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10 things: Raptors’ win over defending champs something to build on

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 97-93 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

One — The Raptors desperately needed that win. Giannis Antetokounmpo sitting out last second was obviously a huge mitigating factor, but who cares? The team needs results to stop their slide, and it’s not like the Bucks are a one-man team. Jrue Holiday was a charging bull seeing red, Khris Middleton is an elite shot-maker, and they’re a veteran team who are battle-tested.

The Raptors deserve credit for out-executing their opponent from start to finish, and for closing out a game that was marred by highly questionable officiating decisions at the end. This is something the team can build on moving forward.

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Two — Fred VanVleet is playing out of his mind. You can see how much impact he makes from the way teams are guarding him. The Bucks blitzed him above the three-point line from the very first possession, forcing him to give up the ball despite him being covered by Holiday — who is an elite defender at the point — and that’s a massive sign of respect to VanVleet’s ability to impact the game. VanVleet only had three points at halftime, but the Raptors then made adjustments, putting VanVleet more off the ball and it unlocked his ability to dominate the game. That speaks to his versatility, as VanVleet is just as effective playing off the ball as he is running the show, and that ability is what ultimately distinguished his performance from Holiday’s in the key matchup tonight.

Will Lou and Alex Wong talk all things Raptors live on Sportsnet 590 The FAN weekdays from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. ET.

Three — What’s more important than what he produced is when VanVleet produced. He kept the Raptors ahead in the third quarter by pouring in 14 points, which left the Raptors up double-digits, and that allowed Nick Nurse to quickly buy him a short breather. But as soon as he checked out, the Bucks chipped away, and VanVleet was forced to return early in the fourth to a two-point game. Immediately, he wrestled control back in favour of the Raptors, working a set of baseline screens to free himself for a corner three, cutting backdoor for a layup, and stripping Holiday to spark a fast-break where he found Pascal Siakam streaking ahead. And when the Raptors needed one more score to finish it off, VanVleet drove past Holiday and got himself to the foul line to push a two-point game into four points.

Four — Antetokoumpo’s last-second absence was undoubtedly convenient, but it did force the Raptors to scrap their defence. Holiday became the focal point of the Bucks offence, and it was his sheer will and strength in his drives to the rim that generated the majority of that offence. The Raptors looked to be caught off-guard at first, but adapted nicely with how they collapsed the paint to slow Holiday’s drives. The other tricky matchup was Middleton, but Scottie Barnes volunteered himself for the assignment and did a great job of taking away Middleton’s threes, keeping a hand up to force him to shoot over the top. Middleton shot 8-for-20 with three turnovers, largely against single coverage, and that’s a very encouraging result for a rookie like Barnes against an All-Star and NBA champion.

Five — Precious Achiuwa is undoubtedly raw but his energy plays were vital in the win. For one, Achiuwa’s help rotations at the rim were a key factor in the Bucks shooting 12-of-31 from within five feet of the rim, and while the Bucks did hurt them at the foul line and with offensive rebounds, that was hardly Achiuwa’s fault given that it was his assignment to rotate over to contest the shot.

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Down the stretch, Achiuwa collected a highlight chase down block against Holiday to preserve a six-point advantage, won a key offensive rebound to reset the shot clock and secured the most important rebound of the game at the very end while the Bucks still had a chance to tie or go ahead. Achiuwa rarely has a perfect game because he is too raw offensively, but his role is to play with energy and to defend, and on both fronts he was great.

Six — Barnes continues to show that he is dedicated to winning above all else. VanVleet made the point in the post-game press conference that Barnes is extremely coachable, as he’s heeded every instruction from Nurse. The key adjustment of late is that Nurse wants him to shoot the three more freely, and Barnes is embracing that challenge. He knocked down 3-of-6 from deep, and was effective once again as a playmaker from the top of the floor. Barnes made two smart post feeds from that position, feeding Achiuwa for a post-up basket, and an even nicer feed to Siakam who had a smaller defender fronting him so Barnes put air under the pass to lead Siakam right to the layup. In terms of function, Barnes was almost serving the same role as Marc Gasol did for the championship team with his playmaking and shooting at the top while others functioned as the primary options.

Seven — The Raptors have several options to be initiators at the top which is a key skill towards unlocking their shooters. VanVleet is the biggest beneficiary of this, since he no longer needs to dominate the ball when Siakam and Barnes can also take turns spelling him. But this also benefits shooting guards like Gary Trent Jr. and Svi Mykhailiuk, who are effective when they’re curling around screens away from the ball, but are sometimes pressed into handling the ball.

Eight — Siakam was sharp overall, but it’s not quite clicking when he’s asked to lead the bench. The main issue is that Siakam needs shooters to effectively operate, but Mykhailiuk is the only one who can space for him and he’s in a slump at the moment. The Raptors are asking Siakam to attack in isolation in the middle of the floor, but defences can converge on him and his options are to drive into traffic, kick out to the open man, or launch the jumper himself. None of the three are particularly great options. Nurse should look to have Trent Jr. and Yuta Watanabe out with Siakam in the second unit as much as possible.

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Nine — Trent Jr. was very rusty in his return. He was 3-for-16, and while he has a habit of taking difficult shots, he wasn’t even connecting on the open looks. That’s hardly a surprising outcome for a rhythm shooter after he missed two games due to a calf injury. Fortunately, Trent Jr. is still a productive player even when his shot isn’t falling because he’s a strong defender, and that’s where he made his mark. In previous games, Nurse had to close games with Mykhailiuk or even Malachi Flynn, which is not tenable since they will be attacked every time down.

