Chaos, and glimpses of hope, have continued to define this Toronto Raptors season, and Wednesday's 104-101 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was the pinnacle example.
The Raptors found themselves in OT despite all odds being stacked against them — multiple times. They were down 21 points with 3:10 left to go in the 4th quarter, and then down 11 points with 43 seconds left. They ultimately whipped up an 18-7 run, and then an even more improbable 11-0 stretch to tie up the game with less than a second remaining.
“I don’t think I’ve seen one that weird,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse post-game. “It’s right up there with the weirdness of the whole game.”
After an abysmal start — from both teams — heroics from Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. led Toronto to overtime. The latter of the three hit two clutch three pointers in the final 30 seconds of the game — the first ultimately resulted in a four-point play due to a Grayson Allen flagrant foul, while the second three-point bomb tied the game up at 97 with 0.8 seconds left in the fourth.
Scotiabank Arena erupted — the fans that stuck around, at least.
OT didn't favour the Raptors nearly as much, as the shooting woes that plagued them the majority of the game reappeared. They finished with four points in the extra frame, just shy of the Bucks who added an additional three for the 104-101 win.
The final dagger came from Allen on an assist from star Giannis Antetokounmpo with 11.1 seconds left, while VanVleet couldn't respond, as he fell shy of tying the game with a three of his own to force 2OT.
“We just had to tough it out,” said Antetokounmpo post-game.
The loss now knocks the Raptors down to 16-22, their worst record through 38 games since 2012-13, just over a decade ago. It's good enough for the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference, as those glimmers of hope become even more dim with each loss.
The matchup against the Bucks kicked off a six-game home stand, where the Raptors have had a plus-.500 record to start the season. Wednesday's game could have been as good as any to potentially flip the script on their 2022-23 campaign, but a horrid shooting night left little doubt from the very start.
The Raptors finished the first quarter down 13-12. The 12 points (on 8 percent shooting) is the fewest they’ve had in a frame all season, and came after the Raptors started the game 0-15 from the field. The 38 they finished the first half with is also a new season low for a half. Thankfully for the Raptors, the Bucks only scored 39 after two quarters for a narrow lead.
"The energy, the mojo and the air in the arena was just weird," said VanVleet post game, after finishing with a team-high 28 points.
"Weird game, especially to start off like that. And they weren't much better."
Nurse and VanVleet credit the Raptors' defence for keeping them in the game, especially against Antetokounmpo, as the Bucks finished the contest shooting 39 percent from the field to go along with 25 turnovers — a season high for Milwaukee.
The Greek Freak finished the game with a triple-double, posting 30 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. His totals now across a historic four-game stretch stand at 173 points, 73 rebounds and 27 assists — stats that only Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain have compiled, with the last four-game stretch coming in 1963, according to Basketball Reference.
However, Antetokounmpo's latest stat line also included 12 turnovers, which marks a new career-high for the two-time league MVP.
"The defence kept on plugging and plugging and plugging," said Nurse, calling their effort against Giannis “astounding.”
Nurse says that unlike with past games, the Raptors didn’t let their “offensive woes” impact their defense.
That was especially the case for VanVleet, who started the game going 0-3 from three-point range — to the sound of boos on the last miss — but also finished the first quarter with three steals.
VanVleet’s 28 points and 12 assists came behind a game-high 46-minute performance. He shot 8-23 from the field, but it was back-to-back three pointers at around the three-minute mark of the 4th quarter that ultimately sparked the team’s eventual run.
“I was tired as shit,” said VanVleet, as he was one of four Raptors players to finish with 40+ minutes.
“Those shots give me more energy, more life.”
The one-time all-star says he doesn’t “really care about the numbers,” but instead just plays “to win, to compete.” It’s the mantra he’s keeping amid continued shooting woes, as he believes his numbers will eventually even themselves out by season’s end.
When asked about the 16-22 record, and what hope he has for the remainder of the season following the past couple games, Nurse says the Raptors need to keep playing to their defensive identity.
But even more so, the team is going through a "very difficult patch, maybe one of the most difficult we’ve ever been through” when it comes to their offence, as make-able shots from more-than-capable players don't fall.
"I think the major thing is we've got to get some confidence back at [the offensive] end," says Nurse. “Simple as that man, we have to put the ball in the bucket a bit more.”
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