Raptors [26-10] at Bucks [20-16]: Preview and 3 Keys to Victory

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 01: Kyle Lowry
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 01: Kyle Lowry /

The Raptors head to Milwaukee for a rematch of Monday’s gritty overtime victory against the Bucks. But can they duplicate it on the road?

The Bucks are starting to look good. Their last four games consist of an overtime loss against a good team (Toronto), a blowout victory over the surprisingly solid Pacers, and wins over the new-look Thunder and Timberwolves. Monday’s game at Air Canada Centre turned into a battle, as both teams channelled the playoff intensity of the 2016-17 first round to make it a nail-biter. The Raptors prevailed due to an MVP-calibre performance from DeMar DeRozan, but it’s going to be tough for him to follow it up in the rematch.

TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 01: DeMar DeRozan /

Dangerous DeMar

If you read my preview for Monday’s game, much of what was covered there still holds true. I said the Raptors needed good DeMar, and instead got great DeMar, a player we quite literally haven’t seen around these parts before. DeRozan brought it in all facets of the game on Monday, adding some late clutch defense to go with his gaudy scoring total. I also highlighted containing Giannis and showing up to play with no hangover. Antetokounmpo wasn’t entirely contained, but he struggled through the first half before winding up with 26 points and 9 boards. And the Raptors did seem to show up ready to play – it was just that the Bucks matched them shot-for-shot through four quarters.

Defence and depth

In the last three games, the Raptors have been matched up with inferior opponents and they haven’t shown the ability to take care of business early. In each game they allowed the opponent to hang around for most of the first three quarters before just doing enough to scrape out a win in the closing minutes. Milwaukee was the best of those opponents – and the closest to pulling out a win – and now they’ll be at home.

Winning this game with be tough. DeMar won’t likely be an MVP candidate again, and if DeMar indeed proves human, someone else will need to pick up the slack. Delon Wright had a career night against the Bulls and is a good candidate to stay hot. While it’s only one game (and still the Bulls – though they’ve improved from the train wreck we saw on Opening Night, they’re still not exactly a defensive juggernaut), it was an encouraging sign. If Delon can get in the paint at will and make some open threes, that would really give the Raptors a weapon against the Bucks. Long-term, becoming a consistent offensive-minded playmaker, like he showed flashes of against the Bulls, would give Toronto a chance to be a really dangerous playoff team.

CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 03: Delon Wright
CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 03: Delon Wright /

Which bench shows up -and which Serge?

But there is room for hope from the Raptors’ vantage point. The Bucks shot 13-27 from three on Monday despite ranking 17th in the league in 3-pt percentage. Most of that was bricky Drew Bledsoe going off for five behind the arc, but the Raptors need to do a better job of chasing down open shooters in general. Serge Ibaka went just 5-19 last time out against Milwaukee, and he’s definitely capable of shooting better than that. And the bench really struggled on Monday – if they show up, it’s a completely different game.

Keys to Victory

Be road warriors: The Raptors have the NBA’s best home record at 14-1. But they haven’t been nearly as dominant on the road, with a 12-9 mark. In fact, they haven’t beat a team that is currently +.500 on the road since back-to-back wins against Houston and New Orleans in mid-November. Until they prove they can beat good teams on the road, the Raptors won’t be considered among the NBA elite.

Offensive Serge: Serge needs to get back to being the Raptors’ third offensive weapon. He’s been tough on defense the last few games, with 3+ blocks in three of the last four, but he hasn’t had a big-time scoring game since before Christmas. If Ibaka can shoot a bit better in Milwaukee than he did in Toronto, then the Raptors can really make it tough on the Bucks.

Bench showing up: Monday vs Milwaukee, the starters put up all the numbers while the bench struggled. On Wednesday in Chicago, the script was flipped, with the bench completely dominating the game. The Raptors will need to have both units clicking against a motivated Bucks squad.


I think the Raptors can beat anybody. But between the Bucks being hot, being at home, and likely being able to hold DeMar below 50 points, I see them coming up with a big revenge win. The Raptors are really going to have to show up firing and not take the foot off the gas to have a chance to pull this one out.

Bucks 112 – Raptors 104