Giannis Antetokounmpo looked over his left shoulder from his newfound spot in the photographers’ row on the right baseline at Scotiabank Arena and could only hope for the best when Grayson Allen delivered a corner 3 while Wednesday’s game was in limbo.
Five seconds earlier, the Milwaukee Bucks star started the basket with a 101 tie in the final moments of overtime. Near half court, he started to the right to set up a screen of Brook Lopez before returning to his left, closely guarded by OG Anunoby. Lopez’s screen prompted a switch from Scottie Barnes and an approach from all five Toronto Raptors defensemen determined to keep Antetokounmpo off the rim.
As Antetokounmpo dropped his shoulder low to try and find an angle to the rim, he saw Allen out of the corner of his eye and took another step to skirt three Raptors’ defenders and hand Allen a pass as he went out of bounds lay on the baseline.
“Falling like three people on him, so it was a pretty amazing pass to do that right,” Allen told reporters after the game. “It was right in the shooting pocket so it was an easy shot for me.”
With the ball in the air, Antetokounmpo slid onto his rear and back to where the photographers were sitting on the baseline.
“He was wide open,” Antetokounmpo told reporters after the game. “I drove the ball, I saw VanVleet coming out of the corner and I got the ball delivered to Grayson and he caught it clean and I knew we had a chance when he caught it clean and shot the ball. “
As Allen’s shot flew through the air over the outstretched arms of Anunoby’s late finish, Antetokounmpo sat up and watched the ball fly. As it splattered through the net, Antetokounmpo clenched his fist and faced the Bucks bench while Allen held his punch through the air and went down the floor when Raptors coach Nick Nurse called a timeout with 10.8 seconds left in overtime.
Giannis with the cent & Grayson with the finish. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/fW4TTMlxm2
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 5, 2023
“The last pass to Grayson is easy – the fact that he gets the paint, the fact that he gets to the edge, and then it felt like it was an arrow for Grayson, hit him right in his shooting bag , just a big time game, big time went by and Grayson was able to put it down,” Budenholzer said.
The 104-101 lead the Bucks took on Allen’s shot would end up being the winning margin, a win they made far more difficult than necessary. Allen’s big shot and another ridiculous performance from Antetokounmpo — 30 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists with an understaffed roster on the second night of a straight game — saved the Bucks from a late-game debacle that would have been leveled worse than that Game they gave away in Chicago a week ago.
“I think Giannis used a lot — a lot — of energy last night and tonight,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “They are very physical. It was huge for him to find a way to get us over the top.
Barring Antetokounmpo’s efforts and his ridiculous assist, the Bucks nearly lost the game after leading by 21 points and 3:22 points remaining. And there’s plenty of blame for the near-costly collapse of the Bucks. While Milwaukee ended up clinching the win, it’s still worth examining the comedy of mistakes that caused the Bucks to work overtime to pull out a game they typically should have won easily.
After a timeout with 3:22 on the rules, Budenholzer took the majority of his starters out with a 90-69 lead and inserted a lineup from Jevon Carter (the only remaining starter), MarJon Beauchamp, Jordan Nwora, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Raptors coach Nick Nurse, known for playing his starters more minutes than almost any other coach in the NBA, didn’t follow suit.
After Thanasis Antetokounmpo missed a corner 3, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet dribbled the ball to the floor with Carter giving him plenty of room and shooting a pull-up 3 in transition. He did it. On the next possession, Beauchamp – who had 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes on Wednesday – made another solid impression – handing the ball off to Gary Trent Jr., who attacked the other way before kicking out for VanVleet 3. VanVleet made it again and Budenholzer called a timeout to put his starters back in play, trimming the Bucks’ lead to 15, 90-75 with 2:43 remaining.
“In retrospect, I would definitely do it differently – I wouldn’t take the boys out,” said Budenholzer. “But by the time you’re 20, you’re hoping you can finish that back-to-back. But a 6-0 run in just 15, 20 seconds that probably gave them life to take all the way down. So it’s unfortunate and we would like to be better, myself included.”
