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Defence wins championships VanVleet says of Raptors, Bucks ahead of big meeting

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (left) and forward Pascal Siakam put pressure on Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo during a game in November. (USA TODAY Sports)
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (left) and forward Pascal Siakam put pressure on Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo during a game in November. (USA TODAY Sports)

Main events usually take place on Saturday nights, but there’s a doozy on tap for Tuesday evening in Toronto. NBA-leading Milwaukee is in town to face the defending champions and current East runner-ups. Still smarting from blowing a 2-0 series lead against Toronto in the conference final, Milwaukee has rampaged through this regular season, threatening to become just the third club to win 70 games. The Bucks hold an .860 winning percentage after surviving in overtime against Washington on Monday night. That would be the third-best ever, behind only Golden State’s .890 mark in 2016 and Chicago’s .878 in 1996.

Toronto hasn’t seen Milwaukee and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo since a loss in early-November, but know what they will be up against and why Milwaukee is so good.

“It’s stability. It’s every night,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet told Postmedia after Sunday’s blowout win over Indiana.

“You look at those guys, I don’t remember them losing. It just feels like, I don’t remember any of their losses. Every night you’ve got a shot and that’s because of the way you play defence and you share the ball and make some shots and you’re dangerous,” VanVleet said, talking about the Bucks, but also the Raptors, who try to do those same things.

“I watch them play and they win every game by 20 points and I don’t know what to make of it other than nobody can even come close to them,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

“I don’t know what their margin of error is, but when I do watch them it’s boring. It’s over by halftime half the time and nobody ever really makes a threat. They’re really good. They’ve really got it going. They’ve got more depth than a year ago, more experience than a year ago, more size than a year ago, they’ve really got it going. It’ll be a challenge, but we’ll be OK,” Nurse said of the first of three meetings between the Eastern Conference powers in the next five weeks.

Milwaukee surrenders a minuscule 101.8 points per 100 possessions, the best mark by any team since 2015-16, when the NBA was a much lower-scoring place. VanVleet isn’t surprised that Toronto has the league’s second-best defence (104.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) even in a time where all everyone seems to talk about is the offensive explosion that has been powered by the three-point revolution.

“I think it’s just defence wins championships is the phrase and that’s not just borne out of randomness,” VanVleet said. “There’s something to that. I think moreso, it just boils down to do you give a s–t enough every night. Can you muster up the intensity and the effort that it takes. And it’s hard. Sometimes we’ve got it with everybody — as you saw (Sunday against Indiana) — and sometimes it’s three out of five, or two out of five (players operating at peak effort level) and you try to figure it out,” he said.

“But I think it’s just that commitment to going out there, laying it on the line. Everybody plays defence in the playoffs, but can you do it every night in the regular season? And some teams can, some teams can’t.”

Both the mighty Bucks and overachieving Raptors have proven that they can do just that. It will be interesting to see what transpires on Tuesday. The last time Milwaukee travelled across the border, both Antetokounmpo and fellow all-star Khris Middleton were held under 40% shooting by Toronto’s defence, while VanVleet and Kyle Lowry rained three-pointers down in front of a delirious crowd, powering the Raptors into the NBA Finals for the first time.

Memories of that night are likely seared into the brains of the Bucks players. They’ll be looking to make a statement on Tuesday.

“They’re a well-coached team and a well-oiled machine but all we can do is worry about ourselves,” Lowry said.

“We definitely expect a hard fought match. Come out locked in, ready to play,” said Raptors forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. “And they can expect the same from us. Look forward to a good game.”

@WolstatSun

BEST WINNING PERCENTAGE NBA HISTORY

TEAM YEAR W/L WINNING PERCENTAGE

Warriors 2016 73-9 .890

Bulls 1996 72-10 .878

Bucks 2020 49-8 .860

Lakers 1972 69-13 .842

Bulls 1997 69-13 .842

76ers 1967 68-13 .840

Celtics 1973 68-14 .829

Seven teams – 67-15 .817

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