The Toronto Raptors have been searching for a statement win.
The 2020-21 season has been a rocky one for Toronto. They've repeatedly found ways to lose games and too often to the NBA's worst teams. Coming into Tuesday night, Toronto had gone just 1-4 against the Eastern Conference's best teams with the one victory coming against the Brooklyn Nets on a very very strange evening. But now, thanks to a 124-113 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Milwaukee, the Raptors have their first true statement win.
"I think good teams win consistently," Pascal Siakam said. "I think we've been super close to doing that, a little bit (of) inconsistency. ... We've gotta be able to swing a couple wins, especially against good teams, because that's kinda like what shows what type of team you are, what's your character."
It wasn't just a big win for this season, but it may have been a crucial victory for Toronto's future. The Raptors pulled off the win relying almost entirely on their young core. While Kyle Lowry provided a spark in the first half, scoring 15 points before the break, the 34-year-old point guard was forced to leave the game with a tweaked left ankle.
With their leader sidelined, Fred VanVleet, Siakam, and a newly healthy OG Anunoby led the way for Toronto. It certainly wasn't easy. VanVleet was asked to play almost the entire second half, but he responded admirably, showing why he's worth every penny of that $85 million extension he signed in the offseason. He battled through exhaustion to tally a team-high 33 points including five 3-pointers.
"I think Fred did a great job of running the show," Nurse said. "He only got a couple minutes rest there, he played pretty much the whole thing. I think we got enough contributions kind of across the board from Bembry, Matt Thomas came in and kind of held the fort down there. Obviously with [Chris] Boucher, and [Aron] Baynes both chipping in. I think that was it, we just kind of across the board everybody just played solidly with Fred running the show."
Anunoby's return to the lineup allowed the Raptors to deploy their small-ball starting lineup for just the second time this season. It was a bit of a surprise considering Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he wasn't planning to use it against some of the supersized teams the Raptors are playing in the next few days. It turns out Nurse might be a little bit more of a trickster than previously thought.
The lineup played nine minutes total and outscored Milwaukee by five.
As for how sustainable the lineup will be moving forward, VanVleet said it better work.
"We don’t have a choice at this point," he said. "We are past theories and hypotheticals, you know what I’m saying. It was a good start tonight and it worked. When you win everything you did worked and when you lose it doesn’t."
While it wasn't the most efficient night from Siakam who shot 8-for-24 from the field, the 26-year-old didn't get fazed, chipping in 22 points to go with 13 rebounds and six assists.
"I thought he made pretty good decisions all night," Nurse said. "Again, he wasn’t having the hottest shooting night, so you gotta kind of carve out a way to get it done and he did so. Really proud of him for that."
Must See: OG Anunoby And-1
Anunoby did his best Siakam impression in the fourth quarter, taking a screen from Aron Baynes and pulling off the spinorama for the and-1.
Lowry Injury Update
The Raptors will evaluate Lowry's ankle Tuesday night and should have more information on Wednesday.
Up Next: Milwaukee Bucks
The Raptors will have an off day in Milwaukee before taking on the Bucks again on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET.