The Raptors right the ship defensively by winning the dollars


The “long list” of defensive problems facing the Toronto Raptors, as Fred VanVleet so aptly put it the other day, seems to be getting shorter.

It wasn’t the Raptors team we expected to see this season. Before Thursday night, Toronto placed 13e in attack and 24e In defense. It was a team that was meant to be built on their defensive versatility with major offensive question marks. And yet defensive issues plagued the Raptors all season.

Well things seem to be improving, at least against an understaffed Milwaukee Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t crack the Raptors code as Toronto claimed a 97-93 victory in the Scotiabank Arena.

“It’s not rocket science,” VanVleet said after practice on Wednesday. “It’s not like a big idea that we have to magically fix. As if it was these little details, every possession just had to be done. It’s non-negotiable.

The defensive rebound problems certainly persisted, but otherwise the Raptors defense held on. They got into the Bucks forwards, forcing 13 turnovers and keeping Khris Middleton a secret until late. When the Raptors needed a late save, Precious Achiuwa stepped in defensively, blocking a Jrue Holiday layup, before Scottie Barnes caught the winning offensive rebound as the Raptors narrowly avoided what could have been a disastrous comeback from the Bucks.

Sparks VanVleet wardrobe change

Guess the yellow shoes didn’t work for VanVleet. After shooting 1-3 from the field in the first half against the Bucks’ flash defense, VanVleet traded his yellow shoes for a new pair of green ones. It’s a decision that paid off.

He came out in the second half shooting, logging in on four threes after the break and playing the hero for the Raptors late. When the Bucks made a comeback, he kept Toronto in balance, calling his own number and parting a pair of Milwaukee defensemen for a finger driving layup. This gave the Raptors a sixth lead and forced the Bucks to request a time out.

VanVleet finished the night with a record 29 points, including a pair of free throws to end the night.

Barnes becomes a sniper

Barnes’ development as a three-point shooter has gone much faster than anyone might have expected. Having started the season shooting 15% from behind the arc in his first 15 games, the Raptors rookie is suddenly a sniper from the deep. He had shot 48% in his last five games Thursday night and showed no signs of slowing down against the Bucks.

He connected on three of the five three-pointers in the first half and did not attempt a two-point shot until half-time. While the progress is certainly exciting, Barnes took a three-point transition over the ill-advised first-half break and didn’t take his two-point first until eight minutes into the third quarter.

It’s good that he shoots more than three, but maybe not all hits should be deep.

Next stop: Washington Wizards

The Raptors will have two days off to recuperate before returning to Scotiabank Arena to face the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.


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