When the offense suddenly fell victim to mistakes and poor shooting, the Milwaukee Bucks defense sealed the deal.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez blocked shots by Kawhi Leonard within seconds of each other, and the possession became emblematic of the Bucks’ 105-92 victory over the Toronto Raptors Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.
The victory improved the Bucks’ NBA-best record to 37-13 and clinched the season series with the Raptors at 3-1. The Raptors fell to 37-16.
The victory also meant that Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer would coach the Eastern Conference team for the All-Star Game, with Antetokounmpo being the squad’s captain.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 19 points, nine points, five assists and four steals. Khris Middleton added 18 and D.J. Wilson chipped in 16, as the Bucks put seven players in double figures. Middleton learned about an hour before the game he had made the All-Star Game as an Eastern Conference reserve.
Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 28 points, but he didn’t score in the final in the last 11 minutes. Leonard added 16, but went 7 for 20 from the floor, with the last two never getting more than seven feet up to the rim.
In the end, the Bucks held the Raptors to 39.8% (37 for 93) from the field, including 7 of 27 (25.9%) on 3-pointers.
The Bucks raced out at the start of the second half and took a 78-54 lead on D,J. Wilson’s dunk with 6:16 left in the third. That had Toronto fans restlessly booing.
From there, the Milwaukee offense got sloppy, scoring just 27 points over the final 18 minutes. In that span, the Bucks committed nine turnovers and went 9 for 24 (37.5%) from the field.
The Raptors closed the period with a 22-9 run to get within 87-76. Pascal Siakam scored 10 points in that run, then opened the fourth quarter with five quick points. Suddenly, the lead was down to 87-81, and the Raptors had all the momentum.
Wilson’s third 3-pointer of the night started a 7-0 run, and the Bucks appeared to have righted the ship, leading 96-83, with 7:18 left.
But the Milwaukee offense again went dormant. Going o for 4 and committing three turnovers, the Bucks gave up a 7-0 run, and the Raptors were back within 96-90 with 3:50 left on Serge Ibaka’s putback.
The Raptors probably should have gotten the ball back with a chance to get closer, but Lopez’s jumper from the left baseline hit the side rim, glanced off the backboard and fell through with 3:26 left to make it 98-90. Just 50 seconds later, Toronto’s Kyle Lowrie launched a 3-pointer that went halfway down and then rattled out. Those two bounces of the rim kept the Bucks in control.
Leonard scored on a drive with 1:59 left to cut it to 98-92, and Malcolm Brogdon dribbled the ball off his foot, and Leonard led a fast break. Leonard drove down the lane, but instead of a layup that would have cut it to four and sent the crowd into a frenzy, Lopez kept position in front and snuff Leonard’s shot. The ball came right back to Leonard under the basket. This time Antetokounmpo smothered his shot attempt.
The Bucks came out with the ball, and Antetokounmpo drove and earned a trip to the line. His two free throws made it 100-92 with 1:24 left, and the Raptors were done.
The Bucks improved to 24 games over .500 for the first time since finishing the 1985-86 season at 57-25. That team was coached by Don Nelson and led by Terry Cummings, Sidney Moncrief, Ricky Pierce and Paul Pressey.