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Milwaukee Bucks throttle Toronto Raptors despite Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence to stay unbeaten

MILWAUKEE — There was no cork popping in the locker room after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Toronto Raptors on Monday night to become the only undefeated team left in the NBA.

There was no exaggerated cheering or overzealous celebration.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said that being the last unbeaten team remaining doesn’t mean a lot to him, even though his perfect 7-0 record marks the franchise’s first seven-game winning streak since 2002. This low-key mentality is typical of the new-look Bucks, though. Off the court they are quiet, collected and confident, especially in Budenholzer’s offensive system.

Even without All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed Monday’s game after being placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol, Budenholzer’s pace-and-space approach overwhelmed the Raptors, who were without All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard. The Bucks rank among the league leaders in offensive efficiency, and they have scored quality wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Raptors, two of the East’s top teams.

“We knew we were going to be dangerous this year,” Thon Maker said after the 124-109 blowout win over Toronto.

Monday’s victory was, more than anything, a vote of confidence in a potent system based on generating quality looks with unselfish passing. Seven Bucks players finished in double figures, led by Ersan Ilyasova with 19 points, to help Milwaukee match its best start in franchise history (7-0 in 1971).

Budenholzer rejected the idea that the system alone is what is making this team click on all cylinders.

“The players are always the key,” Budenholzer said. “Anybody that thinks something different is crazy.”

The Bucks rank in the top 10 in pace, 3-point percentage and assist rate rate this season, and they are playing with much better rhythm compared to previous years. In Monday’s game, Milwaukee made a franchise-high-tying 19 3-pointers, with eight different players hitting at least one trey. This was the second time in the past three games the Bucks have made 19 3s.

In Budenholzer’s system, even players such as Brook Lopez and Maker, who aren’t thought of as threatening 3-point shooters, have the green light to take deep shots.

“Their game plan was great,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said after the game. “They wanted the bigs to score, not the guards.”

The win was the answer for critics who may have wondered if the shoot-first, ask-questions-later system could work without Antetokounmpo attacking in the paint for Milwaukee. With Antetokounmpo on the sidelines in a salmon suit, Ilyasova recorded his first double-double of the season.

“We have a strong belief in this locker room that we are a great team,” said Lopez, who had nine points. “We are more than a collection of players — more than one player or a few players. We are a team.”

The Bucks’ undefeated record may not be the preferred measuring stick for Budenholzer or his players, but the Fiserv Forum rumbled when the in-game announcer screamed, “There’s only one undefeated team left!”

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