We were all treated to an outstanding battle between the defending champion Toronto Raptors and the league-best Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, with the latter coming away with a huge 108-97 victory on the road. At the end of the day, this was just one out of the 82 other regular-season games for both teams, but Milwaukee’s 50th win of the season has provided us with a number of key talking points with regards to what this victory means for both teams.
For those who may have somehow forgotten, these two teams battled it out in a hard-fought series for last season’s Eastern Conference championship. The Bucks collapsed in that one, falling to the Raptors 4-2 in the series.
For Milwaukee, this was their first time to return to Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena since memorably going out in Game 6 of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company were definitely out for some revenge, and they made sure that it was going to be a triumphant return for them this time around.
The Bucks also defeated the Raptors when these two squads met in November, so with a 2-0 season series advantage against Toronto, Milwaukee certainly has the upper hand right now in terms of the psychological advantage.
The Raptors are legit
The Bucks may have gotten the W on the evening, but the Raptors proved they’re no pushovers. Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, and Patrick McCaw were all out with respective injuries for a shorthanded Toronto side, but they were still able to mount a serious challenge against a relatively full-strength Bucks squad.
The Raptors did this despite shooting just 35.2 percent from the field to go along with 17 turnovers. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka shot just 4-of-27 overall and 2-of-17 from 3-land combined, so it was an off night for them. Toronto stayed competitive against mighty Milwaukee thanks to its own elite defense (the Bucks shot just 38.1 percent) and 18 total 3-pointers. Pascal Siakam hit five triples himself en route to a team-high 22 points.
The Raptors have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, as they currently sit in the second spot in the East. While they may have lost this battle, staying mostly competitive despite not playing close to their best is a good sign.
The Bucks passing a big test
In the first half of this exciting matchup, the Raptors looked like they were on their way to upsetting the Bucks in this one. The home crowd was — as expected — completely into it, and some doubt was surely creeping into the collective mind of Milwaukee.
It was a totally different story in the second half, though, as the Bucks showcased their fortitude after the break. They outscored Toronto 34-19 in the pivotal third quarter, silencing (somewhat) the home crowd. This was a huge test for Milwaukee, but it was one that they passed with flying colors.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t have his best scoring game (19 points on 5-of-14 shooting), Khris Middleton (22 points), Eric Bledsoe (17 points) and Brook Lopez (15 points) helped pick him up. Marvin Williams also added three triples off the bench. Getting that kind of production from the non-Giannis players is going to be crucial as Milwaukee gets deeper into the playoffs.
Odds are, these Bucks and Raptors will be facing each other in the playoffs one way or another. Tuesday night was an excellent preview of what we can expect once this happens, and while the Bucks are still the kings of the East at this moment, there’s no denying that the Raptors are not going to go down without a fight. Nobody should complain if we get an Eastern Conference Finals rematch down the road.