MILWAUKEE â€” Kyle Lowry’s seething silence said everything.
While DeMar DeRozan answered questions about one of the Raptors’ worst losses in franchise history, Toronto’s all-star point guard leaned back in the chair beside him, his lips pursed, his eyes narrowed in an angry glare.
The Raptors were thoroughly routed by an upstart Milwaukee Bucks team 104-77 on Thursday night, and in the moments after the ugly loss, Lowry’s body language mirrored his team’s shock and rage.
“We got our ass bust,” Lowry finally said, when asked to sum up the Raptors’ woeful performance.
Lowry scored 13 points to top Toronto, while DeRozan went without a field goal in the playoffs for the first time in his career, managing just eight points on 0-for-8 shooting.
Delon Wright had 13 points off the bench, while Jonas Valanciunas had 11 points and seven rebounds.
All the pre-game talk was about matching the Bucks’ intensity, but the Raptors did exactly the opposite, digging themselves a first-half hole the size of Wisconsin. Now the Bucks take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series into Saturday’s Game 4 in Milwaukee.
If the Raptors’ confidence took a wallop with the loss, Lowry wasn’t saying so.
“I still think we can win the series,” he said. “It ain’t over. It just sucks right now. It’s a terrible night right now. It’s a terrible feeling the way we just got our ass beat. Terrible feeling. So we’d better pick it up. If not, it’s going to be a terrible feeling again. But our confidence has not changed. We’ll be fine. We’ve got to come out there and do what we gotta do Saturday.”
Khris Middleton scored 20 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 points to lead the Bucks, who are making their first playoff appearance in two seasons.
Introduced to the theme music of “Barney,” it was all downhill from that point for Toronto.
Milwaukee’s motto is “Fear the Deer,” and the hard-charging Bucks, with a young starting lineup that includes two rookies and a 22-year-old star in Antetokounmpo, had the Raptors running scared from the opening tip-off. They looked completely out of sorts, unable to make a shot or a pass â€” DeRozan uncharacteristically fired a pass to nobody that was caught by a fan.
Asked for answer, coach Dwane Casey said: “There’s none.”
“It starts with us, myself as a coach as far as having them ready to play in a hostile environment,” Casey said. “They ambushed us, and there’s no aspect of our game that we executed whatsoever.”
The Raptors, who are notoriously slow starters anyway, managed just 12 points in the opening quarter, the second lowest in franchise playoff history. (They managed just nine points versus Detroit in 2002).
The massacre stretched into the second, and when Middleton scored on a free throw late in the first half it put the Bucks up by a whopping 32 points. Wright drained a three-pointer two seconds before the break, and the Raptors trudged into halftime down 57-30 â€” just four points shy of their biggest halftime deficit in playoff history (31 points last year in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland).
“They kicked our ass. They kicked our ass. Period,” said P.J. Tucker â€” he would repeat the phrase four more times before the end of his interview. “They came out and played harder, more aggressive, did everything they wanted to do.”
Tucker scoffed when asked about the team’s morale.
“It’s professional basketball. This is your livelihood,” he said. “Nobody should have to go out and hype you up. This is what you do. If you don’t have morale to fight in the NBA playoffs, then this ain’t the job for you.”
There would be no miracle comeback for the team that led the league in comeback victories this season. They went into the fourth quarter down 78-48, before a pair of Valanciunas free throws with 7:45 to play pulled them to within 23 points. But it was already game over. Casey emptied his bench with five minutes to play.
DeRozan said the Raptors need to turn their anger into motivation.
“Use everything that happened tonight, that’s going to come with the next 24 hours, use it as motivation,” he said. “And as competitors, be back ready for Saturday.”
The Raptors shot just 33.8 per cent on the night and allowed the Bucks to 52 per cent. The Raptors went just 6-for-22 from three-point range.
The leather-lunged crowd of 18,717 fans at BMO Harris Bradley Center â€” including quarterback Aaron Rodgers and several Green Bay Packers teammates â€” sounded louder from the opening tipoff than at any moment during Game 1 or 2 back in Toronto. A few dozen fans made the trip from Toronto for the game.
The Raptors dropped a shocking 97-83 loss to the Bucks in the series opener, but replied with a 106-100 victory in Game 2.
The Bucks shot a sizzling 67 per cent in the first quarter and when Michael Beasley drained a three with 37 seconds left, it gave Milwaukee a 20-point lead. The Raptors couldn’t buy a basket in the opening frame, shooting 4-for-18 and 0-for-6 from three-point range. The Bucks took a 32-12 lead into the second.
The Raptors scored just 18 points in the second quarter, and finished the first half shooting a woeful 23 per cent.
Following Saturday, the series shifts back to Toronto for Game 5 on Monday.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press