Monday, March 8, 2021

Defence holds Giannis in check as Raptors solve Bucks again

Defence holds Giannis in check as Raptors solve Bucks again

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If you liked Tuesday’s win over the Bucks by the Raptors, you had to love last night’s victory over the same squad.

From the moment the Raptors won on Tuesday they knew getting both halves of this mini two-game series on Milwaukee’s turf was going to be exponentially harder than the first.

The Bucks are a franchise with eyes on a championship. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP locked up for the foreseeable future and complementary elite scorers in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday who has missed the past five games.

The Raptors just happened to be missing their own starting guard in Kyle Lowry evening things up.

But there was nothing even about the way these two teams played last night.

The Raptors, with DeAndre Bembry making his starting debut in place of Lowry, were at their defensive best this season holding the No. 2 offensive team in the Association to just 41 first-half points on their way to a 110-96 win.


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Yes, there were some scary moments there where the Bucks looked like they might be mounting a comeback getting it down to a 10-point lead thanks in large part to a second wind that propelled Giannis Antetokounmpo to a strong second half.

But when the Bucks got close OG Anunoby, who was the last starter to hit the score sheet, simply muscled his way to the bucket on three consecutive possessions to allow the Raptors to stem the tide.

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“Yeah, they were chipping away at it, which was expected in the second half,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “Thought we had a bunch of chances there to kind of hit some big shots and missed a few but then finally kind of at the end of some of those two or three or four possessions that were empty somebody stepped up and made a made a three or and-1 or tough driving basket or something like that.”

Offensively the Raptors were at their best through the first two and a half quarters led by Norm Powell who led with 29 points on just 12 shots. Pascal Siakam who had his own share of big plays late to keep the Bucks at bay finished with 27.

This one though was mostly about the defence.

Khris Middleton who was blanketed on Tuesday got the same treatment last night and was held to just 11 points while turning the ball over six times.

Raptors’ OG Anunoby goes to the basket during the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. STACY REVERE/GETTY IMAGES

Antetokounmpo who had 34 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on Tuesday was limited to just 23 points with four turnovers of his own as the Raptors dialled up the defence on both of the Bucks big two.

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Nick Nurse admitted before the game that he liked the way his starting unit Tuesday, which was without a traditional centre, performed but he wasn’t ready to commit to staying small to start.


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He said he was still considering two options.

It says here he picked the right one choosing Bembry, and we can’t even be sure what the other option was.

“I did like the small and I did like the off-the-bench big,” Nurse said referring to the small starting lineup and the play of Aron Baynes off the bench after starting most of the year. “And I did like the kind of combination of big late as well.”

The combination of bigs late was having Baynes and Chris Boucher coming off the bench together which enabled Boucher to play power forward and not worry about battling a beast like Lopez to whom he gives up at least 50 pounds.

Bembry is a nice fit with the starting unit because he has exceptional basketball IQ and a defensive willingness that just isn’t as prevalent as you would think in the league.

“I think the biggest concern coming into the game was Kyle,” Nurse said post-game when asked about Bembry. “Kyle had just done a great job on Middleton and he was gone and that’s a big assignment to give a guy that hasn’t started for us all year and guarding an all-star and trying to set the same kind of tone or keep it going from the night before, obviously. He did a good job of working on him.”


Aron Baynes has taken plenty of criticism for his inability to fit into that starting five with the Raptors this year. So, it’s only fair that he get the credit now that he has taken a very professional approach to his new assignment these past two games coming off the bench.


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Baynes might just be one of those guys who is better coming off the bench, the same way Norm Powell is seemingly better starting than subbing in.

Baynes only played 18 minutes Tuesday and had four points and four rebounds but he was a presence setting screens and playing solid team defence particularly in the second half.


The Raptors will need the coach’s help to keep a run of six straight years with at least one All-Star intact. The starters were announced last night and to no one’s surprise that group did not include a Raptor … With Lowry out with a thumb injury, the same thumb that hampered him during the Raptors championship season, the Raptors recalled rookie Malachi Flynn who had been playing with the 905s in the G-League bubble. The team sent a private jet to Orlando to ensure Flynn would not have to fly commercial avoiding any need to quarantine once he arrived in Milwaukee.

Lowry, by the way, will miss at least two games and possibly more with the injury according to Nurse.


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