The High 5 is where I give my reaction to the night’s games. This includes a look at the players who made a difference in the outcome, some additional notes and unique details that caught my attention.
The Thumb (Feel of the Game)
The Milwaukee Bucks were in town on Thursday night to battle the Toronto Raptors for the fourth and final time of the regular season. Toronto used the last few days off to heal up, practice and prepare for this game. It was a nationally televised showcase of two of the best teams in the NBA and a battle for Eastern Conference supremacy. The Raptors looked crisp and sharp early but faded dramatically by half. On the other end, Milwaukee was relentless. They put up shots without hesitation, shared the ball unselfishly and brought energy and effort on defense. I was thoroughly impressed by the way Coach Budenholzer had the Raptors scouted. He was able to exploit Toronto into multiple turnovers and poor shot selection. This was a frustrating game for the Raptors as they never seemed to get in a rhythm. Siakam’s inspired play in the 3rd quarter sparked a Toronto run to make it close, but Milwaukee eventually stifled the Raptors comeback to win the game and the season series.
Milwaukee 105 Raptors 92.
The Index (The Leader)
One obvious defensive scheme that the Bucks used against the Raptors tonight was to let Serge Ibaka shoot. The Bucks gave him space and were willing to live with Ibaka’s jumper all night. Serge was not able to capitalize with this extra space, only going 4/15 from the field, but he still found other ways to make an impact for Toronto. Serge led the Raptors in rebounding with 10 to go with 12 points, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks in 39 minutes. Ibaka is Toronto’s most reliable player; he is becoming an automatic double-double.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Once again, Giannis Antetokounmpo lived up to his reputation as a top 5 player in the league. It’s easy to see why he was named as a Captain in this year’s All-Star game. He is versatile and strong with an explosive step off the bounce and he is slowly improving his jump shot; in short, this man is a problem. Giannis was magnetic tonight on offense. He attracted multiple defenders on his drives which opened space for his shooters from beyond the arc. He seemed to be every where on the court at once. Despite foul trouble, Giannis stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Imagine how scary Giannis will be once Coach Bud figures out how to unlock his full potential.
The Ring (The X Factor)
Pascal Siakam had a difficult task tonight. He was asked to try and contain Giannis Antetokounmpo while also contributing on the scoreboard. Like Serge, teams are daring Siakam to shoot and, to his credit, Pascal has been converting on his opportunities. He came alive in the second half and helped spur the Raptors to an improbable comeback with his furious energy. He baited Giannis into his fifth foul early in the fourth which forced the potential MVP to watch as Toronto ate away at Milwaukee’s lead. Pascal scored a game high 28 points on 12/19 shooting from the field to go with 3 rebounds, 3 assist and a steal. Siakam was magnificent but he needed more help tonight.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
I am really enjoying the way Norm Powell has been playing over these last few weeks. I think that his recent injury humbled and matured Norm. He now understands how easily he can be replaced and how difficult it is to keep his spot in the rotation. Powell’s confidence is growing with each game and he is currently enjoying the best stretch of basketball of his career (not counting playoffs). Norm finished the game with 10 points on 4/6 shooting to go with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.
Player of the Game
Khris Middleton has quietly been putting in work for Milwaukee over these last few years and he is finally starting to earn some recognition. Khris has built on his game every season, improved his conditioning and is now knocking down the three with regularity. Middleton plays like he is trying to prove something; probably because he is so often underrated and overlooked. Tonight, Khris earned this honour because of the way he played defense on Kawhi. He did not back down and is credited in keeping Toronto’s MVP candidate to a relatively quiet night. Middleton scored 18 points on an efficient 7/9 shooting. He also added 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. I was most impressed by how smooth and poised he was on offense. He certainly benefits from the attention Giannis gets. This was a great game for the first time All Star.
- KLOE – Congratulations to Kyle Lowry for being selected as a reserve in this year’s All-Star game. This is the 5th consecutive year that Lowry has been named to the team. Quite the accomplishment for one the most underrated guards in the league.
- Up Next – Shout out to OG Anunoby. He has been selected to play for Team World in this years Rising Stars challenge. Nice nod for the second year forward.
- Missing shoe – A hilarious moment happened early in the game when Malcolm Brogdon lost his shoe and had to play a couple of minutes in a sock.
- Facemask – Did I hear Matt Devlin say this was the 9th broken nose for Ersan Illyasova? That seems like a problem.
- Balanced Attack – The Bucks had 7 players score in double figures.
- Nice Suit – Nick Nurse looked fresh in another gorgeous 3-piece suit. This man brings it not only to the court but also to the dressing room.
Toronto welcomes the Los Angeles Clippers to town on Sunday for an early afternoon game. This will be another tough one for the Raptors but also another opportunity to get back on track against a quality opponent.