Raps snap back to form in Mil­wau­kee:

Sunday Sports - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE GAN­TER mgan­[email protected]­ @Mike_Gan­ter

Nick Nurse MIL­WAU­KEE — talked about flush­ing that game in San An­to­nio and get­ting back to Rap­tors bas­ket­ball.

He got his wish and then some as any re­sem­blance to the Rap­tors that laid down in San An­to­nio was gone by the time they took the floor in Mil­wau­kee.

The Bucks, who did own the best record in the NBA, be­gan the night as one would ex­pect — in an of­fen­sive rhythm that car­ried over from their home win Fri­day over the At­lanta Hawks in which they went over 140 points for the third time this year.

The Rap­tors stayed close and then three con­sec­u­tive de­fen­sive stops late in the first seemed to get the vis­it­ing side on track on their way to a 123116 win over the Bucks tor re­claim the best record in the NBA.

“I just told the team: ‘That’s a good two-game les­son.’ One game, tonight, ex­e­cuted ev­ery­thing in our game plan de­fen­sively and one game we didn’t ex­e­cute any of it,” Nurse said re­fer­ring back to that aw­ful loss in San An­to­nio.

Nurse only needed the first five min­utes of that game tape in San An­to­nio to pick out 10 dif­fer­ent in­stances where the de­fen­sive game plan was ba­si­cally ig­nored. He stressed to his team that ig­nor­ing the game plan like that was tan­ta­mount to sab­o­tag­ing their own ef­forts.

The mes­sage got through as the de­fen­sive ro­ta­tions that were a mere ru­mour in San An­to­nio were on cue all night in Mil­wau­kee.

It was the first win in three tries against a Bucks team that has been steam­rolling the op­po­si­tion these days reg­u­larly.

It was hard to even fathom that the Rap­tors team that showed up in Mil­wau­kee was the same one that were so thor­oughly em­bar­rassed in San An­to­nio. Serge Ibaka,

who has had his best games of the sea­son against Mil­wau­kee, con­tin­ued that trend with a 25-point night that in­cluded nine re­bounds and five as­sists.

More than that, Ibaka was a de­fen­sive high­light film all on his own, help­ing de­fend Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo when he bul­lied his way into the paint and then get­ting back out to the three-point shoot­ers when the Greek Freak kicked it back out.

But the big­gest dif­fer­ence for Ibaka on the night was the way the Rap­tors shared and moved the bas­ket­ball.

The 28 as­sists were the most by the Rap­tors since they had 34 in a Dec. 11 win over the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers.

“We just played bet­ter tonight,” Ibaka said. “We were mov­ing the ball. When you move the ball on of­fence like that it gives you bet­ter en­ergy on of­fence and on the de­fen­sive end. It’s just bet­ter when you share the ball and ev­ery­one touches the ball. That’s what we did tonight. “Kawhi (Leonard)

did a good job mak­ing plays for us

Pas­cal (Si­akam). and then When Kawhi does it, it makes Pas­cal do the next. Then we are all shar­ing the ball.”

Leonard bounced back nicely from the boo-bird game in San An­to­nio to put up 30 points with six as­sists and six boards while Si­akam got back to his break­out sea­son with a 30-point night of his own that in­cluded three huge three­p­oint­ers, all at times when the Rap­tors needed them most.

Leonard par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the de­fen­sive re­sponse his team put up con­sid­er­ing how lack­ing that had been in San An­to­nio.

“If you want to win, you gotta play de­fence,” Leonard said. “If you’re let­ting guys come done and beat you with one move, two moves and you don’t have no help, it’s very hard to win those ball games but they’re go­ing to get open shots. Open shots wins games, not re­ally matchups, it’s al­ways about play­ing de­fense col­lec­tively.”

The 30-point evening for Si­akam marked the sec­ond time in the past three games that he set a ca­reer-high in scor­ing. Fred VanVleet,

who has been hav­ing a tough go of it of late as well, had his best game since that loss in Port­land in mid De­cem­ber.

Kyle Lowry With likely sit­ting out his fi­nal game from this back in­jury with an ex­pected re­turn on Sun­day ver­sus Indy, VanVleet was in con­trol all night, hit­ting five three-point­ers and mov­ing the ball nicely for an eight-as­sist night.

The Rap­tors, like pretty much ev­ery­one this sea­son, had no an­swer for An­te­tok­oun­mpo, who had 43 and 17 re­bounds, but lim­ited ev­ery other mem­ber of the Bucks and that proved to be a win­ning strat­egy.

Mal­colm Brog­don’s 15-points were next best to the Freak’s 43-point night. Brook Lopez,

whose three­p­oint game was a huge dif­fer­ence maker in the Bucks’ win in Toronto the last time these two teams met, was held to just five points in 26 min­utes and make just one three-pointer.


Look for Lowry to make his long-awaited re­turn on Sun­day ver­sus In­di­ana. Lowry had an ex­ten­sive on-court work­out be­fore Thurs­day’s game in San An­to­nio and then an­other one that lasted be­yond an hour prior to the team’s shootaround in Mil­wau­kee on Sat­ur­day morn­ing. An­other in­di­ca­tion he’s likely to come back came with the Raps on Sun­day was his re-ap­pear­ance on the bench for the du­ra­tion of Sat­ur­day’s game. He has been ab­sent for most of the games he has been away from the team but re­turned both Thurs­day and Satu­day night.

Jonas Some good news on Valan­ci­u­nas’ progress as well. While he’s still a ways away it ap­pears it’s now go­ing to be shorter ab­sence than first ex­pected.

“He’s still a ways away but he’s pretty ac­tive,” Nurse said. “We are maybe ahead of sched­ule. They orig­i­nally said 8-12 weeks but he is out of the cast a lit­tle ear­lier than we thought.”


The Rap­tors bench, which as re­cently as a sea­son ago was a strength, has be­come a real weak­ness. Not only are they un­able to main­tain a lead, they rou­tinely al­low op­po­nents to ex­tend leads or sim­ply give away leads the starters have pro­vided. The starters dug them­selves out of a hole in the first quar­ter only to see the bench come on and give it all the way back ... Si­akam may have been strug­gling of late, but if the Rap­tors do meet up with this Bucks team in the play­offs he’s go­ing to be very im­por­tant.


Rap­tors’ Kawhi Leonard (right) drives to the bas­ket against Bucks’ Khris Mid­dle­ton dur­ing the first half last night in Mil­wau­kee.

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