If they hadn’t learned already, the Toronto Raptors just found out that there are no easy games in the NBA. The Raptors barely escaped Wisconsin with a 102-98 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in a Saturday night thriller. Greivis Vasquez tied his season high with 26 points on 6-8 three point shooting, while DeMar DeRozan added 23 points, five assists and key free throw shooting down the stretch to secure the victory. For the Bucks, the young trio of Khris Middleton, John Henson and Jeff Adrien combined for 62 points in the losing effort. Toronto improves to 45-32 on the season, setting a franchise record for road wins (21) and clinching the first winning road record in the team’s 19 year history. Their opponent falls to a league-worst 14-63 (“Tanks” for the win, Milwaukee) and has dropped five games in a row.
The Raps played an inconsistent first half and trailed 47-56 at halftime, with most of the offensive contribution coming from Vasquez and John Salmons. It’s worth noting that Salmons torched his former team from beyond the arc, shooting 3-4 from three point range before the break. Toronto pulled off its usual second-half burst and outscored Milwaukee 28-20 in the third quarter on 50% shooting from the field. The home team did not give up in the final frame, relying on Henson and Adrien for most of its 22 point effort. Both teams traded the lead a staggering 18 times throughout the contest, but the Raptors pulled away in the final minutes thanks to a clutch And-1 from Jonas Valanciunas and DeRozan’s conversions from the charity stripe. This recent string of games for the Raptors has been nothing but tense. Their last six wins (including tonight) have been decided by single digits. All of those games could have easily been lost with last minute breakdowns and offensive errors, but they haven’t. This team has shown the ability to close out strong and fight to the final buzzer.
The Bucks shot 48.1% from the field, and had five of its eight active players score in double digits. The first half was likely a defensive nightmare for Dwane Casey and company, as their opponent logged a surprising 56 points despite only averaging 95 points per game. Simply put, it was not an ideal game defensively through the first 24 minutes. The team’s respectable defensive grade was earned in the final two quarters. The Bucks were held to just 41.2% shooting in the third frame and 33.3% in the fourth. The Raptors’ perimeter defense was also on point tonight- Milwaukee shot just 11.1% from three point land. Overall, Toronto did a great job getting stops when they needed to and locked down on defense to eliminate its halftime deficit.
The Raptors edged out the Bucks on the boards with a 39-37 rebounding victory. Valanciunas took on most of the burden caused by the absence of Amir Johnson, totaling a team-high 13 rebounds with five coming on the offensive end. Additionally, Patrick Patterson pulled down five boards in 28 minutes of play and Vasquez contributed four of his own. The rebounding story was really about Valanciunas, though. The sophomore has been on a tear lately and is finally showing consistency in his ability to score and rebound at (dare I say) an All-Star level. Expect him to close out the season strong.
Game Ball: Greivis Vasquez
With Kyle Lowry missing yet another game due to injury, Vasquez stepped up and delivered. He produced possibly his best statline as a Raptor thus far, with zero turnovers on 10-15 shooting in 37 minutes. He has emphatically proved his role as both a reliable backup and legitimate starter. With just five games left in the regular season, Vasquez must continue this level of play to build playoff momentum and secure Toronto’s current seeding.
PS: Shoutout to Sportsnet for the clutch blackout and cut in the game’s closing moments *Sarcasm*