This game wasn’t pretty. If anything it was much closer to 1997 basketball than 2017 — the game was physical, slow, there was plenty of grabbing, teams shot a combined 23.3 percent from three, there was a lot of isolation basketball, and ball and player movement were sporadic at best.
The Toronto Raptors don’t care.
In desperate need of a win after falling behind 2-1 in the series, the Raptors got what they needed — big games from DeMar DeRozan (33 points) and Kyle Lowry (18), plus improved defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo — and that was enough for an 87-76 victory.
The series is now tied 2-2 heading back to Toronto for Game 3 on Monday.
If the Raptors were going to get back in this series, it had to start with their All-Star guards playing up to that billing, and Saturday afternoon it happened.
In the first half it was DeRozan carrying Toronto, bouncing back from an 0-of-8 shooting performance in Game 3. DeRozan was 8-of-14 for 21 points in the first half, the rest of the Raptors combined were 7-of-28 with 20 points. DeRozan finished the game with 33 points on 22 shots, and had nine rebounds and five rebounds.
The Bucks were struggling as well, and it was tied 41-41 at the half.
The second half saw what the Raptors really need in this series — the emergence of Lowry. He was attacking and had 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, three assists, and he was creating looks for everyone. He had struggled for the first three games against the length of the Bucks defenders and how they covered the pick-and-roll, but he finally seemed to get a comfort level. Toronto needs him to stay in that zone in Game 5.
Toronto needed more than just its stars, it needed better defense on Antetokounmpo, and they got it, he was 0-of-7 shooting in the second half and finished the game with 14 points on 19 shots. P.J. Tucker deserves particular credit for his defense on the Greek Freak.
Tony Snell ended up leading the Bucks in scoring off the bench with 19, including hitting five threes. If anything, Jason Kidd needed to go to more of him (and Kris Middleton) in the fourth, those two rested too long.
The Raptors also did a good job of slowing the game down, making it a half-court slog, which suits them much better than the more athletic Bucks.
The questions become: In an even series, can the Raptors carry over what they did right, and can the Bucks adjust? Raptors coach Dwane Casey brought Jonas Valanciunas off the bench, can the Bucks use that to their advantage and get Antetokounmpo switched onto smaller defenders? The Bucks looked like a young team when it came to finding and exploiting mismatches in this game. (Norman Powell got the start instead so the Raptors could play small, and he finished with a dozen points and had some key threes.)
If Lowry can play like he did in the second half for the rest of this series, you have to like Toronto’s chances.