Raptors take down Bucks despite MVP-level performance by Giannis Antetokounmpo: Takeaways
The Raptors moved back into first place in the Eastern Conference with the win
MILWAUKEE -- The top two teams in the Eastern Conference met in Milwaukee on Saturday night, and the game did not disappoint. After a back-and-forth contest, in which both teams held double-digit leads, the Toronto Raptors pulled away in the final few minutes to secure a 123-116 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks to technically reclaim the top spot in the Eastern Conference by half a game -- though the Bucks have a slightly better winning percentage.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 43 points and 18 rebounds, but his big night wasn't enough. On the Raptors side, Kawhi Leonard went for 30 points, six rebounds and six assists to go along with five steals, while their role players stepped up in a major way to help secure the victory.
It was a rare occasion where a big game actually lived up to expectations. Both teams played well, and this time out the Raptors were just a little bit better. Sometimes that happens, and you just have to tip your hat to the winning team, as Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer did after the game. "Toronto, a ton of credit to them," Budenholzer said. "Collectively they played well. Individually they had several guys step up and have big games."
Here are a few takeaways from the Raptors' exciting win over the Bucks:
It's still only early January, but this contest between two of the East's top teams had all feelings of a playoff game. An early-arriving Bucks crowd was ready to go even before the opening tip, with loud "Let's go Bucks" chants ringing around Fiserv Forum, and they kept up that energy all night long. Both teams obliged, matching that energy on the court in a physical, competitive game that each team was clearly up for. The game had playoff implications as well. With the win, the Raptors technically pulled back ahead of the Bucks for first place in the East, and also prevented the Bucks from clinching the tiebreaker between the two teams.
MVP performance from Giannis
Giannis isn't really a guy you stop, that's just not how it works with him. But you can try to make things as difficult as possible, and perhaps no team in the league is better equipped to do just that than the Raptors. Starting with Pascal Siakam, who is one of the few players with the combination of length and athleticism to bother Giannis, to two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, to OG Anunoby, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors will always have someone on the floor they can throw at Giannis.
The Raptors definitely did make it difficult on Giannis, contesting him well at the rim and forcing him into six turnovers, but most of the time it just didn't matter. Giannis is at another level now, and he proved it in this game, finishing with 43 points and 18 rebounds despite the tough defense. His performance -- not only in this game, but throughout the season -- even earned high praise from Kawhi Leonard.
"He's done a tremendous job over there by leading his team," Leonard said. "Matchups like this are great. You get to see what the other guy is doing and just get to compete with somebody on a high level. Everybody on their team is playing well. You want to play these type of games as a team."
Raptors role players are the difference
It was a tough night for the Raptors bench, as they combined to go 1-of-15 from the field for just five points, but Toronto's role players in the starting lineup stepped up in a major way. Pascal Siakam -- who scored a career-high 30 points -- combined with Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet for 76 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists in an impressive performance. Whenever the Raptors needed a clutch shot, one of them provided it, and they played some strong defense as well. That trio's strong play proved to be the difference, as they outplayed the likes of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon by a wide margin.
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