The Toronto Raptors quite literally cruised into third place in the Eastern Conference with a 116-94 win over the last place Bucks on Monday night at the Air Canada Centre. With a record of 19-17, Toronto is percentage points ahead of the idle Hawks who only play 1 game this week because they are in London England for a game against the Nets on Thursday.
The game started slow as the Raptors played down to the level of the competition early in the first quarter, but when Head Coach Dwane Casey substituted in Patrick Patterson and John Salmons with 4:45 left, Toronto outscored the Bucks 21-11 and finished the quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 38-24 lead.
“(Patterson) is stepping in offensively and giving us that punch off the bench,” Casey said. “Stretching the floor for us, defending multiple positions – 2s, 3s and 4s and possibly could guard some 5s in the league. He has been a great addition for us. His energy coming into the game – he and John Salmons both – has been huge.”
Milwaukee shot themselves in the foot with 9 first quarter turnovers, but they recovered somewhat in the second quarter when the Raptors struggled against their zone defense, however, this game was never in doubt. The Raptors pushed the lead to 15 points in the third quarter and it was over. Toronto’s biggest lead in the fourth quarter was 29 points.
“We got away from what we were doing,” Casey said. “I thought we got away from our defense, attention to detail, away from our pressure and I don’t think we attacked their zone. We got passive instead of penetrating and kicking like we did in the second half.”
The Raptors scored a season high 116 points with 58 points in each half led by 23 points from Kyle Lowry who also had 4 steals and a blocked shot. DeMar DeRozan led his team with 7 assists and also contributed 7 rebounds and 19 points. Center Jonas Valanciunas recorded the double-double with 17 points and 10 boards.
In what has become a theme, the Raptors bench scored 43 points led by Patterson with 18 points and backed up by John Salmons with 10 points and 5 assists. With everyone on the Raptors sharing the ball these days, even the bench had 13 assists in this game.
The Bucks Ersan Ilyasova tried to keep his team in it with 19 first half points and led all scorers with his season high of 29 points. He also led his team with 9 boards. Brandon Knight contributed 16 points.
19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo kept up his impressive play of late with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block.
Antetokounmpo is number 4 on our NBA Rookie Watch List
“We had our moments, but couldn’t sustain it at either end,” said Bucks Head Coach Larry Drew. “They made shots. They played physical which got our guys frustrated. They played a much more physical game than we did.”
The win improved the Raptors home record to 9-8 and gave Toronto their first 5-game home winning-streak in over a year. It’s been almost 4 years since the Raptors have been 2 games above the .500 mark and at 8-2 over their past 10 games; they are tied with Chicago and Indiana as the Eastern Conference’s hottest teams during this period.
It is worth noting that since the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors record of 13-5 is the best in the Eastern Conference over that time. The HEAT is 12-5 and the Pacers are 11-5.
The 7-30 Bucks are 1-9 over their past 10 games and return home on a 6-game losing-streak to face the 17-19 Grizzlies on Wednesday.
The 19-17 Raptors travel to Boston on Wednesday to face the 13-26 Celtics and then play the 18-19 Timberwolves at the Air Canada Centre on Friday and the 14-23 Lakers on Sunday. With a win in Boston, the Raptors can take a half game lead over the Hawks for third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.