Raps snap back to form in Milwaukee:
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.
ON THE INJURY FRONT
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.