a national treasure.
- Portis continues to show offensive patience this season. Even if he may pull-up for the occasional midranger with a hand in his face, if he keeps hitting them at this rate, it’s as solid a shot as any. Two solid examples were a pump-take on a closeout where he calmly drained a corner triple. A few possessions later, he got a pass down low and slowly composed himself for a turnaround hook shot with a fairly open look.
- In tonight’s “ooh” Giannis shot, he took Anunoby into the paint and pulled up for a nice turnaround as he spun off his left shoulder to the middle of the painted area. Swish.
- Kyle Lowry left the game early in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
- The precipitous decline of Big Pasta’s three-point percentage continued in this game with a 1-8 game from deep.
- Fiserv Forum welcomed back fans at 10% capacity.
The Bucks going on a losing streak with only a couple hundred fans in the arena is a nice Kohl Era throwback. Feels comforting, in a way.— Dan Shafer (@DanRShafer) February 17, 2021