The High 5 is where we give instant reaction to the night’s games.
This includes a brief synopsis of the game, a look at the players who made a difference in the outcome, and some additional notes and unique details that caught my attention.
After suffering a humbling loss in San Antonio, Toronto came into the Fiserv Forum looking for retribution against the formidable Milwaukee Bucks. This game featured a contest between two of the NBA’s best teams as well as the first meeting of potential MVP candidates; Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Raptors looked motivated and played with renewed energy and attention to defense throughout the game. They were hungry for a quality win.
The building was electric as both teams started the game trading offensive punches. Giannis was a menace in the paint with momentum swinging dunks and intimidating rim protection. The Raptors responded with improved communication which helped open their transition game. Milwaukee lead by 7 points for most of the first half but Toronto turned up the defensive intensity late in the second quarter to cut the lead to one going into the break.
Toronto continued to play well into the second half with efficient shooting and frantic defensive energy. Their efforts were highlighted by a huge Ibaka block on Giannis leading to a transition 3 from the big man on the other end (note to guards: reward your bigs). The Raptors chased shooters off the three-point line, forced shot clock violations and communicated well on switches.
Toronto finally wrestled control of the game away from the Bucks in the third quarter and carried it throughout the forth. In the final frame, it was the combination of timely team defense and clutch play that earned the Raptors a well-deserved 123-116 win.
The Thumb (Feel of the Game)
This may have been a preview of the Conference finals; it certainly felt like a playoff game. The Bucks looked poised to make a statement against the Raptors and solidify their place among the league’s best. Meanwhile, the Raptors were trying to shake off their middling play from the San Antonio game and reclaim first place in the East. This was another difficult test for Toronto as they continue to manage injuries through a difficult stretch of the season.
All the talk may have been about Kawhi and Giannis but an under appreciated match-up tonight was the one between two of the brightest minds in the NBA and potential coach of the year candidates; Toronto’s Coach Nurse and Milwaukee’s Coach Budenholzer. It was as much of a war in the huddles and locker rooms as it was on the court.
The Index (The Leader)
Kawhi Leonard shot well all night. He used his strength and patience to bully and out wait defenders for easy looks. He played with solid defensive instincts (5 steals), elevated his passing (6 assists) and showed good chemistry with his teammates. Leonard has grown as a leader recently and continues to deliver with clutch play down the stretch of games. He paced the Raptors offensive attack with 30 points (12/15 from the line) and is finally starting to look comfortable in Raptors red.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Giannis has all the tools to be a perennial All Star and MVP. The only thing that’s missing is a consistent jumper (although he hit 3 three-pointers tonight). His lanky frame and otherworldly athleticism makes him a difficult cover for even the most stubborn defenders. The Raptors were always aware of Giannis and would clog the paint anytime he touched the ball. Despite the added attention, Giannis lead his team with and incredible 43 points, 18 rebounds, and 3 assists.
The Ring (The X Factor)
Serge Ibaka has been quiet these last few games but certainly made an impact tonight. He exploded for 25 points (11/17) while adding 9 rebounds and 5 assists. The Raptors guards made a concentrated effort to get Serge easy looks from mid-range, something that has been sorely missed in Lowry’s absence. He was especially effective in the third and forth as he hit big shots to keep Milwaukee at bay. The turning point of the game was when Serge viciously blocked Giannis’ dunk attempt in the third. That play completely changed the momentum of the game.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Knowing his propensity to attack the rim, the Bucks sagged off Pascal Siakam and dared him to shoot from beyond the arc. Pascal answered this challenge by going 3/5 from deep. Spicy P added to his Most Improved Player of the year campaign by earning a new career high (30 points) while adding 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks. Teams have been preparing for Pascal’s drives and he has responded well with secondary moves, accurate long range shooting and clever passing.
Honourable mention needs to be given to Fred VanVleet who had an excellent game finishing with 21 points (6/12, 5/8 from deep), 5 rebounds, 8 assists and 1 block. Fred fits in well with the starters and has helped fill the point guard duties admirably in the absence of Lowry.
Player of the Game
There were excellent performances for both teams. Siakam, VanVleet, Leonard and Ibaka were all deserving and, on any other night, may have earned the player of the game. However, how can I not give it to the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo? I was shocked to see his stats at the end of the game. It is crazy to think that 43 points and 18 rebounds from your best player can’t get you a win but that is a testament to the Raptors defense and clutch play.
- Battle for MVP – Kawhi missed the first meeting due to injury, while Giannis missed the second as a result of a concussion. This is the third of four match-ups in what is turning to be a heated Eastern conference rivalry.
- Defensive Juggernauts – The Raptors line up of Siakam, OG, Leonard, Delon, and Green may be one of the most intimidating defensive groups in the league. This will only be bolstered when Lowry returns. Expect to see this lineup more often as the playoffs near.
- Fun Guy – Whenever the Raptors would turnover the ball, Milwaukee would play Kawhi Leonard’s laugh from the pre-season. Good Stuff.
- A Concentrated Effort – The defensive game plan was simple. Clog the paint and close out on shooters. The Raptors were rotating, scrambling and communicating well all night.
- The Glory of the 3 –The Raptors have struggled with their three-point shot as of late but finished tonight strong going 14/31 (48%) as a team.
The Raptors will not have much time to enjoy this win as they are back at it tomorrow against Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers. The difficult stretch of games for the Raptors continue. Kawhi will play his first double header of the season while Jonas and Kyle inch closer to a return each day.