It certainly wasn’t easy, but the Milwaukee Bucks defeated their new Eastern Conference rival Toronto Raptors in a Saturday night bout, 115-105 on the back of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
This one had all the signs of a blowout early. For a significant portion of the first half, the Bucks held a lead that was around twenty or higher. All of the shots were falling and the defense seemed to have corrected the switching issues they showed in the first few games of the season. After the first quarter, Toronto was shooting just 17%/25% and at half only a little better at 32%/40%.
What looked like a casual weekend night win at Fiserv Forum quickly turned to a tension-filled arena. Like a flip of a switch, the Raptors, led by Kyle Lowry, put on a shooting clinic that Milwaukee could take notes on. From Lowry to Fred Van Vleet, Toronto fought their way back into this one and had the lead down to as little as four in the fourth quarter before the Bucks deployed their most important piece in recent franchise history.
Giannis Antetokounmpo checked back in late in the fourth quarter after watching his team slowly lose the lead. Giannis has already faced his fair share of criticism so far this season as he hasn’t performed up to expectations for a team with championship homes and one superstar player. He turned the page last night and carried the team to victory.
Giannis was the complete player Milwaukee needed. When the Raptors had some momentum going and the Bucks couldn’t make a shot, Giannis stepped into a three late in the shot clock, the first three Milwaukee had seen go through the hoop in some time. Once Giannis had Toronto on their toes, he made his way into the restricted area over and over in a more methodical way than we’ve seen all season. Thus far, Giannis had been very predictable when deciding which moves in his repertoire he used on his drives. Last night, we saw Giannis slow it down, find the open man, or even make a move to the left that completely through off the defense.
Not only did Giannis finish with 36/15/8, but he also had his best defensive game of this season as well. Totaling four blocks and collecting a steal, Giannis impacted the game at a level that only he can. It’s also worth noting that he only had 3 turnovers, a number you can live with if you’re coach Mike Budenholzer. Combine all this with tremendous efficiency by going 14-20 from the field and 7-10 from the line, the game had Giannis all over it.
Aside from Giannis, the starters struggled all night. The starting unit as a whole was a combined 5-19 from deep and Brook Lopez is the only one who made this number somewhat respectable. Luckily, the Bucks’ front office has constructed a deep and talented bench that finished 8-19 from deep, most coming from Sterling Brown, Donte DiVincenzo, and Kyle Korver.
Toronto entered this game 4-1 so this wasn’t any game to take lightly despite the absence of Kawhi Leonard on the Raptors. The Bucks will use this game as momentum as they head into a four-game road stretch.
Milwaukee will play tomorrow, Monday, in Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves without Karl Anthony-Towns. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m.