Five thoughts on Game 35: Raptors 131, Bucks 127

The Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 131-127 in overtime last night, in what was without a doubt one of the most entertaining games of the season. I think I ended up with more notes on this game—even before the OT—than any other game this year! I’ll try and make sense of them.

The game started and ended with DeMar DeRozan in the spotlight

DeMar DeRozan was on fire this game, right from the start. The first two possessions ended with DeMar on the line (4-4); he followed that up with a three and a drive-and-reverse. 9 points, 9-0 Raptors lead. In the end he scored 52 points—a career-high and a Raptors franchise record for points in a game.

In a giant middle finger to everyone who’s called him inefficient over the years, he went 17-of-29 (58.6%) from the floor, 5-9 (55.6%) from 3-pt range, and 13-13 (100%) from the free throw line. (That’s a ridiculous 74.9 true shooting percentage.) No player in NBA history had ever scored 50+ while shooting 55-55-100.

DeMar also added 8 assists and 5 boards to his stat line. It was also the Raptors 12th straight home victory, which ties the franchise record.

One wonders if DeMar took it personally, the way the Bucks trapped and pressured him last year in the playoffs and made things incredibly difficult for him. I don’t know if that was in his head or not, but it was a great all-around performance from DeMar.

DeMar’s night wasn’t quite perfect though

I wish we didn’t have to talk about the Raptors’ final regulation possession, but when you have a full shot clock, 27 seconds left in a tie game and can’t get a shot off… we need to talk about it.

The 2014-2017 Raptors reappeared on the possession. Every single person in the building knew what was going to happen—just like last year. And the year before that. And the two years before that.

DeMar. In between the circles. Holding. 12 seconds. 10. 8. Then drive right. The Bucks trap. Instead of swinging it immediately, DeMar dribbles into the corner. Gets trapped. Tries to give it up to Lowry, who can’t get a shot off in time. 24-second violation.

This is not how the Raptors are supposed to be playing this year.

DeMar has to move sooner. He has to leave more time for the ball to swing around. The other Raptors need to be in motion. And when the traps come, DeMar has to give it up right away.

We all know old habits die hard, but that possession should be all the evidence the Raptors need that it’s time to kill those habits dead.

(Want an example of the ball movement working? With 4:55 to play in the third, DeMar drove the lane and the defense collapsed. He kicked it out to Kyle, who head-faked and drove. As the defense collapsed again, Kyle kicked it out to CJ. Miles in the corner. The Bucks’ defense was toast and CJ buried it. More please!)

The Raptors defense was a bit concerning…

The Bucks has way too many blow-bys and transition scoring opportunities tonight for my taste. The Raptors shot 49.5% and 42.4% from deep, which are usually good enough to win easily. But the Bucks just kept getting to the hoop. Thon Maker and Giannis Antetokounmpo both had dunks off of made baskets in the final minute of the first quarter when the Raps failed to get back in one glaring example. Overall the Bucks had 16 fast-break points (to the Raptors’ 5).

Thankfully for the Raptors, their rim protection has been solid. Serge Ibaka had four blocks, including a spectacular rejection of an Eric Bledsoe layup, and Delon Wright added two; even DeMar got one. That helps with the blow-bys (and helped ensure the Bucks only ended up +4 in points in the paint), but you can’t rely on it.

…but they bottled up The Greek Freak pretty well!

Giannis Antetokounmpo ended up with 26-9-7 on 50% shooting. That doesn’t sound like the Raptors “contained” him, but if you watched this game, you could see that his impact was minimal.

The assignment to guard The Greek Freak—who’s second in the NBA in scoring this season—fell mostly to the Raptors’ rookie, OG Anunoby. He definitely held his own. Giannis only had 4 points in the first quarter, and 2 in the overtime—the prime minutes where OG guarded him.

Of course, OG had help; Ibaka switched on to him often, and Pascal Siakam took the backup minutes. Even DeMar got in on the action! On the final Bucks possession of the first half, Giannis iso’d on OG, and after a screen, DeMar picked him up on the switch; DeMar played incredible defense to force Giannis into a bad pass and turnover. (DeMar hit a three the other way to ensure the Raps went into the half with the lead.)

(I’ll also take this time to point out DeMar’s impressive D on Malcolm Brogdon on the Bucks’ final possession of regulation, which ended with a Brogdon heave that had no chance. Almost makes up for the Raps’ final possession…)

DeMar took the spotlight, but it was a great night for the Toronto Raptors’ guards

Anunoby, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas only scored 18 points on 7-23 shooting, but the guards picked up the slack. Kyle Lowry dropped in 26 points and 6 assists, plus a game-tying three with 57 seconds to go, to ensure DeMar didn’t get all the attention; it’s great to see his 3-point shot falling like that (he was 5-10 on the night). (Although, I have issue with Kyle attempting draw fouls on three-point shots, like he did on a second-quarter attempt. Just shoot the rock, man.)

But it’s time once again to speak about Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright.

Sure, the bench didn’t have a great night tonight. They gave up leads in the both the second and fourth quarters. But the steady play of VanVleet and Wright makes a huge difference.

VanVleet got the minutes down the stretch and in OT alongside the starters, and I have to admit, I was questioning it; against the long+tall bucks I thought Delon or CJ Miles were the better choices. FVV proved me wrong (as he usually does) with three huge plays in OT.

First, DeMar found FVV on an offensive rebound; VanVleet passed it to Lowry who immediately passed it back to VanVleet as the defense shifted. VanVleet buried the three to give the Raptors their first lead in OT.

Second, DeMar found VanVleet cutting to the hoop with 1:40 left; FVV could have forced a quick layup, but Giannis was lurking, so FVV wisely dribbled around Giannis until he found Lowry cutting in behind Giannis. Lowry got the layup.

On the very next play Fred did it again, this time finding Ibaka for a short hook after dribbling out from under the hoop.

The three was great to see (especially after he passed up a wide open one down the stretch in the fourth). The other two plays were the smart, heads-up plays that earn him those crunch-time minutes.

As for Delon Wright, well, I’ve spoken often here about his long arms and how he gets into passing lanes. Witness exhibit A:

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This was a helluva fun game to watch, and we get to do it again on Friday, in Milwaukee! Before that though, it’s off to Chicago to face the red-hot Bulls on Wednesday.

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