That’s a bit more like it. Two weeks to the day removed from getting a bit wrecked during their last trip to America’s Hat, the Bucks fought off a late Raptors charge to exact some revenge while Giannis Antetokounmpo sat by a 128-112 final. Damian Lillard was simply marvelous with a game-high 37, and backcourt mate Malik Beasley finished with 30.
After the opening bucket, Toronto constructed an 8-0 run that prompted an Adrian Griffin timeout. Perhaps, maybe, possibly what he said worked. Immediately, the Bucks scored 17 straight as Dame quickly took over with 14 in the opening stanza. Milwaukee led 36-21 thanks to their best first-quarter scoring effort of the season.
While the Bucks cooled off ever so slightly in the second, the Raptors couldn’t find nylon enough to capitalize as the lead stayed in double-digits. MarJon Beauchamp left with a right ankle sprain midway through the quarter but was feeling well enough to quell concerns while receiving treatment in the bowels of Scotiabank Arena (s/o Charlie Villanueva). Dame re-entered and helped the visitors charge back in with 10 more points and Beasley found out that banks close later in Canada to give his squad a 70-49 edge at intermission:
Beasley's bank beats the buzzer! pic.twitter.com/8Yhh535Nle— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 16, 2023
For most of the third, it appeared the Bucks were cruising toward a blowout. Lillard and Beasley combined for 25 in the quarter (Dame played all twelve minutes) to build a 30+ point lead midway through the period. Milwaukee was ahead 100-79 entering the final frame despite a late 13-2 Raptor run.
The fourth was not pretty for a while, as the home team extended their run to 25-9 and got it as close as 13 while Dame sat. Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez did their best to keep the lead in the mid-teens, but the Bucks responded well, embarking on a 13-7 run out of a timeout with 6:42 remaining. Lillard re-entered and his teammates managed to get it back to 20 with three-and-a-half remaining, so Griffin emptied his bench up 25 to seal the victory.
In-Season Tournament play resumes on Friday as the Bucks head to Charlotte
What Did We Learn?
Just nine games into his Bucks tenure, Lillard is already comfortable leading the offense, and how. It’s clear that he and Giannis are still learning to play together, so with Middleton still on a minute restriction, Dame could operate as a true featured scorer and looked very comfortable with that freedom. It looked like he was helming any Blazers team from the past several seasons.
Much like my colleague Kyle suggested earlier today, he generated early offense two ways: slashing through Toronto’s interior to the rim (finishing 5/8 in the restricted area) and getting to the line often (15/16 on free throws). He took no shots between 4 feet and the arc, beyond which he finished with a more typical 4/10, nailing a 32-footer along the way. His playmaking was on display simultaneously with thirteen dimes, a season-high. I get that he played the entirety of the third, but around 20 real-time minutes passed between his exit and his re-entry with 3:31 left. Had he been inserted a little earlier, this one may have been out of reach sooner.
Malik Beasley could hardly miss en route to his best game as a Buck.
Say what you will about this Bucks backcourt defensively, but they can cook. Beasley finished with a season-high 30 on 8/11 from deep and was perfect inside the arc, with all those shots coming between 13–20 feet. Seven of those triples were assisted by Dame. He finished a team-best +34.
Andre Jackson Jr. got his first career start and fit in solidly.
His zero-point, 0/1, two-rebound, two-assist, two-turnover line looks a bit Snellesque, but much like that erstwhile Buck, he was far from out of place among flashier lineups. Not just for a rookie either. He’s already a great connector and makes excellent reads for someone playing his first significant minutes—the type of guy who would pile up hockey assists. Another plus: only two personals in his seventeen minutes.
Canada’s wildfires wouldn’t have happened with more rain, so the Bucks brought it.
Forgive the basketball allusions to very real climate problems, but Milwaukee broke out in a big way going 20/39 from three-point land last night, good for 51.3%. They had been 31.8% over their last five.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Cleaning the defensive glass and second-chance points remain a major issue, and helped the Raptors claw back into the game. All told Toronto hauled down a whopping 26 offensive rebounds (you read that right) and 24 second-chance points, with eleven of those coming in the fourth.
- Thanasis Antetokounmpo saw some early minutes, entering at the 4:20 mark (how fitting, nicely done Canada) of the first. He had a bucket! But didn’t make much of a defensive impact.
- However, he was the recipient of a very odd flopping call as the first concluded. I support the NBA cracking down on flopping, but this? THIS? If you ask me, it’s a push by Scottie Barnes that could have merited an offensive foul, but a T for flopping it is certainly not (surprisingly, noted Antetokounmpo fan Scott Twardoski was not on the officiating crew):
This was called a flopping technical foul on Thanasis pic.twitter.com/1vblqOPcrX— Nathan Marzion (@nathanmarzion) November 16, 2023
- Middleton played just twenty minutes again. He looked good, but it’s nine games in and he’s yet to eclipse 21 minutes of court time. By his ninth game back last winter (granted, not after an offseason surgery), he was at 25. Seems a little slower.
- For most of the game, the defense looked much better in its various permutations, including when they dialed up the aggression. Rotations were crisper and closeouts were quicker, especially in the first half. The Raptors finished with a 113.3 offensive rating per Cleaning the Glass, which is bang-on league average (for the season, Milwaukee’s defense is rated at 116.7 points per 100 possessions).
- That didn’t extend quite as much on the break, where Toronto added a pretty good 1.3 points per possession in transition. Note to Bucks: maybe stop going whole-hog for turnovers when the opponent is pushing the ball downcourt and your defense is far from set. Just a thought.
- Shout out to Cam Payne (13 points) and Bobby Portis (18) for some key buckets midway through the fourth as Toronto was nipping at Milwaukee’s heels.
- Nova Scotia native Lindell Wigginton made his regular season debut in his homeland in garbage time. Hope some of his family and friends were able to make the trip from the Maritime Provinces even for that 2 minutes of court time.