For the second time this season Milwaukee bested the Toronto Raptors, winning 104-99 on Sunday in a battle between Eastern Conference-leading powers at Scotiabank Arena.
Offensive struggles again plagued Kyle Lowry, as he shot 0-for-5 in the loss – the second loss in a row for the Raptors. Serge Ibaka led Toronto scoring with 22 points, while Kawhi Leonard contributed 20 and Fred VanVleet added 19 in a bounce-back effort for the reserve guard.
Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and big man Brook Lopez had 19 each to lead the second-place Bucks, who improved to 17-8.
The Raptors – who still lead the league but fell to 21-7 – lamented missing too many uncontested shots. They made 41.5 per cent from the field Sunday and shot 4.1 per cent from three-point range.
“We’re missing a lot of what I would consider great looks from the perimeter. I think we did a lot of things well enough to win the game, but we just didn’t score the ball well enough,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse. “We’ve got players good enough to make them, and that’s more the question. Can we get a little confidence back, a little pep in our step, so when we vault up to shoot it, we believe it’s going in?”
The Raptors were coming off an overtime loss to the Nets in Brooklyn on Friday night.
It was the second of four meetings between the Bucks and Raptors this season. The teams meet again on Jan. 5 in Milwaukee. The Bucks, coached by Mike Budenholzer, had handed Toronto the lone loss of its 12-1 start this season, on Oct. 29. Both Leonard and Antetokounmpo had missed that game.
The Bucks came to town leading the league in points a game (120 a night) and rebounds (50.5 rebounds. This would be a lower-scoring affair, and the teams had 45 rebounds each, but it didn’t go in Toronto’s favour.
It was Greek Heritage night in Toronto as the Greek Freak visited, and a large number of Greek fans attended, many waving flags.
The Raptors began the game in control, but the Bucks stole the lead during a 10-0 run on the struggling Raps bench in a span that straddled the first and second quarters. The stretch included an incredible leaping play by the uniquely athletic Antetokounmpo, in which he dribbled the ball casually up the floor, went airborne outside the paint, sliced between OG Anunoby and Jonas Valanciunas, and slammed down a stunning dunk.
“You can’t expect different guys to replicate what other guys did. It’s not as easy as just plugging in OG for Pascal or Jonas for Jakob or whoever the case might be. Even CJ for Norm. It’s a different group,” said VanVleet of the bench struggles. “That’s not to say we can’t be as effective but the notion that we have to do exactly what the bench did last year - I mean I think we should probably let that go and focus on what we can do as a bench unit this year. Not only as our five-man unit when we are out there together but how we can complement the other guys late in games as well. We are figuring it out.”
Threes began to fall for VanVleet – a trio of them in the first half – but otherwise woes from deep were continuing for a Toronto team that had shot .282 from three-point range over the previous four games. Ibaka nailed four by the end of the night, and Green three as the Raps finished 15-of-44 from deep.
The Bucks – who lead the NBA in three-pointers made per game (14.3 a night) – were drilling shots from beyond the arc, led by five from the seven-footer Lopez, who seemed to be nailing them with ease.
The two East-leading squads played a tight back-and-forth second half, highlighted by bursts of offence from Ibaka and Siakam for Toronto and Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brogdon for Milwaukee. Lowry – who hit a combined four of the 23 shots he’d taken in the previous three games – simply couldn’t make a shot. He did remain on the floor and kept distributing, tallying a stat line of seven assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.
All five of his shots Sunday – and 25 of his last 28 taken overall – have been from beyond the arc. He and Nurse both said he needs to get back to taking shots inside the key.
“Yeah, I’ve gotta, I was thinking about that tonight, and I just didn’t get an opportunity, or just didn’t do it, rather,” said Lowry. “I’ve gotta be a little bit more inside the paint, inside the arc. I definitely do.”
Milwaukee rallied to an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter – the biggest of the night. Toronto trailed until VanVleet hit his fifth three-pointer of the night with three minutes left in the game to retake the lead. But that lead was fleeting.
Leonard erupted for nine fourth-quarter points, and Toronto still had a chance to tie it with 12 seconds left. But his three-pointer didn’t fall.
The Raptors set off on a four-game west-coast trip with stops in Los Angeles to face the Clippers, Golden State to face the Warriors, Portland to take on the Blazers and Denver to close out the trip against the Nuggets. Toronto’s next home game will be Wednesday, Dec. 19 against Indiana.