Even with Budenholzer’s early bench placement, the Bucks still led by 15 points and appeared to be in control. They weren’t perfect for the next two minutes, as Bobby Portis made a turnover, the Bucks gave three offensive rebounds and Antetokounmpo made his 11th turnover of the game (12 overall), but they still seemed to be in charge as they held on an 11-point lead after two Allen free throws that gave them a 97-86 lead by 43.1 seconds.
And then the Bucks went haywire with a series of failures to end regulation that are difficult to understand.
After Scottie Barnes threw a floater over Brook Lopez (nine points, 19 rebounds) to cut the Bucks’ lead to nine, Pat Connaughton failed to get the ball in bounds and the Bucks took a five-second -injury on.
On the next defensive possession, the Bucks dared Barnes (0-for-4 of 3 on the night) to attempt a 3-pointer, a wise decision, but failed to secure the offensive rebound. And that led to a six-point offensive sequence for the Raptors.
The officials not only ruled that Allen fouled Trent Jr. on his 3-point attempt, they ruled the foul after review as a flagrant 1, allowing the Raptors to retain possession after Trent Jr. walked to the free-throw line to transform his four-point game. That possession saw Barnes get on the edge and land over Lopez, who had completely frustrated the 2021 Rookie of the Year in the first 40 minutes of the game.
The Barnes lay-in cut the lead to just three points with 25.7 seconds left, but the Bucks still easily ended the game by taking care of the ball. And that’s exactly what they did, or at least they thought they did.
The Bucks broke the Raptors’ press and moved the ball wide around the perimeter to waste time, eventually getting the ball to Portis in the corner, who was holding the ball and waiting to be fouled by the Raptors. Pascal Siakam appeared to display that foul when he touched Portis with both hands, but instead officials whistled the ball dead with 13.9 seconds left when Portis went over the limit after Siakam made contact.
Budenholzer and the Bucks bank absolutely lost track, apoplectic that no foul was called. And because no foul was called, the Bucks couldn’t ask for a review.
“I could contest the out-of-bounds call,” Budenholzer told reporters after the game. “I couldn’t dispute the fact that it was a foul when Siakam ran Bobby into the corner. I couldn’t contest that.”
Had they been able to contest the no-call, they would have won because the Committee admitted in a pool report after the game.
“Following the post-game review, it was determined that a foul should have been called for the game,” crew chief Tony Brothers said in a statement.
That wouldn’t have come as a surprise to the Bucks, but it still didn’t excuse how sloppy they were with the ball to end the game.
“I think we just have to keep playing and not just hold the ball and think they’re fouling,” Portis said. “Stay aggressive. I think we had a few chances where it was two against one, three against two. We could have kept trying to hit the ball but we kept the ball and really played into their game. You are a sporty team. They play aggressively. I think they foul every possession, they just can’t call every possession a foul, so credit is theirs. They definitely sped us up a bit, put us in some spots we don’t really need and they caught the ball and made some plays.
With the Raptors in possession and a chance to level the game, the Bucks ducked to play defense but eventually gave up a game-determining 3-pointer.
There are different schools of thought when leading by three points late in a game. Some coaches choose to foul with such a lead, while others play it off and rely on their defense to score a stop. With the Raptors’ offensive struggles throughout the game and the Bucks’ inability to execute inbounds plays to end the game, Budenholzer’s logic for going on stoppage was clear, but it was another decision the Bucks made didn’t end up working the Raptors forced overtime.
When asked what he noticed about his team’s mistakes in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, Budenholzer answered simply.
“Everything,” said Budenholzer.
George Hill and Jrue Holiday, the Bucks’ two point guards, missed Wednesday’s game with non-COVID-19 illnesses. Joe Ingles and Khris Middleton, two other of the Bucks’ key ball handlers, also missed the game with injuries, but for the second time in a week the Bucks failed to close a double-digit lead late in a game due to sloppy passing and ball handling.
The late-game errors should largely be fixed with the return of their point guards and ballhanders, but the Bucks still had other rotation players and Antetokounmpo on the ground against the Bulls and Raptors. On Wednesday, Antetokounmpo and Allen threw up big plays in the final moments of overtime to reclaim a win that usually should have been theirs, but the Bucks just need to be better in closing situations.
(Photo by Giannis Antetokounmpo: Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images)
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