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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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Jacobs, defence lead Raiders to first win of season over Broncos

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Just when it looked as if the Las Vegas Raiders might blow another fourth-quarter lead, they put the ball in the hands of Josh Jacobs and the running game to finish off the Denver Broncos.

The emphatic game-sealing drive gave Josh McDaniels his first win as a head coach since being fired by Denver in 2010 and backed up the message he gave his players all week.

“He said it to the offense and defense: You should want the burden to finish the game, not hoping that someone else does their thing or they they fix the problem,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Whatever the game asked for, it’s our turn to do our job.”

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The Raiders did just that. Jacobs ran for a career-high 144 yards and two touchdowns, Amik Robertson returned a fumble 68 yards for a score and the Raiders beat the Broncos 32-23 on Sunday.

After opening their first season under McDaniels by losing three straight one-score games, including a blown 20-point lead to Arizona in Week 2, the Raiders (1-3) managed to do enough on the ground and on defense to hold off Russell Wilson and the Broncos (2-2).

“We kind of had the mindset we wanted this to be a physical game and leaned on Josh and the running game a little bit more than what we have and really established that,” McDaniels said. “Our goal was to try to make it that kind of game and make it a fourth-quarter game.”

Maxx Crosby had two of Las Vegas’ three sacks, and Robertson had the game-changing play late in the first half as Denver repeatedly failed to take advantage of good field position.

After getting a 5-yard TD pass from Wilson to Courtland Sutton to cap a 34-yard drive in the first quarter, the Broncos turned three other chances with prime field position into one field goal and the fumble by Melvin Gordon III that Robertson returned for the touchdown.

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Wilson had his most efficient game of his short tenure in Denver, completing 17 of 25 passes for 237 yards and two TDs. He also ran for a 3-yard TD that cut the Raiders’ lead to 25-23 after completing a 55-yard pass to KJ Hamler.

But Denver scored only once on six drives in the second half.

“We have to get better,” first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “Across the board as an offense, I think we will.”

Jacobs put it away with a 7-yard TD run with 2:01 to play. He became the first Raiders player to rush for at least 130 yards and two TDs in a game since Darren McFadden did it in 2011 against the Jets.

“We had to go down there and call game,” Crosby said. “Josh Jacobs is a damn baller. That’s been my brother since day one. I’m so happy for him. He went down there and closed the game.”

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Carr didn’t have to do much for the Raiders, completing 21 of 34 passes for 188 yards as Las Vegas got the running game going for the first time this season. Davante Adams had nine catches for 101 yards.

Jacobs scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter and set up a field goal in the third with a 42-yard run that was his longest since his rookie season in 2019.

The Raiders finished with 212 yards rushing for their most in a game since getting 218 against the Broncos in 2016.

“He’s one of the best runners that I’ve ever been around,” McDaniels said about Jacobs. “I’ve been around some good ones. He has a great ability to make yards after contact. He has a great ability to make yards even if there’s not a whole lot there right away.”

SURPRISE SCORE

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The Raiders’ defense got into the scoring mode for a change when Duron Harmon forced Gordon’s fumble and Robertson took it to the end zone.

It was the first TD by the Raiders’ defense or special teams since Erik Harris had a pick-6 against the Chargers on Nov. 7, 2019. The 43 regular season games without one was the second longest of the Super Bowl era, trailing only a 49-game streak by the Browns from 1979-82.

The play came shortly after Broncos receiver Jerry Jeudy motioned at the 5-foot-8 Robertson that he was too short to cover him.

“Once he started talking, it kind of elevated my play,” Robertson said.

NOT SO SPECIAL

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Both teams had their issues on special teams with Tyron Johnson botching a punt return that backed the Raiders up near their goal line in the first quarter.

Las Vegas also set up Denver with good field position when a surprise onside kick failed.

Both teams also missed extra points in the second quarter with Daniel Carlson missing his first kick of any kind this season for the Raiders and Denver’s Brandon McManus missing his second in the past two seasons.

INJURIES

Broncos: RB Javonte Williams and edge rusher Randy Gregory both left the game with knee injuries in the second half and will have MRIs to determine the severity. … S P.J. Locke and LB Aaron Patrick left the game with concussions.

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Raiders: LB Denzel Perryman left with a concussion in the first half.

UP NEXT

Broncos: Host Indianapolis on Thursday night.

Raiders: Visit Kansas City on Monday, Oct. 10.

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FOX Bet Super 6: Three contestants win Terry Bradshaw's $1,000,000 prize

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Three contestants won a piece of Terry Bradshaw’s $1,000,000 jackpot in the FOX Bet Super 6 NFL Sunday Challenge. Find out how they won!



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Packers beat Patriots in overtime, but Aaron Rodgers' trust issues remain

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Aaron Rodgers struggled in the first half and doesn’t feel comfortable throwing to his young receivers. But the Packers persevered.



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