The Milwaukee Bucks improved to 2-0 against the Toronto Raptors this season by defeating the reigning champions 108-97 at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night.
This matchup very well could have been a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals, and Drake treated it as such:
The Bucks and Raptors are the league's best and second-best defensive units, respectively, and that was on display early on. It took over two minutes for the game's first points to be scored.
Milwaukee—specifically reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo—took off in the third quarter and outscored Toronto 34-19 in the frame to open up a 13-point lead. The Bucks led by as many as 14, while the Raptors' largest lead of the night was 12 points.
The Bucks held a 101-90 lead with under three minutes left in regulation when Fred VanVleet sunk a three-pointer while getting fouled by Eric Bledsoe. The 26-year-old guard brought the Raptors to within seven by making his ensuing free throw. However, momentum was halted by an Antetokounmpo dagger three on the other end:
Khris Middleton led the way for Milwaukee with 22 points despite starting 0-of-4 from the field. Toronto's Pascal Siakam tied Middleton with a game-high 22 points on 5-of-9 shooting from three.
This marked the Bucks' first trip to Toronto since losing the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals to the Raptors, which included three of their four consecutive losses coming at Scotiabank.
The Bucks were without reserve guard Kyle Korver (back), while the Raptors were down center Marc Gasol (hamstring), forward Norman Powell (hand) and Patrick McCaw (flu).
The two heavyweights played previously on Nov. 2 in Milwaukee, and the Bucks prevailed 115-105.
With this result, 50-8 Milwaukee improved upon its NBA-best record after already becoming the fastest team to clinch a postseason berth in NBA history on Sunday. The Raptors, meanwhile, dropped to 42-16 but remain in second place behind the Bucks.
MIL F Khris Middleton: 22 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists
MIL F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 19 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks
MIL C Brook Lopez: 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 5 blocks
TOR F Pascal Siakam: 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block
TOR G Fred VanVleet: 14 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
TOR F OG Anunoby: 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
Milwaukee Overcomes Raptors' Second-Ranked Defense to Make History
The Bucks' 108 points in Toronto marked the 82nd consecutive game that the team has scored at least 100 points, according to the TNT broadcast, which is the second-longest streak in NBA history. In the process, they became the first team to make it to 50 wins this season.
Milwaukee surmounted the red-hot Raptors without a significant scoring night from Antetokounmpo, too, who appeared frustrated by Toronto's defensive scheme:
Giannis finished with 19 points and 19 rebounds—his 14th straight double-double—but struggled to just 5-of-14 shooting from the field in 38 minutes of action.
The takeaway is that the Bucks still found a way to beat the Raptors by 11 points without a fully effective Antetokounmpo. Not to mention, Milwaukee collectively shot 38.1 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three.
Middleton's ability to bucket 22 points on 50 percent shooting from the field after a slow start speaks to how dynamic the Bucks offense can be beyond the sheer dominance Antetokounmpo more often than not provides. Even with the league's top-scoring offense, though, it's Milwaukee's suffocating defense that sealed the Raptors' fate.
As the postseason draws nearer, the Bucks not only are on pace to have the best regular-season campaign in recent history but also have been bolstering their case as the far-and-away favorite to win their first championship since 1971.
Raptors Still Seeking Consistent Offensive Weapon
Nobody is arguing that the Raptors aren't scary as currently constructed.
They definitely are.
However, this matchup against the league's best team helped to expose what Toronto needs to address in order to have a shot at collecting back-to-back NBA championships now that reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is suiting up for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Raptors need a playmaker who can take games into his own hands down the stretch on a consistent basis.
Now, it's worth noting again that Toronto was facing the second-best defense in the NBA. That led to an especially off shooting night from Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, who combined to go 4-of-27 from the field (2-of-17 from three). It's also significant that Gasol and Powell weren't available.
While Siakam still managed to get near his team-leading average of 23.7 points per game, it was not nearly enough to keep pace with the Bucks.
VanVleet has flashed his clutch gene on more than a few occasions this season, including late in this game, but that likely won't replace the kind of impact Leonard proved to have on games during the postseason.
Before Tuesday night, Toronto had not lost at home since Jan. 12. Afterward—while acknowledging that this loss to a Milwaukee team that has only lost nine times all year does not at all take away from the Raptors winning 17 of their last 19 games—Toronto is 6-8 against the Eastern Conference's top six teams:
The Raptors will face the Bucks two more times this regular season, which will provide a gauge for how they have been able to adjust ahead of the postseason. Milwaukee will come back to Scotiabank Arena on April 1, and the Raptors will pay the Bucks a visit at the Fiserv Forum on April 3.
The Raptors will finish their four-game homestand against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, and the Bucks will host the Oklahoma City Thunder later that night.