Somewhere in the span of seven days the Milwaukee Bucks went from a juggernaut to a paper tiger.
Saturday night’s season-ending, fourth straight loss to the Toronto Raptors summed up the slide perfectly.
Ahead by 15 points late in the third quarter, the Bucks allowed a 26-3 onslaught on their way to a 100-94 loss, bowing out of the Eastern Conference finals, 4 games to 2.
When it counted, the Raptors were stronger, tougher and showed more heart.
Try as he might, Giannis Antetokounmpo could not rally his troops.
Antetokounmpo finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but the only help he really got in the fourth quarter came from Brook Lopez, who finished with 18 points.
Khris Middleton disappeared. Eric Bledsoe disappeared. Malcolm Brogdon failed to arrive. Nikola Mirotic has been so bad in the previous games he didn’t even get off the bench.
Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and dished out seven assist.
And got plenty of help. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam scored 17 points each. Free VanVleet made 4 of 5 3-pointers to finish with 14 points. VanVleet made 11 of 14 3-pointers in the final two games.
Marc Gasol finished with just six points on two 3-pointers, but one of them was a killer from the right corner go make it 92-88 with 3:50 left.
The Bucks made 9 of 18 3-pointers in the first half, but just 3 of 16 the rest of the way.
Ahead, 76-61, after two Ersan Ilyasova free throws with 2:18 left in the third, the Bucks suddenly went flat. Instead of of closing out the quarter strongly to make life easy in the fourth quarter, the Bucks started standing around on offense and blowing assignments on defense.
Led by Leonard, the Raptors scored the last 10 points of the third, then opened the fourth quarter with a 16-3 run. In a matter of less than 9 minutes, the Bucks went from up 15 to down, 87-79 with 6:46 left.
They finally gathered themselves and got up off the canvass, but they never did get back to even.
A 3-point play by Brook Lopez and a driving layup by Antetokounmpo capped a 7-0 run and pulled the Bucks within 87-86, but George Hill couldn’t score off a drive with contact, and a driving banker by Leonard stopped Milwaukee’s momentum.
Moments later, Marc Gasol drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner, and the Bucks never got the ball back with a chance to take the lead again.
Two Lopez free throws got the Bucks within 97-94 with 29.6 seconds left, but Pascal Siakam rebounded his own miss with 10 seconds left, and the Bucks had to foul.
Siakam made one free throw with 7 seconds left, and when he missed the second, Leonard outbattled Antetokounmpo and Lopez for the rebound. It was a microcosm of every big moment in the series’ final four games. The Raptors just wanted it more.
So after posting the NBA’s best record of 60-22 and winning 10 of their first 11 playoff games, the Bucks folded in a most disappointing fashion. After leading the series, 2-0. the disappointment is even deeper.