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Ten — The officiating almost ruined the game. At one point in the fourth quarter, the foul disparity was 21-7 in favour of the Bucks, which is outrageous regardless of what defensive schemes were used by the two sides. The final tally was 24-12, with two of those intentional fouls by the Bucks to extend the game.

But nothing was more egregious than the foul call awarded to Middleton after he leaned into Achiuwa’s closeout which put the Bucks at the line for three foul shots in a four-point game. That’s the exact type of play that was to be legislated out of the game this season, and the officials nearly cost the Raptors the game. And to make matters worse, they slapped Achiuwa with a loose ball foul while trying to win the loose ball, even though he and Bobby Portis were mutually holding each other which literally happens on every boxout. That gave the Bucks five foul shots on the final play and the refs were rightfully booed for their incompetence.





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LeBron James on whether Kyrie Irving can help Lakers: 'Duh'

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LeBron James has no doubt that Kyrie Irving would make the Lakers a contender, but he noted that he’s not in the team’s front office.



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NBA Roundup: Gilgeous-Alexander drops 42 in Thunder win; Clippers top Knicks in OT

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points and Oklahoma City set a Thunder record for points to rout Houston.

Oklahoma City surpassed the 150 it scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 in a loss to the Rockets on Wednesday night. He bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals in the rematch, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists.

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Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points for Houston.

NETS 125, WIZARDS 123

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NEW YORK — Cam Thomas scored a career-high 44 points off the bench and short-handed Brooklyn overcame a 23-point deficit to beat Washington.

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Edmond Sumner also set a personal best with 29 points. Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving was out with what the team said was right calf soreness a day after he told the Nets he wants to be traded.

The Nets, who also played without Kevin Durant (right knee MCL sprain), T.J. Warren (left shin contusion) and Ben Simmons (left knee soreness), also lost Seth Curry (left adductor) and Markieff Morris (sore left knee) in the game.

Kristaps Porzingis led the Wizards with 38 points.

SUNS 116, PISTONS 100

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DETROIT — Deandre Ayton had 31 points and 16 rebounds to help Phoenix beat Detroit.

The surging Sungs have won eight of 10 games, including a victory at Boston on Friday night, and have help on the way with Devin Booker nearing his return. The three-time All-Star guard has been out since Christmas with a groin injury, but dunked in warmups in another sign that he’s close to coming back.

Chris Paul had 14 assists for a balanced offence that didn’t need him to make shots, finishing 0 for 7 and without a field goal for the first time since March 18, 2017, when he helped the Los Angeles Clippers beat Cleveland by 30 points.

Mikal Bridges scored 24 points, Cameron Johnson had 20 points and Torrey Craig added 14 points for Phoenix. Saddiq Bey had 25 points for Detroit.

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BUCKS 123, HEAT 115

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had a triple-double with 35 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists and Milwaukee beat short-handed Miami for its seventh straight victory.

Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and Tyler Herro added 24 for the Heat, who had just nine available players. Notable injured Miami players included Kyle Lowry (sore left knee) and Victor Oladipo (sprained right ankle).

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Antetokounmpo had his third triple-double of the season and 32nd of his career. The 11 assists matched his season high.

Antetokounmpo’s latest triple-double came two nights after he scored 54 points in a 106-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. During the Bucks’ six-game winning streak, Antetokounmpo is averaging 39.4 points, 14.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists.

WARRIORS 119 MAVERICKS 113

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SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry had 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds before injuring his left leg defending a drive and Golden State beat an undermanned Dallas team missing injured star Luka Doncic.

The Warriors said X-rays for Curry were negative, and he will have an MRI exam.

Draymond Green added 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for Golen State.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 25 points for Dallas. Doncic bruised his right heel in the third quarter of 111-106 home victory against New Orleans on Thursday night.

PELICANS 131, LAKERS 126

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NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James moved 36 points away from breaking the NBA career scoring record in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 131-126 loss to New Orleans on Saturday night that ended the Pelicans’ losing streak at 10 games.

James had 27 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists as he continued to close in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record total of 38,387 points.

Brandon Ingram scored 35 points for the Pelicans.

CJ McCollum had 23 points, highlighted by a late 3 to help New Orleans close out the final 3:14 on a 9-5 run that kept the Lakers at bay.

Anthony Davis had 34 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers.

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CLIPPERS 134, KNICKS 128, OT

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NEW YORK — Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points, Paul George added 30 and Los Angeles beat New York in overtime.

After the Clippers lost a 17-point fourth quarter lead, Nicolas Batum’s 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer tied it at 115.

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The Clippers scored the first four points of overtime and never relinquished the lead. Leonard connected on all of his eight free throws in the extra session, finishing 12 for 12 from the line.

Norman Powell added 24 points for the Clippers and Marcus Morris Sr. had 17. Los Angeles has won seven of nine.

Jalen Brunson, who returned after missing a game due to a non-COVID illness, led the Knicks with 41 points. Julius Randle had 28.

BULLS 129, TRAIL BLAZERS 121

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CHICAGO — Zach LaVine scored 36 points, DeMar DeRozan had 27 and Chicago topped Damian Lillard and Portland.

Nikola Vucevic added 23 points and 11 rebounds as Chicago won for the third time in four games, erasing a 17-point deficit in the second half.

Lillard scored 40 points for Portland, and Anfernee Simons had 27. But the Trail Blazers looked a little tired in the second half of their third game in four nights. Portland had won five of six, including a 124-116 victory at Washington on Friday night.

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Tre White's 22 points leads USC to hard-fought 80-74 victory over Washington

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Tre White led the USC Trojans to the hard-fought 80-74 win over the Washington Huskies. White led all scorers on the night with 22 points and added eight rebounds on the night.



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